Bravely Holding Vision: Reflections from the Road to Woman Priesthood

Bravely Holding Vision is a series written by current Young Adult Catholics blog editor, Sarah Holst. Sarah is in the application process to become a Roman Catholic Womanpriest in the Midwest Region. They currently work as an artist in Duluth, MN. Sarah and her partner Nathan will be leading a workshop on Watershed Discipleship at the National Call to Action Conference this November in Milwaulkee.

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Sarah holding space on Ash Wednesday on the Abundant Table Farm.  “Remember you are earth and to earth you will return.”

One of the joys in my life right now is, after a long season of transience, settling into a place where my partner and I plan to be for a long, long time. I relished my years of post-college volunteer work, learning and adventure (shout-outs to Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest and Episcopal Service Corps for providing that for folks like me), but am so hungry to have a home, know the cycle of seasons, start a garden that I will tend to year after year, and perhaps most acutely, make and have friends that I won’t shortly be moving away from and saying goodbye to.

It is a heart-wrenching thing to gather one community after another around oneself and then, as you start to take root and grow, to be yanked out and replanted. As difficult (and sad) as it is to start in a new place again, I am reassured by the fact that this is the last time that I will be newly befriending land, community and story. (At least, according to plan. The Holy Spirit dances in spiraling, changeling ways.) I can’t wait to get past the introductions and into the deeper work, the re-learning and unlearning and being reborn with a place again and again, I can’t wait to take steps beyond where before, I have always packed my Subaru and driven away.

A few weeks ago, in the midst of all of this beginning, I was invited by new friends to a backyard concert of Duluth singer-songwriter Rachael Kilgour’s. With a gentle shock, I found myself sitting on a bench within my new watershed, listening to songs about radical self-love and grace. I listened to Rachael sing and watched the trees move in the breeze behind her.  Suddenly, in this backyard set up with folding chairs and drinks and snacks, I felt like I could cry. It felt like Church to me.

I spent my last year with the Abundant Table Farm Project in Santa Paula, CA, which provided me with the community and guidance to really claim my calling to the Priesthood. The journey of feeling, walking into, weeping with, misinterpreting, picking up again and again this calling from God has been beautifully tangled. It was a miracle when the Women Farmers of the Abundant Table give me the space of Abundant Table Farm Church and said, “Here. Plant your gifts here. Test them in our fire.”

I began writing liturgies and holding space for worship that weaved the work and action of building healthy and just alternatives to the broken food system into the Gospel story. I worked with other faith leaders (Clergy and Lay) to illuminate how breaking bread can reveal and heal the brokenness in our food system, the brokenness in our world. The Abundant Table is tied to Watershed Discipleship, a particular form of Ecological Theology or “Theology of Place” that California Theologian Ched Myers is exploring. My friend Adella Barrett described Watershed Discipleship as:

“Re-examin[ing] the importance of place in Jesus’ own baptism and ministry…ground[ing] in scripture, press[ing] into issues of water scarcity, environmental degradation and the legacy of settler and indigenous conflict and injustice. We [are] invited to re-imagine possibilities for renewal, as personal as learning the plants in our bioregion and as broad as bioregionalism representing a new/old political and economic paradigm.”

My year at the Abundant Table was truly a composting of all my pieces of calling, and co-creating Farm Church within the lens of Watershed Discipleship was the culmination of similar experiences stringing back forever into my story. From Wilderness Way in Portland, a growing community focusing on “re-wilding” Christianity, to living and working on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana, to finding a home in the outdoor Grotto Masses at St. Ambrose University, all the way back to growing up with a dual sense of God’s presence Sundays in the Catholic Church and Holy Mystery every day climbing trees in my backyard.

Call to Action 20/30s member Jennifer Guterman described her need to hold radically inclusive views and “have access to the rituals that sustain her” within the Catholic tradition. I have experienced deeply, with my hands and in my heart, how tying our weekly rituals and sacraments into the cycles and stories of the land, plants and beasts around us makes discipleship come alive. I long to weave those stories together again and celebrate the sacraments at …Garden Church, perhaps. I look at my backyard and all I see is possibility. I want to work with the rich diversity of my bioregion to create sacred space and celebrate into it.

Imagine with me a church that celebrates within a flourish of native and indigenous plants, communion that is transformed in the lap of food that will go to feed folks experiencing food insecurity in the community. Wild Oak Ecological Design defines Permaculture as being, “committed to the cultivation of high-biodiversity human habitats where the needs and dreams of the human community are met THROUGH serving the needs and will of the landbase and watershed from which we come, upon which we depend, and to which we will return.” This is my Church Vision. Our head farmer at The Abundant Table recalls elders in her community in Mexico saying, “If you want to see the love of God, go into the garden.” Another farmer said of her experience of Farm Church, “My work gave life to scripture and scripture gave life to my work! I need this community!”

I carry the seeds of this within my soul. Though I long for it deeply, there are still many steps in front of me. It is my challenge now to live into my vocation moment by moment as I trust the slow process of again building community, ripping out my lawn and literally planting a Church there, and slowly chipping away at my Masters in Divinity. I don’t know who my companions will be on this journey. I don’t know exactly what awaits me at the end of it. But, I know why I am here. I will bravely hold this vision until someone comes along who shares it with me, and we can plant it together.

After Rachael’s concert, I was biking back to my house through the winding, wooded streets of Duluth and feeling full from stepping into a pocket of remembering what I hope to grow in this community. I am sure that we need one another. We need places to speak our sorrow and lamentation, to work together with hands in the soil, to build and laugh at the sacred and broken holy mess. Episcopal priest Kerlin Richter said, “The Sacraments are how we get faith underneath our fingernails.” Who wants to dig with me?

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