The First Drop

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 (Monday, November 3rd, 2014) 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; my filing cabinet was FULL.  There were binders filling a shelf with the labels: session, deacons, confirmation, Christian education, mission partners, and pumpkins.  On other shelves were children’s books and crayons; youth curriculum and games; VBS materials and volunteer forms.  There was a box full of cards to send for every occasion: birthday, mothers day, baptism, joining the church, confirmation, sympathy, death of a pet, and blanks.  There was a stack of mail in one corner that had been there for several months which was addressed to people who didn’t work there anymore or to titles I didn’t think I carried: The Rev., Children’s Minister, Mission Coordinator, Youth and Young Adult Director, Small group leader, Campus Outreach, etc.  And there were magazines: Presbyterian Outlook, Horizons (Presbyterian Women‘s Publication), Group’s Youth Ministry Magazine, a playground equipment catalog, Penney’s office attire, IKEA furniture, and several others that I threw out without reading the titles.  I was overwhelmed.  After reading through and sorting mail into piles (the largest one in the recycling bin), I came across a printer paper box lid that was filled with fabric scraps, patterns, printed emails, and photocopied articles.  The direction of my call changed in that instant (but I didn’t realize it until much later).  I sat on the floor and read the articles. I carefully examined the patterns whose shapes were familiar but seemed as out of place in this office as I did….

…. naturally, 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 (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.  It was the kind of vision that is near and dear to the heart of our Presbyterian Women, a vision we believe is near and dear to the heart of God; it was a vision to improve the lives of vulnerable people.

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.  Some menstruating girls miss school, which means missing educational opportunities, and each time they miss a lesson (or several) it becomes harder to keep up with the work and they drop out.   For some girls, missing school also means missing the school lunch and they will suffer nutritional deficits.  In some places in  our world, menstruating girls and women are separated from their families, their communities, and the safety those groups provide.

There is hope.  When girls have access to menstrual products, they stay in school longer.  And 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 are educated (you know, have the world’s population), 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, strengthening our ties to an affiliation of the PW.  The DFG Mission is Simple:  Creating a more dignified, free and educated world through access to lasting menstrual health.  With the tag: Every Girl. Everywhere. Period.

Each standard Days for Girls washable kit includes: 2 water proof shields, 8 liners, 2 panties, 1 carry pouch, a 100% cotton wash cloth, a small bar of soap, an ovulation chart and directions, all packaged in a drawstring bag.  But those things you can see.  What you might not notice immediately is that those kits 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 half way house who were transitioning between prison and freedom and an alcohol rehab home.  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.  And together we have created a unique community where women are valued, encouraged, empowered, and most importantly, loved.

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.

On April 22nd of 2018, during a break in our CREDO week, my friend, Katy Steinberg encouraged me to take the next big step and own my identity, Period Pastor, by blogging about this bloody work.

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