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Willing Spirits for the Work Ahead

March 16, 2015


“ . . . Sustain in me a willing spirit.”  (Psalm 51:12 NRSV)

Psalm 51 is an anchoring word for me and one I return to more days than not. Today, verse 12 speaks as a prayer of encouragement to faithfully shoulder the demands of leadership in which we all participate. There are many challenges to tackle, but also those gifts of God along the way that affirm and inspire us and that become for us a holy and sustaining presence. We feel renewed with “willing spirits” to persevere in the work we have undertaken.

Late last week, Garrett-Evangelical was immersed in one of those gifts as we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Pacific Asian and North American Asian Women in Theology and Ministry (PANAAWTM). Almost a year ago, I wrote about the 2014 PANAAWTM meeting also hosted on our campus. We were anticipating this anniversary then. And what a celebration it was! Well over one hundred persons were in attendance.

The festivities began with a public dinner and panel discussion located in the chapel. Drummers, music, historical readings, and beauty surrounded us. But more than this was the joy of women gathered together again with old friends and new friends-in-the-making, supported both by male allies and non-Asian allies, as well as by many institutional representatives and letters sharing in the excitement. We heard from representatives Rev. Joanne Rodriguez, Director the Hispanic Theological Initiative, from Rev. Stephen Lewis of the Forum for Theological Exploration, from Dr. Frank Yamada, president of McCormick Theological Seminary, Dr. Jeffrey Kuan, president of Claremont School of Theology, and Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore, Dean of Boston University School of Theology, among others including the American Academy of Religion.

Workshops and meals continued over the next several days. It was a remarkable time, a moment to stop and review the history of marginalized scholars who walked with each other; who found their ways into leadership, publications, joint scholarly projects, the inclusion of female practitioners in ministry, and into a widening of their circle, rather than a “circling of their wagons.” Indeed, they have been sustained with a “willing spirit.” 

There was excitement and gladness in the air, a happiness that flowed all through our campus. I walked out my office door on Friday afternoon to the beautiful sound of Asian languages being freely spoken in the classrooms and in the hallways. The delight was audible in persons who felt a sense of “at home-ness and belonging” – their reports, not mine – and who were inspired by the activities of mentoring, learning, and sharing knowledge and wisdom.

Our students, both masters and doctoral, joined the dedicated leadership of Dr. Anne Joh, along with other members of the seminary to provide outstanding hospitality and care – a model we would do well to emulate in our own efforts to be hospitable to all who are part of our community and to all who visit as guests - honored guests.  PANAAWTM continues to embody a vision for collaboration and welcome even as it pursues critical, scholarly productivity and reflective practices.

I give thanks for these Asian sisters who are God’s gift to our Garrett-Evangelical community and who encourage in us willing spirits for the work ahead.