United Methodist Women March for Economic Justice

[★]Marching for Economic Justice in Louisville, Ky. during Assembly 2014
Deaconesses consecrated at Assembly 2014 in Louisville
Consecrating 26 new deaconesses at Assembly 2014

Every four years
thousands of women
gather
at United Methodist Women’s
Assembly.
They come to learn,
to worship together,
to be together
as a sisterhood
and to recharge themselves
for their work in mission
with women, children and youth
around the world.
The United Methodist Women
support the work of deaconesses
and home missioners (men,)
of which I am one—deaconess,
that is. My work is in
ecospirituality and environmental justice
based here at Turtle Rock Farm.
So it was with great excitement
that I looked forward to Assembly 2014
last week in Louisville, KY. Time with
others in the deaconess/home missioner
community, is always a nourishing joy.
Though we had an evening together for fun
and to welcome the 26 new deaconesses,
as usual, much of our time together
is spent learning and working, working and learning.
Being together is especially a joy because
of our lifetime commitment to doing the work
of love and justice. Diverse as we are,
we hold this in common
and it is a lifeline, a loving bond
that holds strong
even when we are apart,
which is most of the time. So, being together,
strengthening that bond,
is a cherished gift.

We deaconesses and home missioners
worked in many aspects of Assembly this year.
Workshops are a key component.
United Methodist Women value
education and the 6500 women at this year’s event
had to make choices about which of the 125
workshops they would attend. Then they had to
get to them early enough to get a seat! Perhaps
this speaks to the quality of the education
but it also speaks to the eagerness of the women
to be engaged in learning about the plight
of people suffering around the world,
about effective programs
and about ways they can nurture themselves
for the work of being in the world,
alongside its suffering.
My area of concern—the planet and all life here—
was a focus this year
as UMW has established a new program
for environmental and economic justice
called Be Just Be Green.
I was thrilled to get to present
a workshop titled “Tending Mind, Body,
Heart and Earth.”

While deaconesses are called to cutting edge ministry,
and there is an expectation that we will be doing the work
of love and justice that is on the edge,
(that isn’t mainstream yet,
but we think should be,)
it doesn’t mean it’s a comfortable place to be.
As women filled the meeting room
and I was aware of what I was about to guide them into,
there was a bit of trepidation. But no way out of this for me.
I had only two hours
to guide this room full of
dedicated, eager-to-learn women
from around the US,
into an experience
of recognizing, remembering
that we, as only a part of the great web of life,
are interconnected
and interdependent with all life on the planet.
I wondered if they would stay connected
with the guided meditations
that take us back to our beginnings
that I was about to walk them into.
I wondered if they would notice
I wasn’t using traditional church language
to speak of the wonders of the natural world;
I wondered if they would get up and leave the room
as we handed them each a raisin
and invited them into a mindfulness practice.
I wondered if they would see the connection
between our daily practice of mindfulness
and noticing the natural world that is our home,
and the spiritual life they probably came into the room
hoping to tend.
In the initial workshop and a second a day later,
the women (average age of a UMW member is mid-60’s)
engaged deeply. They shared with each other
their awe of the natural world. They all remembered places
of wonder that they love and they spoke of them
with affection, and sadness. They engaged in meditations that took them back
to thinking about our beginnings, a hint of our time with fins and gills.
They ate the raisins mindfully,
experiencing the explosion of raisin in their mouth
as they have never experienced a single raisin ever.
They took notes about how to do spiritual practices
that keep them in touch with the natural world
that is our home and they asked
for more
information,
connection.

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20140426_162502Taking the Cosmic Walk at UMW Assembly 2014

And then,
in the prayer and meditation room
that deaconesses and home missioners
tended,
more United Methodist Women came
to take the Cosmic Walk.
We began with the story in Genesis and then stepped
into more of the story—
that moment 14 billion years ago
“from that place that was no-place,
from that time that was no-time,
the cosmos flared forth
in a silent blaze of inconceivable brilliance.”
Silently,
the women listened
as the storyline was laid out before them
and then silently,
they each walked it themselves.
Afterward we sang
of our “Blue Boat Home
and we talked about this experience.
They expressed their awe.
They expressed the stunning awareness
that we are a small part in this story.
And these United Methodist Women
expressed our significant human part
in trashing
in such a short period
what has taken millions of years
to evolve.
There it is: evolutionary thinking—
the process I so feared alluding to—
much less, saying outright—
in the company of hundreds
of middle-aged women.
I should not have been afraid.

Every year around the time of our birthdays,
local units of United Methodist Women
sign and send greeting cards
to deaconesses, home missioners
and others serving in the UM mission field.
We get greetings from hundreds of people.
They all say thank you and send prayers
for our work.
Grateful, I often wonder if they really know
what we are doing;
what we are thinking and teaching
here, at Turtle Rock Farm: A Center for Sustainability,
Spirituality and Healing.
Maybe it’s because we are doing so
in the “reddest of the red states
that I fear people will confront or maybe attack
us for our work in sustainability,
for our teaching of the wondrous process of evolution
(after all, all my bumper stickers have disappeared off my car;
there were crumpled beer cans left inside my mailbox!)
But Assembly is not a red place.
(And neither is the Oklahoma UMW,
which supports our work in various ways.)
The United Methodist Women—
while extremely diverse as well—
is, I do now deeply believe,
supportive of the cutting edge work
of standing with all in the world
who need support, power, healing,
including the planet and all non-human life here.
I couldn’t be more proud,
or more grateful.

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In Portland
for a few days
to teach a class on spiritual formation
at the United Methodist Women’s
Mission u,
I am enjoying
the green.
Not only the trees—
which are spectacular—
along the Columbia River,
and covering the mountains
beyond,
but the green
right here in my hotel room.
There is a recycling bin
in each hotel room!

DSCN0137Too, I can indicate
that I don’t want towels
or sheets washed
during my three-day stay.
The packaging for soap
and other toiletries
is biodegradable!

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The air conditioning
and heating
are off
unless you need it.
The window opens.
There’s one of many farmer’s markets
close by.
On the river in the evening,
there are not gas-guzzling speedboats,
but sailboats.

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Sigh…..
Thank you people of Portland.