The following is a report from Wendy Grace, ECW Delegate from the Episcopal Church in Vermont.
Wendy Grace (middle) poses for a photo with Vermont Deputies the Rev. Scott Neal and Nanci Gordon before Eucharist at General Convention
Stir Up the Spirit! ¡Celebremos! These were the words that drove the worship, the attitude, the business, and the actions of the Episcopal Church Women Triennial Meeting. The logo was ubiquitous; it was on the big screen that greeted us each day as well as the tote bag given to each of us that we carried everywhere; it was in the language of the preaching and worship; you’d even see it in the beautiful expressions of the sign language interpreters. And you know what? It worked! How we stirred up the Spirit and celebrated that week! We celebrated the trials and tribulations that women’s groups around the nation persevered through over the past three years. We celebrated the joys and the successes of Jesus’ healing message brought to lives saved by God’s grace and love. We celebrated the election of a new Presiding Bishop (who tickled me pink by remembering me from Diocesan Convention several years ago). We celebrated momentous and historical news that would have direct bearing on our faith traditions and in our lives. We celebrated the ministries and missions and the working out of God’s purpose. We celebrated all we had to teach and all that we would learn from one another.
Over the course of the 8 days of the Triennial Meeting, I met some truly remarkable women, listened to thought-provoking and inspiring lectures and presentations, participated in edifying workshops, and shared in some of the most empowering worship services I’ve ever experienced! In my thoughts, I took along all the women of my acquaintance in the Diocese of Vermont and wished with all my heart that you could have been there with me. Being in the midst of a large group of people who share in your faith and its traditions is so reaffirming and energizing.
Each ECW Triennial Meeting has a theme for mission that helps determine the direction for the next three years of ECW works. This year’s brought into sharp focus the issue of human trafficking. It seemed to fit so uncannily perfectly with much of the social justice issues with which our state struggles. I learned so much, but there are two particular experiences that most impressed me and marked the direction for my own walk with God. The first was a presentation by Rachel Lloyd, the founder of GEMS (Girls Educational and Mentoring Service). This is an organization that helps young women escape the powerlessness of life on the streets—drug addiction, prostitution, gang warfare, criminal activity. It wasn’t until Ms. Lloyd was well into her talk that we realized that she herself had survived that very life. Meeting this vibrant, strong, charismatic woman today, it’s quite impossible to think of her as a victim. And that is the goal of GEMS—to empower women with the grace of God that they might realize the true gems that they are. I’m intrigued by the idea of bringing GEMS to Vermont, if not the actual organization, then at least its concepts and principles.
The second experience I had was at the Exhibition Hall. One of the booths was for Thistle Farms. Thistle Farms provides a home, intense rehabilitation and therapy and ultimately a means of earning a living for women coming out of prison who want a better life for themselves and their family. I spoke with a young woman who is a veteran of the program, who was very candid about her past, her present and her dreams for her future. Listening to her, recognizing how completely foreign her life and mine are to each other, and yet having the same love of God filled me with a sense of awe and wonder. I felt so proud of this young woman who overcame a debilitating life of trauma and trouble that was her “normal” to embrace a life in God. I marveled at this feeling of pride, for I had nothing to do with her resolve to create a better life for herself and therefore had no right to this sense of admiration. But God does. And I believe that God in us recognizes and is pleased by the wonder of others. Meeting Tracy, however brief and fleeting our acquaintance may be, showed me that being more missional in our church life is a two-way street—bringing others to a closer, stronger relationship with God serves also to bring oneself closer to God. This chance encounter taught me that loving others is a whole lot easier when you let God do it through you.
As I flew home, filled to overflowing with all my experiences and inspirations, I looked down upon the great expanse of amazing creation—the great Salt Lake and its salt flats and swamps, the mountains and canyons that made way for the wide, tamed prairies—it stuck me anew how apt and fitting the logo for our Triennial was. Stir up the Spirit and Celebrate! Presiding Bishop-Elect, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry is welcomed by ECW President Nancy Crawford (right) and ECW President-Elect, Lisa Towle (left) The newly elected Episcopal Church Women Board of Directors Episcopal Church Women at 2015 Triennial Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah Rachel Lloyd, founder and CEO of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services