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Pontormo, The Visitation

Prompted by books on the later stages of life, I am pondering what legacy I might leave behind me. I don’t have an “estate” of note or lots of things to be divided or distributed. However, just this week some encounters emerged that tell me what it might be, something organic and genuine, however intangible. In the matter of weeks I have been able to be present to ministries of women in the Church, profound, compelling ones; prophetic ones; and healing and wholesome ones. They would not have been possible or given space when I began my journey of ministry in the Church over 40 years ago–heads of staffs, solo pastors, bloggers. It became clear to me that even if I had not had a personal encounter with these messengers of grace, my journey toward and in ministry in the Church was to be one of the stepping stones on which these women traveled, bringing them to a broader and more visible place than I could have imagined when I started.

I remember with clarity the moments of awakening that spurred me to risk entering a process toward ordained ministry: the first woman I ever heard preach, those who unsolicited saw gifts and call in me, the ones who made sure that I had the opportunity to explore and discern what the nature of my call was, those who cleared the logistical brushwork so that I could continue. I was buoyed and carried by the women who published opening understandings of women’s responsibilities and opportunities in the Church. I read the work of Letha Scanzoni, Nancy Hardesty and Virginia Mollenkott avidly, gathered others around me to share the good news. And at the right time went to seminary, I took calls in the wider life of the church in congregations and seminary. At each new call I met someone who had never seen a woman minister before, weren’t quite sure what to call me, and sadly encountered some of the cultural resistances to women in the Church in the form of being underpaid, overlooked and sidelined.

Overall, however, I cherished each congregation I served, loved the “work” to which I was called, and was deeply grateful for the opportunities I was given to come alongside, to be present, to speak and to act on behalf of the Holy One to the lives of others. I also never lost my awareness that it was the legacy of prior witnesses and activists that made my ministry possible. Therefore, it was natural and joyful to “pay it forward” to women testing and entering and daring to enter the arena. I was happy to mentor, to recommend and to celebrate those who were my interns and students, those who just wanted to consult, and to be present for those struggling. I rarely had words of wisdom that led to resolution, but I was honored to be present to the holy struggle.

So this week when these younger women come again into my awareness, I feel I can claim this legacy, of being one of many who made the paths a little straighter for women who are the Church in many guises, forms and styles. I will leave behind the knowledge that by my being faithful to my understanding of call, I have cleared away some of the dust for those who are now doing well, faithfully and bravely, bringing Light to those who seek it. The work goes on; I go on, as long as I have breath to tell the truth, support and comfort, and speak when a Word needs saying. I don’t think I need to worry about much more in leaving a legacy!