When we arrived here at our present job (Church of the Good Shepherd) I was invited, as is good and right, to join the ECW chapter (what would be called The Dorcas Circle if we were Baptist). ECW stands for Episcopal Church Women and I imagine, not knowing much about its history, that it is some form of much earlier church auxiliary groups. Good Shepherd used to have a quilting guild but nobody knows how to quilt any more so all we have are the longly related nostalgic memories of all the quilts made.
So I was invited, and, in a fit of wisdom and sense, begged graciously out by reason of having too many other things to do. I had no idea at the time but I think it was one of the smartest things I’ve done in my whole life.
Let me just say, first, that all the ladies in the ECW are lovely—I love them all. The youngest is probably in her late 50s, the oldest in her early nineties. They work very hard. At funerals, they automatically do a luncheon after the service. For baptisms, they produce a cake. For fundraisers, they accumulate rummage and sell it, make soup and sell it, make cakes, pies, muffins, coffee cake, cookies and sell them. And they particularly minister to our poor intercity neighborhood by pricing everything very low or giving it away. AND, they save their pennies (I mean real old fashioned pennies) and buy birthday cards and support various charitable efforts. Just now they are collecting school supplies for the neighborhood school children, hopefully to replenish old and worn crayons and notebooks from the fall. They are Wonderful. They make the church go by sheer hard work and sacrifice.
But by some perversity, when asked to join, I just didn’t do it. And I firmly believe it was the work of the Holy Spirit. Because, for all the hard work and sacrifice, there is also an element of, what can I call it, Power, that resides with this group of women. Not all the time—not on Sunday morning, not at Bible Study (they all faithfully attend Bible Study), not in the general life of the church—but most particularly when they gather themselves together in the Kitchen or take over the Parish Hall for fundraisers or meetings. This is not a bad thing. These women do an immense amount of work and the power they hold to a large extent drives the practical daily life of the parish forward (along with the enormous super human work Matt does every day keeping up with people’s spiritual lives).
But as the priest’s wife, I had the power to foul this up.
Bring in the priest’s wife, and the delicate balance between Priest, ECW, and Parish is totally upset. Introduce her into the Holy of Holies (I mean the Kitchen) with all her opinions, direct access to the Priest, ability to bake (the list goes on) and the whole brew becomes toxic.
Why? Because what priest’s wife isn’t a little bit pushy? A little full of knowledge and pride? Able to straighten people out with a mere tweak.
No, I just steered clear, and continue to do so. Matt attends all the meetings and keeps up with all the ladies at daily Morning Prayer. I check in periodically and bake for the sales. But generally confine myself to Sunday School, office work, pastoral care, organizing the pageant every year (really, the list goes on and on).
But now I find myself a little torn. We have a new generation of young women who, very sensibly, are staying home with their children and even home schooling. In other words, they are mostly free during the day for the work of the church. I am torn. Do I encourage these young women to join the ECW? Would they be able to meld themselves in? The ECW hasn’t had anyone under 50 join in 30 years. What will happen? Will these young women even be interested? I know the ECW would be delighted at first but I have serious doubts about how long the delight would last.
I leave you, O Best Beloved, with all these questions unanswered, and go to bake several Enormous Christian Loaves of Bread to be sold tomorrow for the up building of the Church and its witness to the World. Amen.