Jul 6 2011

A Sustaining Relationship

“Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God…” Ruth 1:16

A few weeks ago, I got to read those words from the pulpit in Cannon Chapel at the wedding of Kate Floyd (’07) and Kyle Tau (‘10). I was one of six women sitting in the front in white albs – women who have gathered before to celebrate occasions like this, who stayed up all night together writing papers at Candler just a few years ago, who have consumed unearthly amounts of chocolate while watching overly dramatic television, who have laughed and cried together to the point of exhaustion, who have gathered yearly since we graduated to re-center and find rest.

At Lane Cotton Winn’s (’07) wedding a couple years ago, the same group of us who walked to the front in white robes were called “The Big Six” by a friend of her family. And so, adding Lane in, one of the names we call ourselves is The Big Seven.

We like to name things, like each other (we all have nicknames). We also take great care to name the occasions in our lives, to mark them intentionally, to set the space and prepare our hearts – to channel our inner MEM (as we are influenced heavily by Mary Elizabeth Moore, who directed the Women in Theology and Ministry program in our day) or our inner BDM (as we create liturgy to bring into our celebrations in classic Barbara Day Miller style). We are, after all, Candler Women, scattered as we may be around the country.

I’m not sure how we became a group exactly. All of these women filtered into my life at different stages of my seminary career. Lane sauntered into the first day of CT501 wearing a pink “Mary is My Homegirl” tshirt, and I knew instantly that we’d be friends. Along with Lane, Kate and Nicole Christopher (’07) were in most of my classes first year and in the WTM program. I remember meeting Anjie Peek Woodworth (’08) first year during our orientation – all confident and cheerful and wearing overalls – but somehow we didn’t get to know each other until second year.

My second year at Candler was also when Sara Pugh (’08) moved into an apartment two floors above mine at the retirement community that had become a Candler outpost. Candace Hirsch (’08) danced in to my life soon after Sara, and they quickly became part of the crowd who usually hung out in my apartment.

We gathered to study, to put off studying, to celebrate being done studying… And in the midst of classes and papers and random adventures around the city, we built strong bonds. Several of us have taken mission trips together, particularly to Lane’s hometown, New Orleans, after Hurricane Katrina.  Some of us have traveled to other continents together. And all seven of us have lived with someone else in the group at some point, but Candace takes (and usually bakes) the cake, having lived with four of us.

By my last semester in spring of 2007, our relationships had cemented. We were a group by the time we arrived early in the morning (kind of a big deal for some of us) to Bishops 211 on the first day of Don Salier’s last Public Worship class to scope out the primo seats. And by the time some of us were packing up to move to our respective Conferences and varied ministry settings a couple years later, we decided to be intentional about remaining a group, staying connected, and continuing to be a sounding board and support system even when we unpacked our boxes in different states.

We had our first Sabbath Retreat in the spring of 2008. We’ve had four now, and they follow a pattern. We each spend time sharing about the craziness of our year, the curveballs of ministry and family and relationships. We eat far too much, but it’s all delicious. We stay up until we’re falling asleep, and then we sleep until we wake up. We each create something to remind us of that particular gathering. And we celebrate the milestones in our lives – birthdays, engagements, pregnancy, ordinations…  Although we keep in touch during the year, these Sabbath Retreats are like cramming a year’s worth of in-person friendship into a couple of days.

I can’t fully express what I’ve learned from these women, and what I miss most living so far flung – the empathy and energy that take Candace away from what she may want to do and place her where someone needs her; the care with which Sara attends to every word someone says to her; the precision and insight of Anjie’s questions, opening a conversation wider; the grace and thoughtfulness with which Kate points to deeper systemic issues; the bodaciousness of Lane’s prophetic voice, calling us to think bigger; the glint in Nicole’s eye when she’s just thought of something mischievous and awesome for us to do… and the living room dance parties that ensue whenever we gather together. Sometimes I turn up the music and dance alone on the hardwood in my living room in Miami, channeling Candace’s moves and Sara’s laughter and the presence of these delightful women.

My first year at Candler, I heard the 3rd year students repeat over and over, “It’s all about relationship.” I kept waiting for the class where that phrase would be used. But that lesson wasn’t from a class. For me, that lesson came from the experience of Candler – the willingness of most everyone to be in relationship even when we disagreed vehemently in classes, talking theology wherever we were and whatever we were doing, the closeness of the community, the emphasis on lovingly engaging our brothers and sisters throughout the city and world, and the call to intentional devotion to God.

These friends, and so many others, shared and shaped my time at Candler. The strength of these relationships encourages me as I keep working to build myself a community in Miami, a city with an abundance of tropical fruit and adventure. It’s easy to find people, but difficult to make meaningful connections. But even as I find new friendships, those Candler relationships sustain me knowingly, as we all embrace the adventure that is ministry. Every day I discover something else I don’t know, and I’m still figuring out how to do campus ministry both faithfully and relevantly. The words and love of these women spur me on as I try to convey to my students that it really is all about relationship – our relationship with God and with each other.

Our Sabbath gatherings are like water in a parched land, as we regroup after another year of living out this rigorous call to love and serve.  A few months ago during this year’s Sabbath, I stood in Cannon Chapel with the rest of The Big Seven, and we sang “Blessed Be the Tie That Binds.” And when we part, it really does give me inward pain. But these people are my people, and their God is my God. Where I go, in some way, they go.

- Beth Bostrom

Beth is a 2007 graduate of the Candler School of Theology and currently serves as the chaplain/campus minister/director/goofy lady with the random ideas of the Wesley Foundation at the University of Miami.