40 Now when Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him. 41 Just then there came a man named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house, 42 for he had an only daughter, about twelve years old, who was dying.
As he went, the crowds pressed in on him. 43 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years; and though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his clothes, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped. 45 Then Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and press in on you.” 46 But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.” 47 When the woman saw that she could not remain hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before him, she declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
49 While he was still speaking, someone came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead; do not trouble the teacher any longer.” 50 When Jesus heard this, he replied, “Do not fear. Only believe, and she will be saved.” 51 When he came to the house, he did not allow anyone to enter with him, except Peter, John, and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 They were all weeping and wailing for her; but he said, “Do not weep; for she is not dead but sleeping.” 53 And they laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and called out, “Child, get up!” 55 Her spirit returned, and she got up at once. Then he directed them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astounded; but he ordered them to tell no one what had happened.
There is a video of me reading “The Hem” from the book “For Such a Time as This: Stories of Women from the Bible, Retold for Girls” by Angie Smith and Illustrated by Breezy Brookshire on the Period Pastor Facebook Page.
Cornerstones are important for buildings structurally and to mark the foundation or founding of something substantial. They are the pieces that are put in first, they are the big stones that support and hold up the other stones, and eventually the rest of the structure. It seems that many of us have been evaluating what our cornerstones were or are as we live through a pandemic.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what the corner stones of my own faith are, what are the cornerstones in my work as a pastor in a particular place, in a virtual place like Facebook, Instagram and the Period Pastor blog and podcast, and what is the big cornerstone I want to base whatever ministry in this new phase is going to be.
As I ponder these things and the metaphor of a cornerstone, I realized that cornerstones are places where I’ve made a change in direction. The stone is large, and it marks the stopping of one wall and the hard-left turn that will begin the new wall. A cornerstone is an event, an experience with God, that changes the direction I was headed. And yet, each corner stone eventually leads back to the other, creating a structure that is different and better than I imagined.
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 office work at my first ordained call, I didn’t realize how much sifting through of the previous two associate pastors 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 familiar shapes but seemed as out of place in 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 reusable menstrual hygiene products but had not managed to get the project flowing. 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, half the world’s population) are educated, the world becomes a better place.
Making reusable menstrual pads wasn’t exactly how I pictured working to help vulnerable people. But I knew that my job would include mission, working with the PW, and the deacons. Since this was a PW project, and since we had some money to use for mission, this seemed like a valid hands-on mission project. Why not?
The Days for Girls project was a cornerstone in the sense that it was a large rock or a big project that fit some of the goals in my job description. I Imagined, me and Jesus, and the PW making kits to send to 12-year-old girls who would need these to improve the trajectory of their lives. It was a clear path. We make the kits, they go to girls about to get their first period, and then those girls don’t have to miss school because of their period. They can continue their education, delay marriage and the start of their family until after they have completed school. When girls are educated, their communities are lifted out of poverty.
But then, as with all cornerstones, the direction changed. The Days for Girls project was also a cornerstone in that pursing the goal of helping women, my work took a hard-left turn. We had great success in our first sewing day, but also a lot of half-finished kits, so we needed to do another sewing event, and then another. Eventually, we registered with DFG as the Pittsburgh Chapter and other people found us.
When I met with interfaith groups at Chatham, Pitt, and CMU, I found out that students were looking for something to do, not necessarily something to believe. Students wanted to make a difference in the world, they wanted to be doctors, and environmentalists and they were looking for volunteer opportunities to round out their education. So, I invited them to DFG.
When I met with the counselors of the local halfway house, I thought we would be providing menstrual pads, or soap, or bus passes. But what I learned is that the women there need help with self-esteem, they needed to be loved, and they needed to complete required service hours. They weren’t looking for another AA or group therapy or worship. They needed to be out of the house doing something positive. So, I invited them to Days for Girls.
One day a supervisor called to see if her clients could come to do some volunteer work. They need something to keep their hands busy, they aren’t able to do paid work, they need a place to go during the week that can accommodate some of their special needs. So, I invited them to Days for Girls.
The Days for Girls project became so much more than I imagined. I thought that the path was clear. It would be me, and Jesus, and the PW working on kits, raising money to go on a trip so I could place those kits into the hands of 12-year-old girls, changing their lives forever. But now, there is a crowd of people pressing on us from all sides and Jesus suddenly stops and says who touched me. What do you mean Jesus? With all of these other people in the sewing room making kits, of course someone touched you, we’re busy here. Keep sewing, keep ironing, keep packing, we have to get to that little girl. Remember Jesus? The plan is, make the kits, fundraise, get on a plane, put the kit in the hand of a 12-year-old girl, we don’t have time to stop. We have to help vulnerable women. We have to empower little girls. We have to enable them to break the system that holds them back. But Jesus stops. He looks around. Who touched me? What do you mean Jesus? Jesus says, someone touched me, I felt healing happen. No Jesus, you didn’t, we are on the way to healing the world. Remember the little girl. Jesus stops. No, someone was healed just now. Who touched me?
The sharp edge that creates the corner, the hard-left turn in what I thought was a straight path is the question, who touched me? And for a moment I can see the room through Jesus’ eyes. The corner stone that I thought was leading us to help a 12-year-old girl, is really the corner of two walls that connect. The mission is about the 12-year-old girl, but the mission is also about how we get to her and who is with us along the way. Centering women, healing, restoring community is the goal and it is the way to the goal.
Jesus asks who touched me to make us look around. He takes a moment to center the marginalized woman. Her unusual menstrual bleeding was a sign of a larger health problem, but also a barrier for her to be in complete community with others. He healed her physically, he listened to her and centered her for a moment in the social group, he praised her faith, he called her beloved daughter. Jesus is a wholistic healer. He models for us centering the marginalized, listening to the voice of the oppressed, honoring all persons as beloved members of our family. So, our mission hasn’t changed, but we have paused and looked around, realizing that those who are among us as partners in service need healing too.
In Luke we are presented with two beautiful stories about women who had managed to find healing through Jesus. One about a little girl who is sick and eventually dies while waiting for her loved ones to bring Jesus to her. She is healed despite the laughter and scorn that greets Jesus when he finally arrives. The other is about a woman who through sheer will, and persistence, reached out for something bigger than herself when all else seemed lost. She is healed on the way. Jesus’ ministry of healing and reconciliation is for all along the way and not just for some at the end of the journey. And healing, faith, and reconciliation are all things that look different for everyone. We all find the rough edge of the corner stone from our own wall, and in those hard-left turns we see each other; the community that is touching the corner stone looking for healing and finding it in those who are seeking healing too. When Jesus asks who touched me, we might ask who else touched this corner stone?
Ministry isn’t always what I think it is going to be. Sometimes ministry happens when ministry is interrupted. What we thought was going to be a mission project to empower women, became a mission project that empowers women who work to empower women. What we thought was a service project to help girls and women “out there” became a community of women working for healing, purpose, and community here. It is a group with the goal to help the 12-year-old girl at the receiving end of the kit, and it is a group with a goal to journey together to make the kit.
And together we have created a unique community where women are valued, encouraged, empowered, and most importantly, loved. It’s a community that no matter how you arrived, you leave different, maybe even healed.
It’s been over seven years since I found that that box in my office. Third Presbyterian Church is 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.
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.
Starting with a cornerstone of empowering women God has built an incredible ministry that I am honored to be part of. I never wanted this, never imagined this, never dreamed this, and yet, it is the call that I choose to answer: Period Pastor.