As I dashed through the airport, I was already tired. Why had I agreed to attend a three-day conference hundreds of miles away a mere six weeks before I moved? My calendar had looked so wonderfully open when I agreed to represent GCSRW at the 2014 UM Clergywomen Leadership Seminar. Then it was Holy Week and Easter and appointment season, and I found myself running around with my checklist, trying to get everything in place for a few days away. At the last minute, I threw a swimsuit and gym clothes into my suitcase. I hadn’t worked out in weeks—too busy to exercise—but maybe we’d get an afternoon off.
I was nervous about going to a conference where I only knew one other person. She wasn’t arriving until midnight the first day, so I’d have to do that awkward dance of “where do I sit—do these people look friendly?” as we gathered.
Fortunately, folks were friendly. I began to make connections with new people. I met people from the city, conference, and jurisdiction where I'm moving. And it turned out I did know two or three people—the Connection is smaller than I thought! There were women from seminary, and there were leaders in the United Methodist Church who I had seen from afar or read on their blogs (UM geek-out moment!). A colleague from seminary and I raced across the room to say hi. One young clergywoman gave the devotion the closing morning. An ad hoc group that had met for dinner the night before held up signs to cheer her on. None of us had known each other before that week.
We spent time playing in the waves at the beach. We shared stories of strength and courage. We gave comfort where it was needed. We went to a sushi restaurant for dinner. And when this intergenerational “free time” was over at 10 p.m., one woman gave the highest compliment she could: “For my introverted self, it's been 7 hours with ‘strangers’ and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
The clergywomen’s gathering moved us from being strangers to colleagues to friends. We facilitated deep conversations in the short time we were together. As one of the two GCSRW representatives, I heard stories in the listening session that highlighted the joys, challenges, and opportunities of being women in ministry. We asked the women who gathered over lunch to write messages for GCSRW on 3x5 cards, and we got 100+ cards back, some in very tiny print, front-and-back, with ideas, suggestions, and encouragement.
Later that evening, we held a health forum. The diverse leaders encouraged us to create intentional physical, emotional, and spiritual health plans. I sat there and thought of how tired I had been before coming. When I’m the most stressed, I am the least likely to exercise and the most likely to pick up a fast food smoothie (it has fruit, right?!) instead of sitting down for dinner. And the less I exercise and eat well, the worse I sleep. The worse I sleep, the less productive I get, and the more I bury myself in my to-do list rather than eating, sleeping, exercising, and socializing my way back to full health.
After the evening health session, I took the elevator up six floors to my room. I took off my high heels. I put on a T-shirt, shorts, and running shoes. I walked down to the ground-floor fitness center and found an entire roomful of clergywomen. All of the treadmills, ellipticals, and bicycles were taken by women who were talking, giggling, and sweating. I joined another woman in doing sit-ups while we waited for our turn. A few men came in and promptly turned back around. When a treadmill opened up, I got on and jogged for 30 minutes. I drank water and gave thanks to God for this time of renewal and rejuvenation. Then I returned to the sixth floor—taking the steps up two at a time.
Click here for more news from the convention by Susan Green of the Florida Conference Connection.