During the week of July 9-15, I will be attending a conference entitled “Our Stories, God’s Stories,”presented by Young Clergy Women International, a group to which I have belonged since its early days. The keynote speaker is the Rev. Casey Fitzgerald (faithandwonder.com) whose work focuses on storytelling as a way to connect with scripture in a relevant, living way. I look forward to bringing home some new skills.
Often when I need a new resource, I log into Facebook, post the question in the YCWI forum, and within hours, will usually have answers and shared experiences. So many of us, as new clergy, have found we were frequently the “only one” – the only woman in the room, the only person under 50, the only single person. Young Clergy Women International was born to find more of us, and bring us together.
When I was first ordained, I had just turned 25. I was single, right out of college into seminary. My first professional job was in the church. I had no idea what was normal. Church leaders told me where I could live (in an apartment of my own, with no roommates, in an expensive city), how I should dress (with many conversations focused around my hair and the length of my skirts and why certain people preferred me in frills versus pencil skirts), and weighed in on dates (whether I would quit the church when some man ‘carried me off’ to another state as part of his booty was a regular question).
Did young scientists or librarians or bankers face these questions? My work schedule left me isolated and uncertain. The YCWI offered resources, support, and reassurance. I learned essential professional skills like reading a balance sheet and how to interpret state employment laws as a religious non-profit. One sub-group studied the Getting Things Done philosophy, which has helped many of us strive for work-life balance as we manage projects that can take months. YCWI definitely made me a better priest. It made me a better professional. But it also saved my career, by helping so many of us learn what healthy clergy people can do to transform this work.
This year’s conference is about storytelling. Rev. Fitzgerald often presents scripture from memory, telling it as a story. Her preaching weaves elements of storytelling with exegesis and scholarly focus. I’ve often wanted to work with scripture in a creative way. I have wanted to do things like re-tell the Passion Narrative, but felt I personally lacked the know-how to make it as compelling as possible. I felt this conference would fill a gap in both skills and confidence, and that this subject matter would be interesting to St. John’s as well.
I will look forward to bringing back skills in storytelling, to work into preaching. I will also enjoy bringing back, as always, new connections to my colleagues and new resources in this ongoing work.
I will be officially offline, but will post a few updates on my church Facebook profile to share photos or interesting tidbits. Please feel free to friend me at Elizabeth Tesi if you’d be interested in on-the-spot updates!