“Why do the loudest voices always drown out the best ones?”
That question hung in the air for a few moments at the 2019 Nevertheless She Preached conference held at First Baptist Church of Austin, Texas, on Sept. 22-24.
The line was part of a spoken word presentation that opened the Monday morning worship gathering, contrasting a compilation of negative comments heard by women called to vocational ministry (“God doesn’t call women to preach.”) with positive affirmations (“I was the first pastor to believe her.”).
The concluding statements set the stage for what would follow: “I will tell women, ‘Yes, you can.’ I will tell women, ‘I believe you.’ We will tell them, ‘Here, I am.’”
The annual gathering launched in 2017. The conference is “designed and led by women” and was established to offer “an outward sign and symbol that women desperately needed a place to be fully seen and heard, and that we were not getting that support out in the world – not consistently, not enough, not in our churches, not even in our seminaries,” according to its website.
This year’s meeting began with a Sunday evening event and continued through Tuesday with two full days of worship, lectures, panel discussions, workshops and networking opportunities.
Conference leaders addressed a variety of topics, including women in ministry, interfaith engagement, bridge building as well as countering patriarchalism, racism, sexism and classism.
“The Bible has been used against us, women in general, all through the ages,” said Lai Ling Ngan in her Monday morning lecture. “And the church is solidly in support of this abuse.”
Ngan, who recently retired as associate professor of Christian Scriptures at Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas, urged those present to “remember, reclaim and rehabilitate the stories of women in the Bible.”
She explained that this requires reading the biblical texts closely, noting where and how women’s stories have been presented and considering what is not said as much as what is said.
Additional lectures were presented by Alicia Reyes-Barrientez, Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, Namsoon Kang and Mihee Kim-Kort. Margaret Aymar, Traci Blackmon and Emmy Kegler preached during the worship gatherings.
Many presenters addressed borders and boundaries that often hinder community because they create dichotomies of us-them and insider-outsider, emphasizing the importance of building bridges and working to emulate the inclusive welcome of Jesus.
“If we do not know how to be together, then we are not breathing together, and we are not creating conditions for community or collective vision for liberation or freedom,” Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, founder of the Activist Theology Project based in Nashville, Tennessee, observed in a Monday afternoon panel discussion that addressed identity politics, among other subjects.
Traci Blackmon focused on moving beyond such boundaries in Monday evening’s sermon. She is executive minister of justice and witness ministries of The United Church of Christ and senior pastor of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri.
Drawing on the well-known story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-35, Blackmon urged listeners to consider the question, “What about the road?”
Noting that we all have “Jericho Roads” in the places we live, Blackmon emphasized “the road to Jericho is also a metaphor for everyday situations in many peoples’ lives” and asked, “Are you able to see the divine in ‘the other’? And, more urgently, is ‘the other’ able to see the divine in you?”
“Jesus is found in the image of the one who is battered, who is naked, who is left for dead on the side of the road,” she said. “Until we can see Jesus in the wounded ones, until we can see Jesus in the ones left to die, until we can see Jesus in black bodies and brown bodies and poor bodies and immigrant bodies and LGBTQ bodies and gender nonconforming bodies and disabled bodies and elderly bodies and young bodies, then, friends, we really haven’t seen Jesus at all.”
Tuesday workshops focused on white patriarchalism, building bridges, immigration and navigating divisive conversations.
An interfaith panel featuring a Baptist minister, Buddhist nun and Jewish rabbi preceded these offerings. They discussed their calls to ministry and how they navigate the stated roles in their job descriptions versus the lived experienced as female ministers, among other topics.
Griff Martin, pastor of First Austin, told EthicsDaily.com that the congregation was “proud to be hosting Nevertheless She Preached this year in our space.”
“This is exactly what the Kingdom of God needs right now, voices that have not been heard enough in most of our churches leading us forward and saving our world,” he said. “For too long, only one voice (white, straight and male) has dominated so much of the church conversation.”
Nevertheless She Preached “is helping bring about a revolution of listening to the beautiful chorus of voices God is using to call us to more,” Martin said.