Post Author: Mariclair Partee
I attended my first Young Clergy Women Project (YCWP) conference last summer, in Chicago, IL. I had followed Fidelia’s Sisters for years after graduation from seminary, and when a call for new members of the Editorial Board was posted I realized I might “age out” before the next opportunity.
Suddenly I was the newest editor of The Single Rev’s Guide to Life, and spent an hour a month in an online board meeting with some of the smartest, funniest, most interesting clergy women from around the country and the world. It was a full year before I got to meet most of these ladies in person at the conference, and the only way I can describe the week we spent together in Chicago is to use a term from Celtic spirituality- anam cara.
It means, roughly, soul friend, and describes a person with whom you have a deep, and immediate, spiritual connection. I think most of us have had the experience of meeting someone for the first time, and feeling a deep connection that usually only comes after years of friendship. To have an anam cara is to have this connection, rooted deeply in a shared love of God.
Like most young clergy women, I had a job in a church that I loved but sometimes drove me crazy, was doing good, important work, and trying to keep up my own relationships with God, friends, and family in the midst of a schedule that never seemed to have any empty spaces. Joining YCWP immediately connected me to women near and far who were living similar lives, asking similar questions, and facing the same worries and anxiety at times, and helped me to have confidence in the face of really not being the only one.
However, attending my first conference did what a year of board membership, regional meetups, and too frequent visits to the Facebook page couldn’t. It gave me a week of life lived in community that I haven’t had since my three years in residence in seminary, and for which my soul was starving. Attending conference sessions, participating in small groups, chatting during breaks or breakfast or lunch, socializing in the evenings- all of these added up to a sort of anam cara summer camp.
I made friends that I will know forever, had important conversations, was inspired, was challenged, and came home with a clearer idea of my own vocation. The job change I had been afraid to let myself think about- suddenly I was empowered to find out more.
The program that wasn’t really working in my current setting- I had a wealth of new resources to pull from. The book that I had been planning to write after retirement- well that’s still on the schedule for 2042. TYCWP conference isn’t magic- but it will give you the sort of nourishment and strength that comes from time spent together. We are an incarnational people- worshipping our God who took on the frailties of humanity to love us all the more.
TYCWP has done an amazing job of creating a virtual space to connect us whether we are in big cities or small rural calls, to help with the loneliness that comes with being the hands of feet of God in the world, to provide the networks we haven’t always had access to. But sometimes, we just have to share our stories face to face. If you are on the fence- come to this summer’s conference in Nashville from July 22-25. You won’t regret it. And you might just have the time of your life.
The deadline to register for the conference in June 1. Want more info? Have questions? Ready to register? Check our the conference page here.
The Rev. Mariclair Partee is Rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, and Episcopal Chaplain to the University of Pennsylvania. When not editing The Jesus Review, she enjoys exploring the city via bicycle, reading trashy novels, and supporting the education of children in need near and far.