A reflection on our time at the National Association of Presbyterian Clergywomen Triennial Conference, Montreat, NC
I have only been to Montreat Conference Center two times in my life. (Yes. I know.) Compared to other life-long Presbyterians, I am a ‘newbie’ in all things Montreat. Though last week was my second time there, passing through the Montreat stone gate and entering the Assembly Inn last Monday night felt familiar and welcoming. Cindy and I, as well as the two other moderatorial candidacy teams, were invited to attend the Triennial and 30th Anniversary Celebration of the National Association of Presbyterian Clergy Women, also known as NAPC. We feel honored by their invitation and grateful for the opportunity to share briefly who we are, our vision and hopes for the PCUSA.
The theme of the conference was absolutely brilliant: “Dragons, Frogs, and Other Fairy Tales of Women in Ministry”. For this English teacher, the theme was definitely home. As a declared “Potterhead” (the name given to a fan of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series) fantasy stories and fairytales always catch my attention. The focus of the conference was not on these stories per se, although the Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, Snow White and two beautiful Red Shoes were referenced more than once. The real focus was on the metaphorical dragons and frogs clergywomen encounter as they do ministry, the challenges and hurdles faced when responding to God’s call to serve. Stereotypes, societal and religious constructs about women in general and about women in ministry are sadly alive and well in the church. Doing ministry while working to slay these dragons, so to speak, is frustrating and many times exhausting. Still, we heard this week about the ways in which these awesome women of God serve their congregations, communities, mid councils and the denomination at large.
We were invited primarily to share about us, but what I valued the most about our time in Montreat was the opportunity to converse and to hear the stories of these courageous trailblazers. I am grateful for the candid conversations during meals, for the voices of young and old as they shared experiences and frustrations along the journey, their hopes for the local churches, the communities they serve and the PC(USA). This is, after all, an essential part being church: cultivating relationships, welcoming others and being family.
It would take several pages in this blog to do justice to the wealth of information received, the wisdom of the words spoken, and the “ah-ha” moments lived during our time there. It was an honor to listen and learn from Rev. Floretta Barbee-Watkins, the conference keynote speaker. To say that the worship services led by the Rev. Dr. Tracy Keenan and the Rev. Katie Kinnison were inspiring, do not do them justice. The music, oh, the music… I’m sure that many of the attendees will be able to sing the chorus of Rev. Keenan’s “Feels Like Forty” or Sara Bareilles’ “Fairytale” from memory. These are moments we will not soon forget.
Our thanks to Revs. CeCe Armstrong and Liz Wagner, NAPC outgoing co-moderators, and to the steering committee for the invitation to attend. Thanks to Elder JoAnne Sharp, NAPC Administrator, as well, for the hospitality and care before and during the conference. It was also a great inspiration to share with Co-Moderator Tawnya Denise Anderson who was also present at the conference.
It is a week to remember and to reaffirm our call to serve. God is still speaking, my faith siblings, and God’s love for us is ever present. We see it every single day; Cindy and I certainly felt it this week. Rev. Keenan led us in a song that has stayed with me since I left the Assembly Inn last Thursday morning. The song is based in part on Romans 8. I share verse 38 with you: “… I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” (NLT)
Nothing, mis hermanas y hermanos, can separate us from the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. Nada… Not even frogs or dragons, or any other metaphorical (or literal) beast we encounter along the way. May we live in the certainty of God’s love today and every day, for this love is our true “happily ever after”. SDG