So I was a little bit of a foot-dragger when it came to signing up for the Women of the ELCA's Triennial gathering this year. If I went it was my first time, I didn't have any friends going, it IS pricey and I was doing other traveling for continuing education. The theme and the speakers looked great, but I grumbled and mumbled. Finally, a bold woman in my congregation made an offer I couldn't refuse (she paid for a hotel room!) and I signed up to come.
Once I decided to come, I was still apprehensive. Like many introverts with verbal processing needs, I can easily be mistaken for a person who welcomes a crowd, but that's not me. Large groups of people make me nervous and large groups where I only know a handful of the people involved are the worst.
Nevertheless, I signed up for everything. To do the Run, Walk, Roll. For the Young Women's Chocolate Lounge. Joining in means, for me, joining in!
It's a little early, yet, to reflect on all that this will come to mean, but this is a very powerful event. There are more than 2000 women here and you can hear us roaring. I had a hard time taking a non-blurry picture in worship this morning because people were dancing! Dancing, I say! Women of the ELCA!
I went on a garden tour yesterday and there were women from the Virgin Islands, the Dakotas, New York, Texas and all over (including, me, that event's AK representative). We saw the gorgeous gardens of Manito Park in Spokane. Highly recommended! While I was considered the "baby" on the tour, I was heartened by the number of women who wanted to know about Alaska, about my congregation and about me.
I could fill pages about this morning's speaker, Nora Gallagher, who told us that making a map of our faith (sharing our stories) is important because the coastline we describe can help someone else navigate life's sometimes treacherous shores and shoals. I could tell you about the amazing mini-workshop I attended on how to make a picture prayer journal and the incredible leader, Esther Prabhakar, who showed us the one she's been keeping for years. I could share my enthusiasm for the future of Joy Ranch in South Dakota, an all-accessible camp, or bubble over in anticipation of what we will hear tomorrow from Leymah Gbowee.
However I don't think any of those things are the most amazing part of being here. The strength of this Gathering is the truth of the power that is gathered. The hum and beat of the wings of the Spirit is practically audible as 2000 women commune together, in body, spirit and Christ. When the Real Presence seems like the Perceived Absence, here in this place- new light IS streaming.
Women have the greatest potential to hurt one another. We know exactly the power we have to wound with words, with what is left unsaid, with a glance. Yet we also know what heals, what helps, what builds hope. In the Gathering, the best comes out.
Sitting at a table together, one woman spoke to me about how much she admired Sarah Palin. Rather than launching into my criticisms, I calmly said how my opinion of her had changed and what I felt about her current circumstances. We were calm and smiling, gentle and caring. United by more than this minor division of opinion. And it IS minor.
There is power here to received and to be taken. The power to go back, loins girded, to the tasks we know are waiting. This is not Transfiguration. We are not seeing something new. What is being revealed to us is the truth about the power we have as women in the church, in this day, in our places, with Christ for us, with us, in us and through us. We are not being transformed so much as being brought into deeper understanding, through fellowship and teaching, about what is already true about us and those around us.
The theme is Renew, Respond, Rejoice- part of what we are experiencing here. We have a little time away, a few service opportunities and great communion, within worship and without. We are also receiving a challenge, a challenge of accountability and action. We are being challenged as half the church, half the creation, half of God's kingdom builders to move into claiming and acclaiming the promises God has made.
Will we go back enlivened by the possibilities of God's work in our world or will we go back to our regular to-do lists and busy-ness? The former takes focus, the latter takes nothing. The power will go out with us, available to those with whom we share these stories and mission opportunities. The Spirit goes out with us.
We are not alone. It's not even just me and the Spirit. The power of this Gathering is the sense of "us" that is created. The understanding of the "WE" in WELCA. God is here. We are here. Renewing, responding and rejoicing... nothing can separate us.