A toast to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them
October was a difficult month. I was not feeling strong. I was struggling with my sense of call, with my identity as a young clergy woman, and with the “balance” (whatever that means) between family and work obligations. And I was experiencing what my husband and I refer to as the Quarter Quell (think about Katniss reacting to the announcement of the Hunger Games Quarter Quell, with “nothing to subdue the hysteria rising up inside me”) it’s a period that comes with self-destruct hormones, heavy bleeding, intense pain, and generally stinks. When extra hugs, snuggles, and M&Ms were clearly not working, my sweet husband finally said, “please tell me how to help you”, but I couldn’t speak. This is a period I’m thankful to experience only occasionally because it calls me into a reality check. The reality that I have let stress and anxiety get the best of me; I have not taken care of my body or my soul; I am (figuratively) bleeding out. My menstrual cup is a helpful metaphor; fill it, dump it, clean it, take a deep breath and start again. So, I took the stress and anxiety that was filling me, dumped it, took a deep breath and worked on self-care. What I have learned about myself is that part of my self-care routine needs to include spending time with strong women. Luckily, I am surrounded by other strong women who reminded me that I am strong too. October was a month in which I was constantly in touch with these women and the work that we are doing together. So, cheers to all of the strong women in my life! May the rest of this entry be about getting to know strong women, reminding myself that I am strong, and reflecting on the opportunities to influence and strengthen other women.
October was the Global Girls Festival (October 5th – November 1st). This festival was for Days for Girls International, a sprint to reach 100,000 girls and women in 28 days (get it). November 1st is the 10th anniversary of Days for Girls. In this cycle, I had plans to lead the Pittsburgh Chapter to take steps to increase our production and to get more people involved. Pitt Girl Up and the DFG Club came to Third Church on Oct 10th and I met with DFG Club students on campus on Oct. 11th to celebrate the international day for the girl.
Half way across the country, Constance (Pittsburgh Chapter co-leader) was helping to facilitate events in Utah and learning new tips and tricks to bring back to our little sweat shop. We connected through text and FaceTime to share her discoveries. I was thankful for the reminders that we are connected to a larger community of women making the world a better place.
On October 20th, we opened our doors for Pitt Make A Difference Day and welcomed over 30 students to join the sweat shop. Most students have not sewn before and were anxious and excited to learn. We had more non-sewing stations than we had in the past, mostly because Constance had learned new ways to divide up the tasks. I decided to float between stations and just make sure everything was running smoothly, which also allowed me the opportunity to talk about how the project started and to identify my role as pastor in the midst of it all. (Sometimes, I forget to tell people that I am a pastor, often they think I’m an enthusiastic volunteer, until they ask if I attend the church.) I decided that this was the event to be intentional about identifying my role. I was pleasantly surprised that a few students did ask engaging faith questions while I was ripping out their misplaced stitches. Sitting still with a seem ripper in hand is another good metaphor for ministry. Ripping is helping, restarting, reframing and then allowing someone else to do the next step. It’s about setting someone else up for success.
We ended our time with the students with lunch and I talked about the project and how it started. I gave volunteers to talk about how they decided to become involved and why it was meaningful. I spoke honestly about my need to find a way for faith and feminism to intersect in my life and in my role as pastor. It was cathartic for us and we hope inspiring for the students.
Constance and I tabled for DFG during lunch at Chatham. Meaning, we sat at a table, greeted students warmly as they tried to avoid eye contact. I think they have been over tabled this year, maybe we will try earlier in the school year next year. We were able to connect with a student who is a regular volunteer for our Wednesday sewing group and talk to another student who was interested. In the mostly downtime, we talked over what went well and made plans for future events.
In the following two weeks, I went to The Neighborhood Academy to talk about reusable, sustainable menstrual products to each of the girl groups with the school counselor. The school contacted me (because our church financially supports them and they use our sanctuary for graduation each year), but mostly because I’ve been in contact with some of the staff through Facebook and of course, this blog, so when the counselor asked the other staff if anyone knew anything about menstrual cups (and most didn’t) I got an invitation to speak because they knew me as the period pastor. It was affirming to know that the period pastor identity is less of a secret and is seen as a useful and wonderful part of the work I’m doing. The girls (9th – 12th grades) at the school were delightful. Their energy and honesty are inspiring. When I passed around a menstrual cup for them to see (and touch) one of the students used it like a suction cup and stuck it to her chin! I wish I had a picture. No shame and stigma there. Most of the girls were curious about using a cup but too nervous to try. We talked about trying tampons, using period underwear and generally about being a menstruating woman. It was a joy filled experience. The time with these young ladies was filled with laughter and was refreshing for my soul. I did speak to the male counselor and there are plans to take the DFG “men who know” curriculum to the boys at TNA in the near future.
Over the weekend of October 26th, Constance, Nita and I (along with members of the Valencia team) went to the Northeast DFG Conference in Philadelphia, there we trained for kit making and advocacy. Each of us completed the Ambassador of Women’s Health training too. It was an amazing weekend, of connecting with Celeste, her team, and all of the other women (and men) who are volunteering with Days for Girls. It was “sew” inspiring.
Back in Pittsburgh, to keep the project flowing, I’ve adjusted our leadership structures. Constance is in charge of the sweatshop, managing sewists and other volunteers. I have officially and joyfully handed over the keys. It is a wonderful feeling to train someone and hand over the responsibility of continuing the project. This allows me to be free to attend to other matters on Wednesdays. Passing this part of the project on helps me to feel good about leaving it completely when the time comes. Part of being a strong leader is building up those who will lead when I can’t. In the meantime, I will be focusing on outreach to other community groups as well as managing funds and maintaining connection with and accountability to DFG. I am hoping to train another volunteer to manage the funds, email, and Facebook page soon. The outreach to the corrections center, college campuses, and other groups will be more difficult to pass along, but I believe it can be done.
MaryEllen has been and will continue to coordinate lunch schedules. It has been wonderful to have someone who knows her way around the church kitchen be in charge of this aspect of our long day. Providing lunch is one way we care for our volunteers and let them know that their work is appreciated.
I’m also recognizing that I have been able to build up my top leaders, I’ve been able to engage with college students and other volunteers that engage sporadically, but I really need to work on those in the middle; those who are stakeholders because they are part of the congregation that is financially supporting the Pittsburgh Chapter’s efforts. I need this group to see value in the project so that they continue their financial support. I think the best way to do that is to invite them to continue to do what they are already doing and to report what has been happening in Constance’s sweat shop in hopes that inspires them to more participation. Perhaps inviting them to connect to each other, and to the community members that are working on this project will inspire them as it inspires me. In the latest edition of the church newsletter, I included an article about the up-dates and concluded it with the following paragraph:
“ AND… we need your help. Many of you have contributed lunches, washcloths, soap, and zip lock bags and we are “sew” grateful for that support so please keep it coming. In addition, we would love to have more volunteers come to Constance’s sweat shop. She has made great efforts to find more meaningful things for people who are nervous about using the sewing machines to do. This is an opportunity to contribute to our production and to interact with community volunteers (did you know we have had over 130 college students participate?). We have noticed that the students often ask where they should go or where they should sit or how they should dress if they want to come to worship. What we need is a few volunteers to sit in a designate pew so that we can direct students to you on Sunday morning. We also need to find homes for the kits we are making. Our increased production is quickly filling our closet space, and we would really love to see these kits get to women and girls who need them. Karie would love help connecting with local medical mission groups or other organizations willing to take kits, so if you have a connection, please contact her. We will also need extra volunteers to help with the Pitt Day of Service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Specifically, we need volunteers to greet students as they arrive, set up lunch, help with clean up, and generally engage students in meaningful dialogue about why service and mission is important to you.”
Looking back on October, I can see that it was a month of personal struggle, but also a month of inspiration. So, I remain hopeful about the future, for me, for the Pittsburgh Chapter of Days for Girls, for Third Church, and for all of the strong women all over the world.
A toast to strong women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them. Cheers!