The Cloud of Witnesses

Ancestors have been coming up with more frequency than usual in what I’m reading and reflecting on lately. In her video message and article around the Commemoration of the Emanuel 9 June 17, 2020, Pastor Kwame Pitts speaks about what it means to venerate African-American ancestors who struggled against racial injustice in their own times, and honoring their lives by continuing the struggle for equality in our time. I’ve also been reading Kaitlin Curtice’s memoir Native: Identity, Belonging and Rediscovering God, in which she seamlessly includes noticing the legacy and honoring the ways she experiences communing with her Potowatomi ancestors in her own hybrid native-Christian faith.

On this date 50 years ago, a major step was taken by my predecessors, making it possible for me to be a Lutheran pastor. After much advocacy and theological wrestling, the wording was changed in the official documents of the Lutheran church body I belong to, allowing for the ordination of women. Folks of European ancestry may not have as robust of a concept of interaction with our ancestors as Black or Indigenous people, although our history books are full of European events and leaders. I need to read more about the strength of ties to our ancestors and a history of trauma as a people. Yet the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 12🕐:1 does resonate, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”

Today I name some of the women who made me who I am, and opened the way to me living fully into my dual vocation as a faith leader and a mother. My feisty maternal grandmother Florence and the independence of her sister Thelma as well as my own mother Marilyn and her sister Jane certainly instilled in me a fierce sense of independence and the confidence that my voice deserves to be heard. These are not women who keep quiet, but have been and are adamantly faithful to Christ and their families. In the Metro DC Synod where I served first a congregation as pastor, the very first woman ordained in our denomination served: Rev. Elizabeth Platz, and that synod now has its first Latina bishop. A couple places in my book I name the work of the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich and theologians like Rosemary Ruether and Delores Williams who stretched the metaphors for God to include feminine imagery, which makes my recognition of God’s mothering actions possible. The personal ancestors and collective witness of ancestors who opened the way for me to become who I currently am calls forth gratitude and determination to become an ancestor of faithful influence on others.

*Photos of me with both my grandmothers

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