For this post to make sense, first I need to tell you about the awesomeness that is Young Clergy Women International (YCWI.) YCWI is an organization that connects young clergywomen (anyone who is ordained, identifies as female, and is under 40 years of age) for networking, support, and encouragement. YCWI puts on a yearly conference, publishes an online, and even partners with a publisher to get more books written by young clergywomen published.
The beating heart of YCWI, for me at least, is the Facebook group that serves as an online forum for daily interaction. It is in this group that we can share our triumphs, our defeats, our most eye-roll worthy and/or cringe-inducing moments. Here we can ask for advice, get feedback on a sermon, share liturgy and worship ideas, and so much more. I have made connections in this group that have turned into real friendships even if I have never met the person in real life (IRL as the kids like to say.)
Since I joined YCWI in 2015 I have tried to connect with people in the group every time we travel. When we traveled the Midwest with our LuLaRoe business I would always find a YCWI staffed church to attend on Sundays. Last year, when we were in Texas visiting Joel's family before we left on our adventure, I met up with a young clergywoman in Austin, TX. As of yesterday, I have officially made the most far-flung connection as I was able to meet up with a young clergywoman who lives here in Perth!
Perth is a large, spread out city so even though we have been in the area for over a month it took us a while to find a Sunday we could meet up. We had a 50-minute drive to get from our southern suburb of Byford to the northern suburb of Kingsley where Saint Anselm's Anglican Church is located. The pastor is Gill Rookyard and she has served at this church now for seven years.
I love finding a church to attend everywhere we travel, but getting to go to one served by a fellow young clergywoman was extra special. Gill made sure to greet us when we arrived, introduced us to her husband and 2 adorable little boys, and left us in the hands of some friendly parishioners we could sit with for the service. Worship was lively and vibrant with live music from two guitars and a violin, and a mixture of hymns I did not know and a few that were familiar. The worship space itself was very modern and reminded me of the church where I grew up.
At the end of the service, Gill spoke briefly about the importance of YCWI in her life and the wonderful opportunity we had been given to meet in person. While the group is truly international, the majority of members are based in the States and there are often meet-ups in various locations around the country. Meeting me was the first time that Gill has been able to meet anyone from the group in real life! She then invited me up to do the closing blessing for the worship service (she had asked me to do this in advance, she didn't just spring it on me.) Watching her lead worship, preach, and serve communion reminded me of just how much I am longing to be back in a church and doing the same. My voice caught a little bit as I led the final blessing because it felt so special to be standing in front of a congregation again, if only for a moment.
Immediately following the service, we gathered in their fellowship space for a cup of tea and to chat with people. Many people were very curious about why we were in Australia so we share about our adventures (and recent misadventure) in housesitting. And of course, Gill and I made sure to grab a picture together before she took off all of her liturgical garbs!
The day didn't end there, however! Gill had a congregational meeting after worship, but she had arranged for us to go to King's Park and meet up with another (the only other) young clergywoman in the area. Lisa serves at a different church in the area and after her worship service, she and her husband Charlie met with us at the park. We walked around and chatted for about an hour while we waited for Gill and her family to join us. When they arrived, it was time for a picnic! I realized too late that I didn't grab any pictures of our picnic but I was too busy enjoying myself. We had chicken sandwiches, salami and cheese, some veggies, and an Australian sponge cake dessert called Lamingtons.
The conversation flowed easily as we discussed how we got into ministry, what our experiences have been as young women in a male-dominated field, and how we all ended up in Perth at this point in time. Lisa is originally from the east coast of Australia, Gill is originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, and then, of course, I'm here from the States. It's amazing how the connection of YCWI has brought us all together! We probably could have spent all day enjoying the park, the great weather, and each other's company but alas, preachers need some rest on Sunday afternoons (as did Gill's two young boys.) Even though I hadn't led a whole worship service I was feeling in need of a nap myself! We made sure to snap a group picture before we left, including the incredible view of Perth from the park. (Not pictured is Gill's husband Mark who was behind the camera.)
Being a member of YCWI has enriched my ministry in ways that are too numerous to name, but getting to meet other young clergywomen in person is perhaps my favorite aspect. I hope to meet more women in the UK when we get back there (I had talked to a few online last year but we were never quite able to get together in person) and I hope that we will be in a place that other people will want to come visit! Gill gave me an incredible example of how to be welcoming to a fellow clergywoman visiting a church and I hope to extend the same welcome to others someday.