Jenny Castro is new to the communications team and coordinator of the Women in Leadership Project for Mennonite Church USA. She has a degree in English and has been involved in education in a variety of contexts—from public school teaching to community education. She’s spent time living and working in Central America with Mennonite Central Committee and several years as a stay-at-home mom. She’s a mother to three incredibly special people (ages 10, 8 and 5) and partner in this adventure called life with Jake, her inspiration. She is a member of San Antonio (Texas) Mennonite Church.
The Women in Leadership project has gone through transition in the last few months. In August, Joanna Shenk, the visionary behind this incredible project transitioned from her role as coordinator of the Women in Leadership Project and her work at Mennonite Church USA to pastoral work in San Francisco. Through Joanna’s leadership and with the help of Hilary Scarsella and our invaluable steering committee, the project has accomplished so much in the five years since its birth—focus groups giving voice to and mobilizing women across the church, creating the “Do You See this Woman?” worship resources, the Women in Leadership blog and All You Need is Love, the women doing theology conference held in February 2014. We are thankful for Joanna and the years she dedicated to this important work of naming and undoing patriarchy within the church. And we are thankful for each and every one of you who has chosen to engage this work with us.
And still, there is so much more to do! I started working with Mennonite Church USA and the Women in Leadership Project in November—right before the holidays. I spent many days researching, reading and talking with people about the work of the Women in Leadership project, its history and its impact. There’s so much I have yet to learn, but I’m ready and willing!
Last week I spent several days at Hope for the Future, a gathering of leaders of color from a swath of Mennonite Institutions. It was a significant time for many of us—to leave the context of white dominant culture and come together—to be heard, to be known, to be understood, to tell our stories and to sit with one another in our struggles and pain.
To close the weekend on Sunday morning, Sue Park-Hur, Co-Director of ReconciliAsian in Los Angeles, gave a powerful message about Jesus’s encounter with the blind man in John 9. We know the story, right? Jesus encounters a blind man. His disciples want to talk about the theology behind the blind man’s situation, “Rabbi, who sinned?” they ask. Jesus answers their question, but then does something crazy and unexpected. He spits on the ground, makes mud with dirt and his own saliva, rubs this on the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash. Sue pointed out the difference between the disciples’ response to the man and Jesus’s response to him. The disciples want to talk. And Jesus rolls up his sleeves, gets down in the dirt and engages in the messy work—the practice—that leads to life.
All the way home to San Antonio, I thought about the practice and the working out of my faith within the context of my local community and within the broader church. I thought about the hurt I’ve experienced, the struggle, the love, the misunderstandings, the seeds planted, the pain, the growth, the frustrations that arise, and the profound sense of rootedness I feel within my home congregation and Mennonite Church USA.
Working out our faith—the practice of it—is messy. We are human. And we need one another. Each of us brings our story, our lived experience, our understandings of God and Christian theology, our pain, and our joy. We bring this to our faith community—we offer our gifts and receive from the gifts of others.
I believe the Women in Leadership Project has an invaluable gift to offer the Church. It has an important role to play in the church’s transformation, through undoing patriarchy as well as naming and recognizing other forms of oppression that are alive and well among us. It’s not easy. And often it’s painful work.
I am struck by the honor and responsibility we carry together as congregations and faith communities. We have a deep and lasting influence on people. But what kind of faith will we nurture within our congregations? A faith that is stuck in the abstract like the disciples?
I think sometimes we’re afraid of the messiness, of getting our hands dirty. But I believe Jesus shows us that discipleship is not a neat and tidy endeavor. It wasn’t with Jesus, and it’s not within our churches today. We hurt one another and we inspire each other. We are blinded by our traditions and biases. And we are enriched and we grow because of our diversity. It’s all bound up together. We’re all bound up together. Our faith and our liberation are all bound up together.
If you’d like to find out more, or get involved in the messy and marvelous work of the Women in Leadership Project, please email me at email@example.com.