Yesterday afternoon I returned home from AMBS’s commencement ceremony to learn that writer Rachel Held Evans had died at 37. Even though I knew she was in the hospital with serious medical complications, this news was a punch in the gut. At the height of the blogosphere at the start of the decade, I followed her blog regularly. One of the things I admired about her writing was the way she used her platform to encourage, champion, and celebrate women’s voices.
I interacted with Rachel off and on over the years through comments on her blog, as aspiring bloggers do. Once, in response to one of her posts about feeling comfortable neither in evangelical nor in mainline churches, I suggested she try a Mennonite church. She replied, “If there were a Mennonite church within 80 miles, I’d be there in a heartbeat.”
I only met Rachel once. In my first year at Baylor, she visited to speak in chapel and promote her then-forthcoming book A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Afterward, she stuck around to have lunch with graduate students, including a number of women studying for the ministry at Baylor’s Truett Seminary.
Here’s what she wrote after her visit:
So after chapel, I had the honor of hanging out with a group of students from Truett Seminary, and let me tell you, those female seminarians are such an inspiration and encouragement to me. I wish so badly I could introduce each of you to the young ladies pictured above.
They are smart. They are feisty. They are thoughtful and engaged.
And they are eager to use their gifts of leading and teaching to make a difference in the church.
More than 50 percent of all seminarians are women. And I can’t help but smile to myself when I think about the fact that over the next ten years, those who think that women should be banned from church leadership will have to contend with the talents and enthusiasm of these women of valor! That makes me incredibly hopeful for the future, because, trust me, their gifts speak for themselves.
During a Q&A time, one of these students—Aurelia Pratt, (second from the right)—confessed that sometimes all the anti-woman rhetoric in evangelicalism makes her angry.
“But you’ve encouraged us not to speak from anger,” she said. “How do you do that? Why aren’t you more angry?”
I wanted to shout, “YOU! YOU are why I’m not angry!”
Because of women like Aurelia, I believe deep in my bones that things are going to get better, that the future for women in the Church is bright.
So, if you are a female seminarian, please stay connected, and please let me know if there is any way I can use my little online platform to support you and to remind you that you are not alone.
Women like these truly inspire me, and I believe that, in the long run, they will do more to bring equality to the Church than any book or blog could ever begin to do. Let’s give them our love and support!
Yesterday at AMBS’s commencement ceremony, as I sat next to AMBS faculty members Janna and Malinda while our dean Beverly recognized our president Sara for her years of service to the seminary, and as Mennonite teaching pastor and AMBS trustee Meghan addressed a class of graduating seminarians who were about equal parts men and women, I was struck by the thought of how normal it felt. And then I thought of how unusual it would have felt to me only a mere decade or so ago to be surrounded by so many women of valor leading in these ways in a seminary and church context. I couldn’t help but smile.
If you’re shocked and saddened by the news of Rachel’s death, you can honor her memory by giving your love and support to the women of valor that so inspired and encouraged her during her life: congratulate those women graduating from seminary this week who are headed into ministry. And then, if you’re in the position to do so, hire them to work in your church!
And take some time to watch Rachel’s Baylor chapel address, where she ends with this benediction:
God, go with us. Help us to be an honor to the church.
Give us the grace to follow Christ’s word,
to be clear in our task and careful in our speech.
Give us open hands and joyful hearts.
Let Christ be on our lips.
May our lives reflect a love of truth and compassion.
Let no one come to us and go away sad.
May we offer hope to the poor,
and solace to the disheartened.
Let us so walk before God’s people,
that those who follow us might come into his kingdom.
Let us sow loving seeds, words that are quick with life,
that faith may be the harvest in people’s hearts.
In word and in example let your light shine
in the dark like the morning star.
Do not allow the wealth of the world or its enchantment
flatter us into silence as to your truth.
Do not permit the powerful, or judges,
or our dearest friends
to keep us from professing what is right.
Rest in peace, Rachel Held Evans, woman of valor.