The Table

Without question, the subject of this amazing book, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray, is the most influential woman of the 20th century, whom we know the least about!

Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray

Pauli Murray was a lawyer who worked on the most powerful civil rights legislation of her day, was affiliated with the ACLU, the EEOC, National Organization for Women (as a founder), the UN Commission on the Status of Women, was deeply involved in discussions about the ERA vs. expansion of the 14th amendment.

Names of Pauli Murray’s colleagues in these endeavors include Eleanor Holmes Norton, Betty Friedan, Ruth Bader Ginzburg, Dorothy Height, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian Anderson – and the list goes on.

But what brought me to her was that she was the first African American woman priest, ordained in the Episcopal church.  (I should confess that this first ordination was so key to me; one of the women in the group visited a church in Chicago.  I drove a long way to be part of her congregation the Sunday she visited, and was completely overwhelmed at the sight of a woman’s form in vestments.  And what a thing to hear a woman preach!  And some time later, my sister joined the Episcopal church in Massachusetts, and was welcomed by Barbara Harris, the first black woman bishop in the Episcopal church.)

Here are a couple of articles which cover the career of Pauli Murray totally worth the read.

What both of them miss are two points:

1. As a black woman in the 40’s through the ’60’s, she was making HUGE contributions to several fields, including civil rights and rights for women, but struggled to get and keep income-producing jobs, and was always paid less than white, male colleagues.  A reflection of her peripatetic existence is that the application for the NY bar had to list every place she’d ever lived, and every job she had, with contact information for each.  Her application was 230 pages long!

2. From early adulthood, she firmly felt that she was not, biologically, a typical woman.  She tried for most of her life to find medical folks who would help her understand and live the way she thought she should be living.

Despite these huge impediments, her contributions are enormous.  I can think of no better example of persistence and grit. Finally, let me offer the words of Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, recently installed as the first black woman in the Episcopal church to lead a diocese:

Bishop Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows

“She was such an important sign for black women in a number of fields – but especially the church – about what is possible.  She was a quiet warrior in many ways – breaking barriers and seeking equality and parity.  I know that I stand on her shoulders.”


For the fourth time, the women of Voices of Faith gathered at the Vatican on International Women’s Day (March 8) for a storytelling and conversation series highlighting women’s resilience and courage. This year’s theme focused on peace-building and women’s unique role as first responders and negotiators in crisis, conflict regions and communities in need.

Expectations for this year’s conversation were high for Church reform advocates. I wrote clearly about my disappointment in last year’s event here, especially the disconnect between global oppression of women and the oppression of women in Catholic institutions, as well as the shortcomings of the panel discussion, “What women want,” which was a heavily coded conversation, underscored by Dr. Carolyn Woo’s comments which painfully dismissed women’s ordination efforts.

In that light, I greatly appreciated Voices of Faith Managing Director Chantal Gotz’s opening comments about her anger and the need for more people to be angry.  Claiming anger and broadcasting it from the Vatican is a powerful thing.

Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal, Superior General of the Society of Jesus followed Chantal with frank comments about women in the Church:

But if we are honest, we acknowledge that the fullness of women’s participation in the church has not yet arrived. That inclusion, which will bring the gift of resilience and collaboration even more deeply in the church, remains stymied in many forms… No one is more resilient than women building and supporting the church in the poorest parts of our world…. The opposite of clericalism is collaboration, working together as baptized sons and daughters of God.

I took the liberty of contextualizing some of his comments to call to mind the many women working in priestly and spiritual ministry when Fr. Sosa said:

St. Francis of Assisi himself said, ‘Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.’ … We have more than started. We will not stop.

I encourage you to listen to the stories from Part I of the event on the livestream. The women are extraordinary and captivating. Nothing new — women are incredible — but hearing their stories and being able to express gratitude and support firsthand was a great privilege.

Just before the panel discussion, “Building Effective Leadership for Peace”

Kerry Robinson, Global Ambassador of the Leadership Roundtable, moderated the panel discussion to follow, featuring Scilla Elsworthy from Peace Direct and Rising Women, Rising World; Flavia Agnes, a human rights lawyer from India; and Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS executive director of Catholic Lobby organization, NETWORK. These women have incredible life experiences and wisdom when it comes to leadership, and their backgrounds in direct service steered the conversation. Each offered their branded template for, as Simone Campbell said, “bringing the Gospel to where it wouldn’t be otherwise,” and shared success stories from their work.

Deb Rose-Milavec, Sr. Simone Campbell & Kate McElwee

For me, the panel was interesting if not a bit disparate, and simply not focused enough on the fact that it took place at the Vatican. Sr. Simone’s organization NETWORK was named in the censure against the U.S. sisters in 2012 and yet the panel never got there. 

To her credit, Kerry Robinson offered general disclaimers about women at every level of decision-making and leadership in organizations and the Church and the importance of mentoring young women to follow their vocation, but it almost felt out of place in the fast (and too short) conversation. In closing, Scilla Elsworthy said, “by not including women, the Catholic Church is being left behind.” Finally. Someday soon the elephant is going to be too big for this little room at the Vatican.

Knowing the talents on the panel, especially when it comes to the institutional Church and “grace under pressure,” I was left still hungry for more at its end.  

Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International did a beautiful job weaving these threads together in her closing remarks, calling for women to be at the center of Church and Gospel led efforts for peace and nonviolence, from the beginning. To me, her voice made the most sense out of the day, clearly centering women and calling for more. 

This is my third time attending the Voices of Faith events at the Vatican and as a guest, I’ve been able to witness the “waters stirring” and various currents finding different strength each year. As an ambitious project that amplifies women’s voices, it is always impressive.

My own hope is that in years to come the platform of the Vatican ceases to be just a backdrop. It is a missed opportunity not to dialogue about the institutional Church as an actor in oppressing women and the structural and theological efforts that could truly make all voices count.

I am not sure how it started – curiosity, maybe. But I got it in my mind to visit women clergy in my town. I guess I have wanted to see what it would be like to see a woman pastor in action. After all, in my path to this moment, the ordination of Episcopal women played an important part. After their first extra-ordinary ordination, one of the new women priests came to Chicago, and I traveled across town to the little church where she was to preach and celebrate mass. Seeing vestments on a woman’s form, and hearing her preach, changed my life forever. That day gave me permission to own my own call.

As it turns out, my town, Evanston, Illinois, is rich with women pastors, straight and gay, from several denominations. The rector of a big and old Episcopalian congregation, is married and has an open life with her wife, including service work and vacations. She preached at a service at the beach on Lake Michigan last summer, and was so comfortable and effective a preacher.

A straight woman is the Lutheran pastor of another older congregation. She has been a leader in the interfaith community here, whose main mission is to feed the hungry, and house the homeless during our coldest nights. She persuaded several congregations, all of whom are near each other and are near public transport, to share the burden, and each are now offering successive weeks of shelter. She also persuaded her congregation to make this shelter space – their church basement – accessible, mostly for the benefit of their homeless guests. Pretty impressive!

I attended a Shabbat service of a woman rabbi I met doing anti-racism work. A very musical and joyous service – her talk was accessible and rich, and reached the young and old in the congregation. She, like most rabbis today, did not grow up with the model of women rabbis, but has walked the path and followed her own call.

I met a different woman rabbi another weekend. In the past year, she was appointed to lead a congregation that had lost a gifted rabbi, over his support of the Palestinian people. She grew up in our town, but studied out of state, and for several years led a prominent gay congregation in New York City. The Shabbat service was small and simple, but her insights and encouragement knocked my socks off!

There are more folks to visit. On my list is a Methodist pastor of a church I only know because of their focus on feeding the poor. But the most poignant moment in this pilgrimage so far, came, for me, at Second Baptist Church.

Second Baptist is a large, African American congregation, which traces its roots to having split off from a white church in the 19th century. I know a magnificent woman preacher who was the assistant pastor for a while, but did not get the lead spot when it was available a year ago. I had not visited in a while, but the pastor advertised that he had invited a couple of young people to preach their first sermons on a particular Sunday – and that got my attention.

As it turns out, one of them was the pastor’s daughter, a 20-year old college freshman, and the other was an 18-year old high school senior who has grown up in the congregation. Each of them preached from scriptures they chose…and they were magnificent! Each of them took my breath away!

But I did walk away with a little sadness. The young people in my own parish will never see anything so inspirational as the young people of Second Baptist did that morning. I know I should be saying that it inspired me to keep up our intense work for Catholic women’s ordination – and it did – but I have to also own that the experience underscored for me what truth and energy and inspiration slips away from us, with every generation. From the mouths of these young women, to God’s ears!

Marion Flynn, WOC Board Secretary, studied theology in the 1970’s – and was certain there would be a path to the priesthood, having been called at a very early age.  She has worked as a banker and fundraiser, is active in her parish, and is honored, beyond words, to serve the cause of women’s ordination.  Marion lives in the Chicago area, but was born in Massachusetts.  She holds a BA from Newton College of the Sacred Heart, and an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University.

Thanks to Bridget Power for this special guest post on her short documentary film, Agayutem Yui (People of God), exploring the leadership and spirituality of lay, Yup’ik, Catholic women. 


I made Agayutem Yui (People of God) in an attempt to explore how lay, Yup’ik, Catholic women like Susan Murphy, Yuagiisaq Lena Long, and Masmaruss’ak Lilly Afcan (all featured in the film) make sense of their roles in the Catholic church.

For years, I’ve been interested in thinking about opportunities for women in church leadership. I was educated by the Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSCJ) and then later attended an Anglican high school, where I regularly had the opportunity to watch women lead worship services. In college, I took classes like “The Church in the 21st Century” and “Smart, Catholic, and Female,” where I explored contemporary Roman Catholic culture and doctrine. During the year that I spent as a Jesuit Volunteer (2013 – 2014) in Bethel, Alaska, I got to know Susan Murphy, the volunteer parish administrator at the local Catholic church. Susan organized weddings and funerals, chaired the regional school board, and was a respected elder in the community. When a group of volunteers wanted to start an emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness that winter, Susan said, “How can we not help?” Susan was vital to our parish and the wider community. I hope that her spirit of generosity is something that comes through in the film!

There are few priests in Southwestern Alaska (a reality that exists in other parts of the country and world, too). If a priest or deacon is not available on Sundays, lay people will offer reflections on the Gospel and serve as Eucharistic Ministers. These lay ministers – many of them women – are often the spiritual and religious leaders of their faith communities. I wanted to learn more about how these lay, Yup’ik, Catholic women leaders understood their roles in the church. These women have responded to local needs and raise questions about culture, leadership, ordination, and the future of the Catholic church. I hope that viewers of the film will have a different understanding of contemporary Catholicism after watching this film. I certainly do after making this film, which proved to be an opportunity to explore my own vocation as a lay, Catholic woman who wants to use digital storytelling for social change.

Bridget Power started making documentaries with friends as an undergraduate student at Georgetown University. She lived in Bethel, Alaska for a year as a Jesuit Volunteer, where she was introduced to Yup’ik culture and spirituality. Bridget is currently a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, where she continues to make films. Please contact her at [email protected]

This Advent, The Table has featured weekly reflections from Deacon Christine Haider-Winnett, RCWP, based on the liturgical readings for that week. This week’s readings can be found here. Homilies and reflections on The Table are part of a new “Preaching Equality” series from WOC.

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about,” says Matthew, as he begins to tell a complex story of Joseph’s feelings of betrayal, his uncertainty about whether to carry on with his engagement, and an elaborate dream that eventually solves this dilemma for him.

Unlike in Luke, which follows Jesus’ nativity through the eyes of Mary, Matthew barely seems concerned with her other than as a device used to help Joseph recognize the birth of Christ. The lack of Mary’s perspective in this text has always bothered me, and it bothers me even more this year as I am in the third trimester of my own pregnancy. As I deal with back aches and fatigue and an inability to successfully sleep through the night, I want to scream at Matthew “That is certainly NOT how the birth of Jesus Christ came about!”

And yet, there’s something that draws me to this text, as a pregnant woman who is watching her spouse walk through this pregnancy in such a different way than I am. In the thirteen years we’ve spent together we moved across the country twice, started graduate school, began our careers and dealt with the loss of family members. But never before has it felt like we were going through an experience together, and yet also entirely alone. No matter how hard I try to describe it, it’s impossible for Alex to understand the ways hormone changes and this increasingly large creature inside of me has changed every moment of my daily life, and it’s impossible for me to understand how powerless and outside this experience he can feel.

Even if Matthew’s description of “how the birth of Jesus Christ came about” seems painfully one-sided, I’m grateful for a window into how it came about for Joseph. When I was writing this piece, I asked my husband, a divinity student preparing for Unitarian Universalist ministry, what he thought of this story. He was struck by how much it mirrored the Annunciation. Like Mary, Joseph was offered a choice to participate in this weird, nontraditional and scandalous family. Like Mary, he was filled with doubt but in the end decided to follow God’s will, even though stood in stark contrast to what he’d been taught to believe “proper” families were supposed to look like. He stepped into a fathering role that was much more complicated than he’d probably envisioned for himself and worked with Mary to create a new kind of family—one they didn’t have any kind of mold for.

When Alex and I discussed the reading, we were struck by how much we saw Joseph in friends and loved ones that we had seen care for their own families: step-parents, same-sex parents, adoptive parents and single parents that had stepped up to provide care and stability for children even when it fell outside the norm of what family was “supposed” to look like. Like the Holy Family, they often had to create their own models of family, discovering that previous models hadn’t been created with them in mind.

Matthew’s story may not be “how the birth of Jesus Christ” came about, but it’s an important part of how the Holy Family came about—how two people decided to follow God’s will even when it seemed unimaginable and outside what they might have envisioned for their lives. This is the story of the birth of a marriage, and how that marriage formed and supported a child that would change the world. It’s the story of how two people got to decide for themselves what family means, and who to include in their family.

12316283_10153758384548622_6527913826117004816_nChristine Haider-Winnett is an ordained deacon in Roman Catholic Womanpriests (USA). She is a former member of WOC’s Board of Directors and served as WOC’s Co-President from 2012-2014. Christine holds a Masters in Divinity from Pacific School of Religion, a BA in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College and a Certificate in Women’s Studies in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union. She currently serves as deacon at St. Hildegard Catholic Community in Berkeley, California. Christine and her spouse, Alex, are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. You can learn more about Christine’s ministry here.

This Advent, The Table will feature weekly reflections from Deacon Christine Haider-Winnett, RCWP, based on the liturgical readings for that week. This week’s readings can be found here. Homilies and reflections on The Table are part of a new “Preaching Equality” series from WOC.

Here in Berkeley, we’ve had a rainier than usual start to our winter season. The hills look lush and green. All our neighbor’s lawns, which had been allowed to brown due to drought concerns, are now returning to life.

Of course, the most exciting thing about these rains is what we hope it will mean for the rest of the year: a replenished drinking water supply, less wildfires in the summer, and a more fruitful harvest. But it’s still far too early to know if these rains are a fluke, or if they are a sign that our drought is finally subsiding. For now, all we can do is enjoy the change in weather for however long it lasts, keep an eye on next week’s forecast, and hope.

“Be patient,” James tells us in this week’s readings. “See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains. You too must be patient” (James 5:7-8).

Yesterday, my husband and I went to what seemed like my hundredth ob/gyn appointment since I became pregnant. The appointment took barely a half hour—just long enough for the doctor to listen to the baby’s heartbeat, ask me a few questions and schedule our next visit.

I am eternally grateful for these short appointments, which are a reminder that everything is– so far– going blissfully well. And yet, I always find myself a bit disappointed and frustrated that I am leaving without much new information about this baby. Whenever the doctor asks me if I have any questions for him, I’m always struck by how many questions I do have—and how few of them he will be able to answer:

-What’s the baby’s hair color?

-Does this child look more like a Haider or a Winnett?

-Will they laugh at my jokes?

-What name would they like? Because we’re still stuck on that.
Less than two months from our due date, I am suddenly more eager than ever to have any information about this person that has already become the center of my world. I find myself looking over the same ultrasound pictures, and constantly running over the few facts I know about the baby’s health and size and expected arrival. I find myself more eager than ever for this baby to just get here already. Frankly, I’m tired of being pregnant.

And yet, there’s nothing to do but to, like the farmer, be patient and let things come in their own time.

I’ve never been particularly great at waiting. I want to skip ahead to the end of the book. I want immediate gratification. However, James reminds me that, like farmer tending crops, I need to pause and be patient. I need to appreciate the miracle of what is, rather than focusing on what will be. This moment in my, and in my child’s, life will never come again. I don’t want to be so focused on the future that I miss the present moment.

This is Gaudete Sunday, the time when we recognize that there is—or should be—some joy in anticipation. It’s a reminder to slow down, be mindful, and not try to race to the finish line. It’s an invitation to enjoy the rain showers for however long they last, without worrying about when they’ll stop. To contemplate the joy and mystery of living in a moment of transition. To wait in joyful hope for the coming of what eventually will be.

12316283_10153758384548622_6527913826117004816_nChristine Haider-Winnett is an ordained deacon in Roman Catholic Womanpriests (USA). She is a former member of WOC’s Board of Directors and served as WOC’s Co-President from 2012-2014. Christine holds a Masters in Divinity from Pacific School of Religion, a BA in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College and a Certificate in Women’s Studies in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union. She currently serves as deacon at St. Hildegard Catholic Community in Berkeley, California. Christine and her spouse, Alex, are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. You can learn more about Christine’s ministry here.

img_5902Spanish theologian, Emma Martínez Ocaña was welcomed by the Rome-based, Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation working group on the “Collaboration of Women and Men in Ministry,” last week. Well-known amongst Spanish-speaking religious communities, Ocaña’s work is poetic and deceptively simple, engaging deep spiritual questions of gender, Jesus, and the cosmos.

Ocaña crafted a dreamscape of a “New Future for Women in the Church,” transporting the 60 or so gathered to a radical vision of Church. Dreaming, she said, is encouraging desire, beauty and truth; and in dreaming together, dreams can come true. However, she cautioned: dreams are chaotic, free, and often not “politically correct.”

Ocaña first dreamed of ministry, rich in service and love, based on a call of recognition from one’s community, and not confined to sex or a priesthood. Women will not simply occupy benches (pews), but be active in sacrament, in equal rotation. She dreamed of an end of “formation” all together, in order to rid the Church of clericalism. No “men as demigods,” but many trained ministers, willing to share. Friends, not servants.

She dreamed of an abandonment of all sexist and patriarchal language. She dreamed of never excluding a woman’s body from revealing God: “Allow the word of God to become true in their bodies.”

This being a dream, Ocaña also envisioned Jesus’ response to her dream, in the form of a letter. While this exercise felt a little silly to me, it was a rich and empowering journey to take as a group. In this letter, Jesus reaffirmed his call for a revolution that denounces sexual discrimination in all forms and gives visibility to women, who are “builders of the history of salvation,” and equals in dignity, rites/rights, duties and tasks.  

Not wanting to wake up, Ocaña eased us back into the room by encouraging us to keep dreaming: for Church to be a witness, for these seeds to become trees. img_5884A question came from a priest in the group who challenged her “use” of a Jesus (who totally agrees with her dreams), rightly calling this a path that the patriarchy also enjoys to secure opposite conclusions. (I am reminded of one of my favorite lines from a Women’s Ordination Worldwide press statement: Stop making Jesus the Vatican’s partner in gender discrimination!”). He offered that listening to each other, may be a solution. Ocaña responded that one must put the historical Jesus, not what is constructed or cultural, on the horizon.  

Another participant shared the she believes in the beauty of dreams, but carries “so much rage,” especially towards priests who too often encourage the submission and invisibility of women. I was so grateful for this honesty.

And finally, one woman asked what we all ask at times, Why stay? When in secular society and around the world women’s equality is becoming increasingly affirmed…  Ocaña, a woman of hope, shared: “It is the triumph of patriarchy to believe what they tell us about ourselves.” She believes in mystical and political change from within. She believes in the historical, revolutionary Jesus.

The group gathered again the following day for an interactive workshop to go deeper into these questions and find fruitfulness and mercy along the journey.

I’m not sure if it was a shift in tone, or process, or simply the joy of escapism, but to enter into a dream articulated with so much hope and happiness was just the light I needed on that winter’s afternoon.

This Advent, The Table will feature weekly reflections from Deacon Christine Haider-Winnett, RCWP, based on the liturgical readings for that week. This week’s readings can be found here. Homilies and reflections on The Table are part of a new “Preaching Equality” series from WOC.

I have two cats that I simply adore. One of them, LuLu, is eighteen years old. I’ve had her since I was a teenager. She’s loud, is starting to lose her vision, and is scared of her own shadow. She’s the sweetest, most loving creature you’ll ever meet but has, at times, accidentally scratched me when she got over-stimulated or startled by a sudden noise or movement. LuLu was a part of my life when I graduated high school, and I can’t wait to introduce her to my first-born child in a few months. But I’ve also been increasingly worried about the risks associated with having her live with our upcoming baby. As much as I’m sure that she’d never intentionally hurt our child, and as hard as Alex and I are working to take every possible precaution, there’s still a worry that something could happen. I’m committed to keeping my cat and making her a part of the baby’s life, but I know that comes with some level of risk.

Given my fear of introducing my child to a housecat, you can imagine how I feel about reading about babies playing with vipers in this week’s lectionary.

I’m already so aware of the dangers lurking around every corner for this child. Risks that were acceptable for me to take alone are no longer acceptable to take while pregnant. But I wonder: at what point should concerns for a child’s safety be weighed against other concerns: the concerns for their happiness, their spiritual and emotional growth, their ability to engage meaningfully and responsibly in their community?

I’ve been struggling with those questions a lot in the last few weeks. These seem like frightening times to prepare for a birth of a child. I suppose every mother—from Mary to my own mother—has thought that. In the last few weeks, as our country feels more divided than ever and many people struggle with uncertainty and fear, that has felt particularly true for me. I worry about the risks I am birthing my child into, the harm that could be done to them or people they love and what sort of values they will see passed down. A very large part of me wants to try to shield them from the ugliness of the world, and from the heartbreak that I’m already feeling about it.

But as much as I have a desire to create a protective bubble around my child, it seems impossible to shield them from any possible harm. Children are born into an unsafe world full of vipers and leopards and wolves, many of them are born into situations much less safe than the one my own child will be born into. But even I, in my privilege, can’t shield my child from every danger. There is only so much any of us can do to protect them from harm.

The prophet Isaiah, who parented children during a particularly trying time in Israel’s history, seemed to understand that truth keenly. Like me, I’m sure there were times when he wanted to form a protective bubble around his children, shielding them from any possible danger.

However, Isaiah reminds us that God’s reign is not brought about by building up walls or trying to shield children from the realities of the world. Isaiah knows that fear makes our world smaller, and he wants a big, rich, adventurous life for children– and for all of us. To him, God’s reign is not a safe fortress but an interspecies playpen, where peace is made as children explore and play together. In fact, Isaiah argues that salvation is brought about by these risk-taking infants: babies who play with vipers, and lambs who make friends with lions. It is in that risk-taking that we are able to grow, encounter one another and make new things possible.

Yes, we live in an unsafe world, but as I prepare to parent my own child I am reflecting on how I can best teach my child about the risks of the world, rather than trying to shield them from those risks. I hope to raise children that will be, in Jesus’ words, as wise as serpents and peaceful as doves (Matt 10:16). I want them to be aware of the dangers that they and others face, but still go out into the world boldly to make it a more loving, just place.

So, even though it scares me, I’m going to slowly and gently try to introduce my child to my old, grumpy cat. I’m going to talk to my child honestly about the risks of the world so that they can make the best decisions on how to engage with danger. I’m going to speak honestly about the injustices in our country and in the world so that my child can work with others to become peacemakers. But I’m still going to worry.

12316283_10153758384548622_6527913826117004816_nChristine Haider-Winnett is an ordained deacon in Roman Catholic Womanpriests (USA). She is a former member of WOC’s Board of Directors and served as WOC’s Co-President from 2012-2014. Christine holds a Masters in Divinity from Pacific School of Religion, a BA in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College and a Certificate in Women’s Studies in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union. She currently serves as deacon at St. Hildegard Catholic Community in Berkeley, California. Christine and her spouse, Alex, are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. You can learn more about Christine’s ministry here.

This Advent, The Table will feature weekly reflections from Deacon Christine Haider-Winnett, RCWP, based on the liturgical readings for that week. This week’s readings can be found here. Homilies and reflections on The Table are part of a new “Preaching Equality” series from WOC.

I have been pregnant for 216 days. (But who’s counting?) I know this because I have an app on my phone that keeps track of this date for me, so that I always know exactly how many months, weeks and days this child has been growing inside me.

This same app tells me that we are exactly 64 days from January 29th, the baby’s due date. But of course, as anyone who has ever been pregnant will tell you, this second number is far less precise. Sure, in 64 days it will be January 29th, but there is no guarantee that my child won’t make their arrival on January 20th, or February 10th. I know people who gave birth ten or more weeks early, about as far along as I am now. This baby could literally arrive at any moment! The author of my favorite pregnancy book assures me that “no one has ever been pregnant forever,” but that is really the only guarantee I have. One day, in 64 days or in 75 days or tomorrow, my whole life will change.

“Therefore, stay awake!” Jesus tells us, “For you do not know on which day your [Love] will come” (Matt 24:42).

This feeling of unpredictability is not my favorite part of pregnancy. I am someone who likes to stick to a schedule, who makes plans and backup plans, who tries to anticipate any possible outcome. But one thing that I’ve learned in the last 216 days is that no matter how many books I read or how detailed my birthing plan is there is so much beyond my control. I still won’t know the day or the hour. I’m preparing for the un-preparable.

And of course, things aren’t going to become any more predicable after I give birth. Parenthood is a giant journey into the unknown. No matter how many people offer advice, or how much I research, there is no way to adequately prepare for what is in store. I am getting ready to begin one of the most significant relationships of my life with a total stranger. How does one prepare for that?

Jesus tells us to stay awake and prepare because someday– any day now– the Kin-dom of Heaven will come like a thief in the night. However, while He’s very clear about our need to prepare, He’s rather vague about what we need to prepare for. Like the author of my pregnancy book, Jesus seems content to tell us “a big change will happen someday, probably when you least expect it. No point in trying to guess too much about when or where it will be.”

How on earth can we adequately prepare for an event that we have so little information about? How can we set our schedules when we don’t know the day or the hour? How can we make a plan and a backup plan for any possible situation when we don’t know the first thing about what this life-altering change will look like?

The kind of preparation Jesus is asking of us seems to have less to do with my usual methods of preparation (gathering data, making lists, sticking to schedules) and more to do with staying alert and open to the unexpected. “Stay awake, keep watch,” Jesus tell us, “something is happening that you won’t want to miss.” This doesn’t mean simply trying to prepare for every possible scenario, it means coming to accept that we couldn’t possibly anticipate every possible scenario. It means coming to understand that whatever is going to happen is ten thousand times weirder and bigger and more wonderful than we could have ever imagined. It means accepting that we aren’t the ones in control, letting go of our pre-conceived notions and allowing ourselves to be surprised.

Scripture tells us that when God entered into humanity, God showed up in the most unexpected ways: as a poor child in some forgotten corner of empire, born to a scared teenage girl who was far from home and who had only a barn for shelter. God took any expectations people had for how the Word-Made-Flesh should arrive (and any expectations Mary had about her birth plan!) and turned them on their heads, reminding us that God’s power is so much more weird and beautiful and unpredictable than anything we could have prepared for.

If you were expecting God to arrive as a king or a warrior it would have been easy to miss this small baby lying in a manger. In fact, the people who were best able to recognize the incarnation were people who didn’t have a lot of preconceived notions about what it should look like: shepherds and illiterate young girls who were willing to be surprised. People who took the time to notice the unexpected and didn’t let themselves get too bogged down with expectations about what glory and power and holiness should look like.

And so, Jesus is telling us, the next time that the Sacred decides to show up it will be in just as unexpected of a way. God will show up with all the drama of Noah’s flood. Or maybe quietly and quickly like a thief. Or maybe like a small and fragile baby. We don’t know what it will look like, we don’t know when. All we know is that it’s coming. Stay awake. Keep watch. Get ready to be surprised.

12316283_10153758384548622_6527913826117004816_nChristine Haider-Winnett is an ordained deacon in Roman Catholic Womanpriests (USA). She is a former member of WOC’s Board of Directors and served as WOC’s Co-President from 2012-2014. Christine holds a Masters in Divinity from Pacific School of Religion, a BA in Peace and Global Studies from Earlham College and a Certificate in Women’s Studies in Religion from the Graduate Theological Union. She currently serves as deacon at St. Hildegard Catholic Community in Berkeley, California. Christine and her spouse, Alex, are eagerly awaiting the birth of their first child. You can learn more about Christine’s ministry here.

The award-winning documentary, Radical Grace, made its Italian debut at the 19th annual Religion Today Film Festival last Thursday evening in Trento. As the foremost international film festival dedicated to showcasing religion and culture, Religion Today brought together 53 films from 26 countries, selected from more than 270 applications during its two-week run. At the heart of the festival is education and interfaith dialogue on issues of peace, human rights, and gender.

Radical Grace screened as part of a double-feature with the 2016 Israeli film, Measures of Merit, telling the story of Ruth Colian who set out to establish the first ever-political party for the Ultra-Orthodox Haredi women and her campaign to run for the Israeli Knesset in 2015. Haredi women are the only segment of Israeli society that are not represented in the Knesset. The influence of the Rabbis depicted in the film is extreme: in one case the film showed Ruth canvasing for herself, when a woman told her, “I will take that when my rabbi hands it to me.” Most striking was the language that the Rabbis used to define gender roles and “divine patriarchy,” which could have been swapped seamlessly with the reasoning from some members of the Catholic hierarchy. 

Religion Today Film Festival Poster seen around Trento

Religion Today Film Festival Poster in Trento

Between the films, Italian journalist Adele Gerardi briefly interviewed Ruth Colian and me as a representative of Radical Grace and WOC. Gerardi asked about the Women’s Ordination Conference and our mission, how one can be a feminist and a Catholic (a classic), and how the sisters are doing now. Not wanting to spoil the film, I shared just how unified the U.S. sisters have become, and now especially, how they know Catholics are behind them.

Radical Grace screened late into the night but the audience stayed until the very end. Afterwards, the woman next to me gave me a tearful hug, “Brava, brava grazie!” and groups of students and younger viewers came up to me to talk about the movement. One university student in particular, first told me how many times she cried throughout the film, but also how she is so thrilled to know that WOC exists, that people are working in this issue. The next morning I had an email from her, subject line: “How do I support your cause?”

I had worried that the “Ryan budget,” the “ACA,” and more American-focused themes might be confusing for an Italian audience, but I realized that while those issues are confusing, what the Nuns on the Bus (“suore in Pullman”) were doing is not. Social justice, courage, and humility translate just fine. (My WOC title of co-executive director, however, doesn’t quite translate as well and I suspect I got a promotion to executive producer in some translated conversations! Sorry Susan Sarandon!)

The next day, the Festival organizers arranged a short walking tour of Trento where I got to speak to more of the judges, film-makers and actors. There was great interest to bring Radical Grace to other festivals in Italy, India and Bangladesh, and in particular to have discussions around women’s ordination. True to the mission of the film festival, this cross-pollination of creative people and tools brought great dialogue and sharing. It was a true honor to represent WOC and the film Radical Grace at such an important nexus.

Radical Grace is now available on itunes and for community screenings, with discussions guides on economic, social, and gender justice for download.