Lead Women Pastors Project
Reflections on the Lead Women Pastors Project
By Rev. Trudy Robinson
Oftentimes, in my experience, the declared goals of a project take a back seat to the unexpected outcomes. I am most delightfully surprised by the accomplishments that occur beyond the articulated aims. Such was the case with the Lead Women Pastors Project.
This project began in September 2008 with the intention of learning more about the women who serve large congregations: how we got here, how we lead, how we are sustained. We learned a lot about each other. The project grew into how we might resource each other and mentor others. The project culminated with a retreat in April 2011. Or so we thought. I suspect it has only just begun, largely because of those unnamed and unexpected outcomes.
It’s not so surprising that these unexpected outcomes occurred. We should have known. For Jesus declared that whenever two or three gather, he is there. And the Spirit of Christ was behind these surprises. It’s also not so surprising that these outcomes were unnamed. The people of God have always had a difficult time of describing how, why and where the Spirit moves. But the Spirit moved. Let me try to say more.
Our time together was holy. It was not just people attending a meeting. Although there were meetings and tasks got done. None of us were going through the motions, checking off a list. All of us had a sense of doing something important, powerful and faithful to our place in God’s church. Our time was holy because there are times when I, and I imagine others, get bogged down in the tiny details of daily life in a large church that I loose sight of the larger activity of God in the world, pushing, coaxing and inviting us into a new and better day. Our meetings reminded us of this continual movement of God and it was holy to behold.
It was not just people showing up for worship. Of course, we all showed up and we learned new songs and listened to words of scripture and words of wisdom from our preachers. But more than that, God showed up, too. All of us arrived with a deep desire to be in the presence of God for comfort and healing, for encouragement and the strengthening of our call. Through the new and old songs we sang, through hearing the words of scripture through a sister’s mouth and the wisdom of her interpretation, through the liturgies we said together and through the prayers we uttered, we were embraced with the overpowering grace of God that filled us with unfettered love that heals, encourages, comforts and strengthens. God showed up indeed.
It was not just that we were people who gathered. We are women. Mothers, daughters, sisters, friends who know how to love and challenge, laugh and cry. We were able to talk to each other, eager to learn from one another, hoping to speak honestly, desiring to be ourselves and be loved because of who we are. Our time together was incarnational time as the Spirit of Christ embodied in these women and reminded us that all of us are loved beyond measure and essential to the work of God in the world.
While we may not have named that the goal of the Lead Women Pastors Project was to have God break through our lives yet again in powerful and transformative ways. That’s exactly what happened.
*Trudy Robinson is the senior pastor at First UMC in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
This was a dialogue sermon for the opening worship service of the Lead Women Pastors Project’s closing retreat: “Of Wonder and Wisdom: A Service of Remembrance for the Rev. Kathleen Baskin-Ball.” Kathleen was one of our dear lead women pastor colleagues whose had died the previous year. We had all been saddened by her death and inspired by her life and faith. We thank Rev. Trudy D. Robinson and Rev. Patricia E. Farris for this unique sermon.
Preaching is the art of communication within the moment, something that reading a sermon doesn't quite deliver in the same fashion. When reading this piece, the most we can hope for is for you to imagine being there, surrounded by women, eager to be together to learn from each other, to be tended to by each other, to nurture, support, inspire and heal each other through the grace of God.
Lead Women Pastors’ Dialogue Sermon
Rev. Trudy D. Robinson and Rev. Patricia E. Farris
Scripture readings: Psalm 104, Proverbs 3:13-18 and Matthew 28:1-10
Rev. Patricia Farris
Last Sunday, as part of our Earth Day celebration, our congregation sang: “I Sing the Almighty Power of God.” “I sing the wisdom that ordained the sun to rule the day; the moon shines full at God’s command and all the stars obey. While all that borrows life from thee is ever in thy care, and everywhere that we can be, thou, God, art present there.”
That’s the theme of our worship today as we come in wonder and awe at the bountifulness of God’s love and grace to weave our stories and sing God’s praises. With our sister Kathleen, we are Daughters of Creation. We are Daughters of Wisdom. We areDaughters of Resurrection and sisters of Mary Magdalene. Creation, wisdom, resurrection. Such is the productive, generative, generous love of God!
Dear sisters in Christ, Trudy and I want to invite us all now into reflection on these beautiful words of Scripture, these words of life that sustain us and set us free on our shared journey of joy.
Trudy, who are we as Daughters of Creation?
Rev. Trudy Robinson
In this moment, I am a daughter appreciative of the fact that creation, in this part of the world, is enjoying 80-degree weather! That’s because yesterday morning, there was snow on the ground where I live in Cheyenne, Wyoming! We’ve had two big spring snowstorms with several inches of wet, heavy snow and that’s a bit much for this southern California native!
And yet, what a glorious sight to see a fresh blanket of snow quickly melt away in the spring time sun to reveal the grass turning green nearly right before your eyes!
Psalm 104 speaks so beautifully of creation. We hear phrases such as “heavens stretched out like tents,” “earth set on a foundation that will never be shaken,” “springs gushing forth in the valley, flowing between the hills giving drink to every wild animal.” The birds of the air “singing among the branches of their habitation.” “Cattle, young lions, mountain goats, the sun and moon, the great wide sea and the cedars of Lebanon!”
We are daughters of creation, created just as beautifully as all of the things we hear in this psalm. If I were to write a Psalm celebrating the creation of women, I’d use phrases like…
Woman, created alongside man, the same yet different;
shaped with curves and slopes,
ordered with a hiddenness to her passion and her birthing.
Woman inherent with a fierceness to protect and a yearning to love
With a strength that doesn’t come from what others assign to her
but from what she recognizes and claims within herself.
Woman able to co-create with God
and birth nations and dreams and changed lives.
We are daughters of creation, created with the wonder-filled uniqueness of style and purpose as the fullness of creation!
Psalm 104 is very clear, however, about the source of creation.
It is God. God stretched the heavens, set the earth on its foundations and all the rest and so it is that God created woman.
If we are daughters of creation, then we are daughters of God. Not daughters of our parents, or our hometown, or our society. We are not daughters of our husbands, boyfriends or partners and we are not daughters of the hundreds of members of our congregations, as much as they might like to call us so. We are not daughters of our SPRC, or the cabinet, and not even the bishop.
We are daughters of the Creator God, which means that we will use our uniqueness to serve God. We will trust that God will hold our lives in God’s being
and we will hold out our hands and God will fill them with good things. We will sing praise to our God while we have being and we will join with all of creation to ensure that the glory of the Lord endures forever.
Patricia, who are we as Daughters of Wisdom?
Rev. Patricia Farris:
Many of you may remember the huge brouhaha that arose after “The Re-Imagining Conference” twenty-some years ago. That beautiful gathering of church women lifted up images of the Wisdom of God, Sophia, throughout the worship of that event. While we were denounced by some as “goddess-worshippers” and other crazy names, we who had been present knew that we were simply diving deep into some of the rich images and metaphors of our Christian faith.
But my Southern Baptist Aunt Ima got wind of this and knew that I had been a participant. She called my mother, worried for my soul. When Mom replied that I’d said that “Sophia” was in the Bible, Aunt Ima, who knew her Bible by heart, said she’d never heard of it. Mom called me, requesting chapter and verse. But even before she could call back, Aunt Ima called her to say that she had researched her Greek concordance and found Sophia “everywhere in the Bible!”
Indeed, God’s Wisdom can be read in the creation, in the beautiful verses from Proverbs, in the prologue to John’s Gospel. The Proverbs passage is so beautiful…“Happy are those who find wisdom and those who get understanding,…she is more precious than jewels…”
But as I read these verses again, in the context of today’s Remembrance of Kathleen, I was caught up short by the words: “Long life is in her right hand; and in her left hand are riches and honor.” And I thought: Kathleen didn’t get long life. She wasn’t rich in the eyes of the world.
And then I realized: of course. It’s the paradox at the heart of faith. Wisdom is not measured by the calendars and monetary systems of this world, is it? A life enriched by wisdom is immeasurable and priceless. It was with God at the beginning and it endures at the heart of God through all eternity. This defines each of us, no matter the length of our life’s span for wisdom is the tree of life to those who lay hold of her.
The depth and beauty and impact of Kathleen’s life, of all the sisters who have journeyed this path ahead of us, of each of our lives—comes from grounding ourselves in the wisdom of God—wisdom that is life for our soul that when we sit down we will not be afraid and when we lie down our sleep will be sweet.
Our vocation and call as Daughters of Wisdom, is to give voice to the wisdom within each of us, and among us. This is the priceless gift we receive and we offer back in every opportunity of ministry and service.
Wisdom sets us on what the Archbishop of Canterbury has called the “sophianic search for a justice which is beautiful, a justice which uncovers what the world fundamentally is; a world of interdependence and interaction, a world in which self-forgetting brings joy, common, shared joy.” Daughters of Wisdom, we are participants in Wisdom’s search for justice. We are pastors, priests, prophets, of justice and joy.
Another clergywoman colleague, another Kathleen, Kathleen Ross, was diagnosed with lymphoma a year ago. She and her husband, Anthony, a Quaker activist, have dedicated this year “to studying spiritual healing, interviewing cancer survivors and thrivers, and discovering the healing mysteries of healing which God has hidden in the human heart.”
Between rounds of chemo, they are speaking at local churches and interfaith gatherings, in a dialogue presentation that combines their personal story with the pastoral inspiration of testimonies of healing and also a prophetic challenge to create a new health care system in this country. People along a whole spectrum of political persuasions and perspectives find their hearts and minds open to new possibilities of hope.
This dear Kathleen is yet another powerful example of the pastors/priest/prophets we are called to be as “Daughters of Wisdom.”
We are daughters of Wisdom and participants in Wisdom’s search for justice, the creating Wisdom of God that brings forth life in the beginning and offers that resurrecting “big surprise” when we cross the threshold to life eternal.
Trudy, who are we as Daughters of the Resurrection and sisters of Mary Magdalene?
Rev. Trudy Robinson
We are sisters of Mary Magdalene the one who proclaimed the miracle of the resurrection.
Mary Magdalene is one who took hold of wisdom, of the tree of life, who was created uniquely for the purpose of God. She is one who took hold of the risen Christ and would not let go. Mary Magdalene is all of these things and just in case we needed another example of how the wisdom of God is folly to the world, she is that too.
Isn’t that how many thought of Mary? Foolish but saved. Diseased but healed. Sinful but redeemed. Not a disciple, but the one at the tomb.
Mary Magdalene is so misunderstood by all of us, isn’t she?
I suppose it is human nature to try to fill in the blanks when the story is sparse. Why must we fill them in with negative suspicions? Mary’s story is sparse and we’ve tried to fill in the blanks. Mary Magdalene?? The woman with the multitude of demons, right? The woman caught in adultery? The woman wasteful of the costly perfume? The woman not counted as a disciple.
I wonder if Mary Magdalene was ever criticized for not wearing pantyhose with her pumps, or for her latest hairstyle and color. I wonder if Mary Magdalene was asked if she needed a step stool so she could see over a pulpit that was built for a man. Do you suppose Mary Magdalene was encouraged to organize the women’s rummage sale rather than proclaim the good news?
Yes, we are sisters of Mary Magdalene, and God’s wisdom is folly to the world for God chose Mary Magdalene.
We don’t know much about Mary Magdalene’s story. But we do know that all four gospels agree. Mary Magdalene was at the tomb. Mary Magdalene was the first one to whom the Risen Christ appeared. Mary Magdalene was the one Christ told to “tell the others.”
We are sisters of Mary Magdalene, called and chosen by God to speak, even though our voices are too high pitched, to boldly proclaim even if it might not be lady-like, to shout, even, for the good news must be heard, and to keep speaking and proclaiming and shouting because we are daughters of the Resurrection!
As such we claim a creation more just, a wisdom more lasting, a hope more expansive, a dream more transformative, and a power much stronger than the evil in the world.
We claim a place in the movement of God.
Claim the uniqueness of your creation. Claim the gift of God’s wisdom within and claim the hope of the resurrection. If you would do so, you are invited to come forward to light a candle.
Mary Magdalene’s voice was just one voice. Her faith just one witness.
Her flame just a single flicker. But it grew. Her voice, her faith, her fire spread to light the world! So too may ours. Watch the light grow as we stand together.