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Opening Worship

The last words of Rev. Rebecca Immich Sullivan’s sermon from opening worship at the Young Clergy Women’s Annual Conference on Monday, July 29.

Opening Worship
7-29-19

There were arches

and a peak

made of wood

and polished,

carved with a

clover symbol

for the Holy

Trinity.

 

And feathers were laid

on the altar,

beyond the rail

where the minister presides,

which was draped

with green and white

for ordinary time.

 

And the organ pipes

spread their arms

in welcome

and pursed their lips,

poised to sing,

but yielded

to the lighter notes

of the piano’s

joyous song.

 

And infants nursed,

And toddlers gave

their voices to

the large spaces

between our prayers.

 

And the pews

creaked amicably

beneath us

adding their amens

to the gospel

according to Mary

and to “Martha, Martha,”

too,

 

and “our presence was

gift enough.”

Altars and Altered: Looking Toward YCWI Conference

I love Atlanta and I love my YCWI friends, but the top reason I am excited for the 2019 Young Clergy Women International Conference is because I will be able to listen to and sit at the feet of Rev. Dr. Neichelle Guidry and Rev. Dr. Liz Mosbo VerHage. These two speakers bring a huge range of talent and prophetic witness that I think will help me better answer my call to share good news in difficult times.

Rev. Dr. Guidry has been one of my heroes since I heard about the WISDOM (Women in Spiritual Discernment of Ministry) Center at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. As Director of the WISDOM Center, Rev. Dr. Guidry invites, encourages, and challenges her female students to discern possible vocations in faith and social justice fields. I want to learn from her how to empower the women of color in my “congregation” (a small, private, liberal arts college) to explore their faith and purpose in the world, too. Rev. Dr. Guidry is also an inspiring preacher who I am confident will not only refresh my call but also rejuvenate my commitment to my own vocation.

Rev. Dr. Liz Mosbo VerHage energizes me as I seek to be a strong white ally for people of color. When invited to speak at the YCWI conference, her response included an offer to supply the names of women of color to invite instead of her. Her call is to racial reconciliation ministry, faith-based advocacy, empowering female faith leaders, and embodying the multicultural church. More importantly for the conference, her call is to help other women step into their prophetic journey in these fields.

I live in Memphis, Tennessee, a city that transformed the nation in the realms of of civil rights and music, and is on the front line of innovative ministry models. I really do believe that transformation is possible on a personal level, a regional level, a national level, and an international level. And I hope to God that reformation and transformation is possible on the church level. The Holy Spirit is going to do amazing transformative work through the workshops, embodied learning opportunities, fellowship, speakers, and keynote addresses at the 2019 YCWI Summer Conference, and I look forward to being transformed.

I believe God will use the incredible talent of Rev. Dr. Guidry and Rev. Dr. Mosbo VerHage this summer to show how worship transforms us to be agents of transformation in the world. At altars (and by altars, I mean the places we meet God: altars, tables, coffee shops, kneelers, hiking trails, workshops, hospitals, and maybe even the YCWI Summer Conference) we are altered. As I find my own prophetic voice and begin to stand up and call out for justice, I know that I need to sit at the feet of and listen to the modern day prophets in our midst. I’m looking forward to doing just that at the 2019 Young Clergy Women International Summer Conference. I hope to see you there! For more information and to register, visit our conference page.

ycwi conference planning team for the 2018 St. Louis conference

Go Team: Christ, Community, and Conference Planning

“What does it mean to embody ministry? To be the physical body of Christ in the world? How is it with your soul?” These are just a few of the question posed by keynote speaker, the Rev. Karoline Lewis, at the last Young Clergy Women International (YCWI) Conference WE: Embodied Ministry in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, in July of 2019.

ycwi conference planning team for the 2018 St. Louis conferenceI joined the YCWI Conference Team in 2014, during my second year as a YCWI board member. I had three goals coming onto Conference Team: 1) ensure incarnational connection for young clergy women (YCWs) spread across the USA, Canada, UK, Sweden, Israel, Australia, and other countries who are often isolated and yearn for deeper connections in ministry beyond their local communities and YCWI’s online community; 2) get YWCI to Texas, specifically onto the campus of my alma mater, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary; and 3) take our annual conference international to truly reflect who we are as an organization and as young women facing a similarly unique set of challenges in and beyond the church as we serve across a multiplicity of denominations.

The Conference Team achieved all three goals during my tenure, which concluded last summer. In 2015, we hosted Text in Context at Austin Seminary, in 2016 we saw a 57% increase in attendance in Boston, and in 2017 we marked YCWI’s 10th anniversary as an organization in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. If setting goals, achieving goals, and learning the logistical ins and outs of running (and for 3 years co-chairing) an international conference were enough, I would count my time on YCWI’s Conference Team a success and now move on to the next thing. But God is funny that way, so these experiences came with far more depth and purpose than merely offering professional development and checking off a to-do list.

We were a small team. For a few years, we were a tiny team learning and growing in more ways than organizational conference leadership. We were learning what it means to be Christ – to embody Christ – for each other and grow in our own faith. Those four and a half years were among the most joyous, exhausting, affirming, aggravating, educational, soul-refreshing, found-my-people-ing years of my ministry. Read more

A Conference Story

As young clergy women gathered in Vancouver, Canada, for YCWI’s tenth anniversary conference earlier this July, the scenery was gorgeous and the weather was spectacular. The conference was uplifting, invigorating, challenging, and exciting. The keynote speaker, the Rev. Casey Fitzgerald, inspired us with her biblical storytelling and challenged us to consider where our stories intersect with God’s stories.

One of the things I love about YCWI is that my colleagues already know so much of my story. Indeed, they know much of it without me even having to say a word, because it is our shared story. It is the story of being a young woman ordained to ministry, and all the joys and struggles that go with that – the frustrations of receiving more comments on your hair or shoes than your sermon; the anger of coming up against the stained glass ceiling; the challenges of balancing dating and ministry, or motherhood and ministry. All of that, is held in the knowledge that we are called and gifted by God to serve the church in all that we embody as young women.

These are my people, my village, my church. And they are part of my story. Read more

The July 2016 Conference of The Young Clergy Women Project, Boston University

Loving The Young Clergy Women Project

The July 2016 Conference of The Young Clergy Women Project, Boston University

The July 2016 Conference of The Young Clergy Women Project, Boston University

A few weeks ago, my family and I made our way down Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, in search of a room in Boston University’s School of Theology where I would share the next three days with a hundred clergy women from many denominations. I was, uncharacteristically, a little nervous. What if I didn’t know anyone? What if no one cared that I was there? What if they were annoyed that I was there, since technically I had already graduated from The Young Clergy Women Project eight days earlier?

As soon as I entered the room where we were gathering, my fears melted away. I spotted a couple of familiar faces from Facebook, then a few more, and then I ran into one of my favorite UCC colleagues and her face reminded me why I’d come to The Project in the first place. I came for the friendships and for the professional bonds that connect us as women in ministry in a world that both relies on women for emotional and household labor AND undervalues the worth of our work at home and in the workplace. I came for the fierceness, the laughter, and the tears. I came for the culture where finding excellent child care is a normal part of conference planning, and where mamas hand off their babies to any willing set of hands. I came for the worship and the workshops, for the time spent lingering over meals and the time spent laughing over drinks. (I came also, it must be fairly said, for the swag.)

I did not expect how much this group would mean to me. Read more

Susan Beaumont

Leading with Presence: TYCWP’s 2016 Conference

Susan BeaumontMy first few months as a solo rector were a strange combination of familiar ministry that I was confident I could do well and bewildering new challenges. Design curriculum for adult education? I’d done that a number of times as a first-call associate. Visit members in hospitals and nursing homes? Clinical Pastoral Education taught me lots about pastoral care. But hiring and supervising staff? How in the world was I supposed to do that? My seminary had not offered a course in parish administration during my time there, and I hadn’t learned much about staff management as an associate. I was eager for these challenges––I’d moved into a solo rectorship because I was ready to take them on––but my experience hadn’t prepared me for them.

Thank God for Susan Beaumont. Her book, When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Large Congregations, co-written with Gil Rendle, saved my bacon as I was learning the human resources aspects of my new job. Read more

My Last Conference

IMG_4807

Is it possible to have too much swag?  More than half of my travel coffee mugs (and two out of my three plastic tumblers) have The Young Clergy Women Project logo on them.  I have a little stash of boutique lip balms from Nashville, Minnesota, and Austin, all patiently waiting for me to finish using up my Chapstick (once watermelon-flavored) labeled “Sabbath in the City: Chicago 2012, The Young Clergy Women Project.”  Just today I tossed a change of clothes and my funeral shoes into a large canvas tote bag with “The Young Clergy Women Project, funded by the Louisville Institute & powered by faith, verve, chocolate, and really great shoes” superimposed over a spiral on the front.

Is it possible to have been to too many TYCWP conferences?  When I think back on the conferences and board meetings I have attended, I realize I’ve probably visited more seminaries, theology schools, and divinity schools in more states than the vast majority of my other local colleagues.  And very few of those colleagues can claim to be part of an intentional community that stretches around the world and across denominations.

Normally I would say: “It’s impossible to have too much swag, and impossible to have attended too many conferences.”  I rely on both the swag and the community to help me get things done in ministry with the least amount of damage to myself.  But perhaps it is possible to have too much, because each year’s worth of swag and each year’s conference reminds me I am one year closer to aging out of the project next spring.

Just as the community of TYCWP helped me figure out what it meant to be a young clergy woman, it is now helping me make sense of what it means to be a slightly older clergy woman.  My days of being carded at the liquor store are over.  My bodily aches and pains are increasing.  I still get inappropriate comments—but people have finally stopped calling me “kiddo.”

And yet I am so, so far from having everything figured out.  My authority, my identity, and my self-awareness are still developing.  I still routinely lean on the project to remind myself that I’m not the only one.  And seeing in person, at the conferences, what the project has become in the last eight years is truly a miraculous thing; I am moved to tears seeing the support and the community that we dreamed about so long ago come into being.

I’ve attended every TYCWP conference since 2010 after missing the first two conferences in 2007 and 2008 (but attending the board meetings in 2008 and 2009).  And every year I go into it putting pressure on myself, thinking “This is such a rare opportunity to see all of these YCWs in person, so I need to make the most of it.”  And I come out realizing how foolish it was to try and force this to be a mountaintop experience.  It’s going to be one, no matter what I do.

This year was no different.  I went into the conference thinking, “This my last chance to make these connections in person…I need to go all out, I need to be more outgoing, I need to meet and talk with as many people there as possible.”  Have my years in the project taught me nothing?  Have I not learned to respect my own body’s needs and my own emotional needs as an introvert?  Apparently not.

But you all reminded me that the best encounters of the conference are the ones you didn’t plan for, the ones you don’t engineer.  Sure, I haven’t taken a dance class in twenty years, but I’ll go to a Ballet Austin drop-in class with you and risk total humiliation just so I can remember the days when my body actually obeyed my mind’s direction.  Sure, the movie is sold out, so let’s find the best Tex-Mex around and perhaps enjoy a margarita instead. Conferences are places where you can be spontaneous and impulsive without worrying about what the church matriarch is going to think–or worse, say to others down the grapevine.  They are also places where nobody will ridicule you for choosing to spend a quiet night at the hotel and going to bed at a reasonable hour.

Conferences of TYCWP are places where I can be most authentically myself.  This happens only very rarely in other parts of my life.  If I feel like a party girl, I can be one for one night.  If I feel like giving my body the gift of sleep, I can do that too.  I can remember what it was like to make choices just for me, without thinking about a thousand other people and a thousand consequences.

Maybe that’s why no matter who I meet or who I connect with at a conference, I find myself in a different space when I return.  Because I’ve remembered who I am.  And I’ve shared in a community that embraces me as I am, without a thick layer of expectations.

Thank you, each and every member of the project I’ve met in person over the years.  You have been salt and light to me, and I treasure each one of you for helping me taste life again, and see myself more clearly.

2015 YCW Summer Conference

Congress StreetThis Summer, the YCW are GTT[1]

I look forward to the Young Clergywomen Conference every summer. For me, it’s a no-miss July ritual, right up there with hotdogs and fireworks. The Young Clergywomen Conference re-charges mind, body, and soul, comfortably navigating the line between solemnity and frivolity. Where else can you break from evening prayer and adjourn for beers at a local pub? The YCW conference, that’s where.

This year, YCW Conference will kick up its boot heels in Austin, Texas–that weird keeping, laid-back, music-loving capital of Texas. The dates are July 6-9, 2015 and  Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary will be our gracious host. Located just across the street from the University of Texas, and blocks away from downtown Austin, APTS is nestled between restaurants, pubs, and the ubiquitous Texas treat — breakfast tacos. Fellowship with old and new friends is a cornerstone of all YCW conferences, and Austin will provide the perfect context to feed your soul and stomach with the food of friendship.

As it turns out, this conference is all about context — from its location at Austin Seminary, to its keynote speaker, Dr. Margaret Aymer, professor of New Testament at Interdenominational Theological Center (Atlanta).  She’s going to be working with us on Contextual Bible Study, a tool that arose out of the church’s response to Apartheid in South Africa.  You can find her over at Twitter, where she is very active under the handle @mayog.

In addition to workshops, the conference will also offer:

  • Self-Care Opportunities (such as the very popular mani/pedis)
  • Field Trips for Spouses/Partners/Traveling Companions
  • Childcare will be available!
  • Cost: Early Registration fee for 2015 is $160. Childcare, meals for traveling companions (non-conference attending adults), and t-shirts are extra.  You may pre-register here.
  • Hotel: We have a group rate set up at the Holiday Inn-Midtown, Austin. The cost is $99/night.  We may have more housing options available in the coming months.  If you would like to reserve a room at the Holiday Inn-Midtown, please go to this link.  You are responsible for arranging your own housing for the conference.

See y’all in Texas!

[1] gone to Texas

Skipping Over the Small Talk: An Open Letter of Gratitude

“What’s the focus of that conference you’re going to tomorrow, Pastor Andrea?”  The question came from a parishioner following worship, where I had announced that I would be out of the office for the week.Aug 2014 YCW Twin Cities

“Um…I can’t remember, actually.  I know there’s a theme…but it’s a conference entirely for young clergy women!”

I’m hesitant to even put these words on the page.  At best, they make me sound disorganized and forgetful.  At worst, like I’m completely disregarding all the hard work that the conference organizers and Ruth Harvey put into creating a cohesive theme for our time together, which they pulled off with both grace and substance.

But the truth is, I didn’t give a rat’s backside about the theme.  I came for the people.

I came for all of you.  I was hungry for you.  I was coming off of 5 years in Mexico in my first call, where the handful of legitimate colleagues I had in that work were scattered around the globe.  I was the pastor, the administrative assistant, the treasurer, the janitor, the sacristan.  That’s not to say that I didn’t have amazing people around me, doing similar work, who were part of my support system, but when push came to shove, the buck stopped with me.  In the end, the cheese stands alone, and the cheese can get pretty lonely.

Just under a year ago , I started my second call, as the associate pastor of a Lutheran congregation in the suburbs of St. Paul.  I arrived to the conference in that fuzzy headspace that is the result of piling transitions on top of transitions: my family and I are still living in temporary missionary housing and trying to purchase a home; my husband’s employment contract ends in August and nothing else is yet in place; our family of three became a family of four six months ago; and I’m still trying to put names with faces in this new call.

I wondered if I would even be grounded enough to connect with anyone, especially as I arrived late and left early each day in order to shuttle my kids to and from daycare.  I actually wondered if I would be needy enough to connect with anyone, given how much support this project provides for those of us in unhealthy or toxic situations.  I’m lucky to pastor a relatively healthy congregation, and my pastoral colleague – who is, by definition, the opposite of a young clergywoman in every way except for the clergy bit – is a remarkably good match for me in this work.

But in the end, I had no reason to be worried.  In the end, the beauty of this kind of focused peer group coming together is that the piece that often trips us up in meeting new people (“What do you do?”  Oh, gawd…) is the very reason we’re all there to begin with.  The truth, however, is that this piece alone is often not enough.  Present pastoral colleague aside, I can’t count the number of meetings I’ve been to where the men seem to have come for no purpose other than to one-up each other, and it’s all I can do not to stand up and say, “Do you think we could all just lay them on the table, measure them, and go home??”

In the end, there was no measuring needed.  In the end, it didn’t matter how late I could stay or whether I had the right kinds of problems.  What mattered was being in a room with people who were like me, at least in enough ways to allow us to bridge the other differences with little effort.  What mattered was that we were similar enough to start with that we could skip over the small talk, and move right to the big talk.  What mattered was the ease with which we shared ideas and suggestions, support and encouragement, questions and prayers and contact information.

“What was the focus of that conference you went to last week, Pastor Andrea?”

“Um…I can’t remember, actually.  I know there was a theme…but it was a conference entirely for young clergy women!”

Honest-to-God, that was the first question a parishioner asked me that following Sunday, and honest-to-God, I still couldn’t remember.  I’ve since gone through my notes, from the plenary sessions and workshops and worship services and even a few lunch conversations and one pop-up parking lot meeting.  There is some good stuff there, let me tell you; the kind of stuff that will serve me well in this work for years to come, in more ways than I can even imagine right now.

But the stuff that will get me through this year, until we meet again in Austin in 2015?  The stuff that will get me through the general highs and lows that are inevitable in ministry, and the particular ones that come with our gender and age? That was the people. That was you.

And I am grateful.

Images from “Out of the Deep: Pastoring in Creative Space”

Over 70 young clergy women from all over the world gathered in Minneapolis, Minnesota just a few weeks ago for the seventh Young Clergywomen Conference.  We learned from our wonderful speaker, Rev. Ruth Harvey.  We could feel the Spirit’s presence as we worshiped and prayed together.  We offered a conference that welcomed children, as well as one that offered childcare.  And, of course, we had fun meeting and bonding with fellow young clergywomen!

After you see these pictures, we know you’ll want to mark your calendar: our next conference will be held the week of July 5-9 in Austin, Texas!

We worshiped together in the chapel at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

We worshiped together in the chapel at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Who doesn't like a good sale?  The sale table featured extra "swag", TYCWP  "You're Not the Only One" cards, and imprint books.

Who doesn’t like a good sale? The sale table featured extra “swag”, TYCWP “You’re Not the Only One” cards, and imprint books.

The "swag" for the conference was AWESOME!

The “swag” for the conference was AWESOME!

Here we are at the keynote session with our speaker, Rev. Ruth Harvey.

Here we are at the keynote session with our speaker, Rev. Ruth Harvey.

We participated in some table activities during the keynote session.  There is so much we can learn from one another!

We participated in some table activities during the keynote session. There is so much we can learn from one another!

The prayer service of healing that was held in the Chapel at Westminster Presbyterian Church was a moving experience.

The prayer service of healing that was held in the Chapel at Westminster Presbyterian Church was a moving experience.

This is what clergy women look like!  Join us next year!

The 2014 TYCWP Conference Attendees (including Amy Loving who was Skyped in). This is what clergy women look like! Join us next year!