The First Drop
November 19, 2021
Post Author: Rev. Karie Ann Charlton
I never wanted to be the Period Pastor. I menstruate, I care about women’s issues, and I believe in God. I am called to connect faith and feminism, even if that means my sermons and mission work make some people squirm. I desire to have a spiritual life that leads to action, specifically supporting other women by making washable menstrual pads. You won’t find an ad for ministry like this on a seminary bulletin board or the side of a Tampax box.
So no, I never wanted to be the Period Pastor. What I wanted was a comfortable associate pastor position with a brilliant head of staff in a church that would support my continuing education until I felt like I could be a “real” pastor. When I arrived for my first day of work at my first ordained call, I didn’t realize how much sifting through of the previous two associate pastors I would be doing. The filing cabinet was full. I was overwhelmed.
Then, after reading through and sorting mail into piles, I came across a printer paper box lid that was filled with fabric scraps, patterns, printed emails, and photocopied articles. In that instant, the direction of my call changed, though I didn’t realize it until much later. The fabric scraps were in familiar shapes, but shapes that seemed so out-of-place for a pastor’s office. They looked like menstrual pads!
I asked one of the women at the church and found out that the Presbyterian Women of Third Church decided earlier in 2014 to make washable menstrual products but had not managed to get the project flowing. (I hope you like girl bathroom humor! If not you might as well stop reading now.) The fabric scraps, patterns and photocopies I found in my office came with a vision to do ministry differently.
The feminist part of me loved the idea of washable menstrual products as a reliable, reusable, and sustainable solution. The social justice part of me loved that having access to these washable pads freed people from systemic poverty by giving girls more days in school and women more days at work. The pastor part of me realized that when people are comfortable making washable pads and talking about women’s health, they are willing to talk about other uncomfortable subjects, like faith and spirituality. This could be the hands-on project that would help me and the congregation support women all over the world.
Women and girls around the world are vulnerable, especially when they are menstruating and don’t have a way to manage the flow. Periods are a social taboo in many parts of the world and each place has its unique social world to navigate. In some places in our world, menstruating girls and women are separated from their families, their communities, and the safety those groups provide.
But there is hope. When girls have access to menstrual products, they stay in school longer. When girls are able to finish school, they are less likely to marry at a young age, they are more likely to delay having children until their bodies are fully developed, and they have healthier, happier children. When women are educated, they improve the lives of their families and communities in all areas of health, wellness, and prosperity. When women (you know, halfthe world’s population) are educated, the world becomes a better place.
Four periods (men: read 4 1/2 months, several boxes of expensive, and taxed, tampons and liners, two pounds of M&Ms, and six Advil gel caps) after finding that box in my office, the church held its first sewing day and we registered as a team. Later, Third Presbyterian Church became the host of the Pittsburgh Chapter of Days for Girls International. The Days for Girls Mission is simple: creating a more dignified, free and educated world through access to lasting menstrual health. Their tagline is: Every Girl. Everywhere. Period.
Each standard Days for Girls washable kit includes: 2 waterproof shields, 8 liners, 2 panties, 1 carry pouch, a 100% cotton wash cloth, a small bar of soap, and an ovulation chart and directions, all packaged in a drawstring bag. Those are the things you can see. What you might not notice immediately is that those kits also contain: dignity, education, and independence.
Over the course of many cycles (more M&Ms and Advil, but now I’m using a menstrual cup), I have found opportunities to educate and empower women (and men) through my work. I met with women living in a halfway house who were transitioning between prison and freedom. I also met college students who are interested in healthcare professions, sustainability, and empowering women. The women living at those houses and the students need opportunities for required service hours, so I invited them to come and make menstrual pads. Together we have created a unique community where women are valued, encouraged, empowered, and most importantly, loved .
Third Church and a few other congregations have heard some version of my Period Sermon based on Luke 8:40-56. The basic version is that Jesus was on his way to heal a 12-year-old girl but stopped to heal a woman experiencing heavy bleeding. The story reminds me of the way that I thought about the Days for Girls project as being something we did for little girls somewhere else, but in reality we were doing ministry in the church basement with women (and men) from our community. Centering women, healing, and restoring community are the goal and are the way to the goal. Those who gathered to make the washable pads to help someone else became for each other a loving and supportive community.
As I continue to work with community groups, interfaith clergy groups, and members of my church, I have found a need to articulate how this work relates to faith expressions. For me, being a feminist must include anti-racism work as well as being open to and affirming of the LGBTQ+ community. I’m also reading more liberation theology along with feminist and womanist theology. While I hold onto my PCUSA ordination and beliefs, I can have what Barbara Brown Taylor calls Holy Envy for the way in which others relate to God. Regardless of faith tradition (or not claiming a specific tradition), the people I work with see service to others (specifically with Days for Girls) and social justice work as integral to their lives.
This is God’s work. Period.
I never wanted this, never imagined this, never dreamed this, and yet, it is the call that I choose to answer: Period Pastor.
Rev. Karie Ann Charlton is the associate pastor at Third Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and is the leader of thePittsburgh Chapter of Days for Girls. Karie reflects on her work in her blog, periodpastor.com and can be found @periodpastor on Instagram and Facebook.