I come from a strong Southern matriarchal family, a grandmother named Mary, a Bible teacher par excellence, and my mother and her three sisters–formidable, hospitable, always at work in the fields of the Lord. There were three missionaries on the bunch, one of whom pastor’s wife, which in those days meant doing much of the pastoral work, and one was an active lay person. always ready to give a hand for those who needed a ride or those who needed convalescence. All of them held their faith with conviction and were faithful to the end of their lives. I could not have had more powerful exemplars.
When I was a young person, the women around me, my church friends, created the container in which we, not counted among the cool and popular, could struggle and reinforce our budding faith journeys by sharing our teenage woes and joy, by listening together to Scripture, by being immersed in faith practices together. We had each other to bounce off our confusion, our resistances, our epiphanies of Spirit, although we would not have had those words in our vocabulary yet. That legacy was carried on into college in the women of Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship, who at some basic levels, although not too many public ones, entrusted leadership to women and invited them to mentor us as college students. In those years it was these women of Spirit with whom I could hash out the broken places, the questions that seemed opaque, and the questions of life direction.
In all these years of participating in the Church, I received teaching and information from many wise and caring men. However, when as a young mother I was introduced to a broader vision of women’s roles in the Church and home through Evangelical Women’s Caucus (now Ecumenical), I began to see a new dimensions of women in the Church–women who preached, women who taught mixed forums, women who had both sacred callings as well as a calling to home and family. The theological underpinnings of that vision from both women and men both in those years-writers like Letha Scanzoni, Nancy Hardesty, Virginia Mollenkott, Paul Jewett, Don Williams–all clarified my faith and gave it deeper understanding. The crucible in which I worked out those understandings was the company of women who also caught that vision, as we discerned the directions in which the Spirit was leading us.
I was led along a clear an straight path to ordination as a Minister of Word and Spirit in the Presbyterian Church (USA). There were not many of us, more than the generations before us, and we learned from one another, and watched as one became a seminary professor, one became a head of staff of a larger church , one became a solo pastor in a rural community, and one became a denominational executive. I discovered that even when we did not all become intimate friends, we contributed in each other to the community wisdom that helped us see what God was doing in the world and in us. And it was blessed!
Now in my next phase of ministry, I have gathered with a group called the Ammas for the last nine years. We meet monthly, keep connected on Facebook and on e-mail in-between, in prayer, in study, is presence to one another. We have been and are going through losses of spouses. moving from place to place, illnesses and disappointments and wonderful surprises. The Spirit keeps forming us, teaching us, comforting us and connecting us.
In this season of gratitude, I thank this band of spiritually adventuresome women whose running alongside me has helped and is helping me become what I was meant to be from the beginning!
Elizabeth Nordquist who blogs at Patheos.com offers gratitude for the forming power of women of faith in her spiritual journey.