In July 2020, the Collegeville Institute hosted a virtual writing workshop led by Dori Baker and Patrice Gopo called Our Deep Wells: Writing on Vocation Across Race and Culture. The workshop invited faith leaders and scholars who center the voices of marginalized communities and/or grapple with power and privilege as an element of vocational discernment. Writing about vocation that is rooted in an individual’s distinct identity holds power to transform people, communities, and the world.
The workshop began each day listening to participants’ responses to the prompt: “Tell a story about a specific person, practice, or tradition that called you to life.” The writing prompt was inspired by an interview with Patrick Reyes, author of Nobody Cries When We Die: God, Community, and Surviving to Adulthood, for Bearings Online, in which he defines vocation as following God’s call to survive. We are pleased to share three short responses from the Our Deep Wells writing workshop. This is the first of three posts by members of this cohort.
“Brang me my hoe,” she said with a smile. As Grandma Mattie’s little four-year-old helper, I would bring the hoe. As her caregiver, I brought her the water I knew her body needed to replenish as the sun caused her to perspire. Next, I grabbed the seeds she gifted me. That’s right! She gave me my own seeds to plant, so that I could take care of them and watch them grow. Standing tall, she would dig a hole in that Georgia red clay and I would sow the seeds. As we co-created with God in the dirt, Grandma and I talked about gardening, soap operas, fishing, cleaning up the church, and much more. I practiced my counting and spelling, because Mama taught me to read earlier than most. We sang church songs that I later learned were called hymns.
Grandma Mattie received little formal education, but understood this world and the inner-workings of nature in ways that only life experience can teach us. Her conversations with the Creator were not limited to prayer on Sundays, but extended to farming and caring for the community. Her God-talk was evidenced by the crops that grew season after season and were shared with our neighbors, including members of our country Baptist church.
Mama took all the lessons Grandma taught her a bit further up our Georgia red clay dirt road to Augusta College, where she began studies to become a pediatric nurse. While this was her dream, the vocation of a public librarian was revealed to her as the Spirit spoke and a deeper knowing was unearthed. This was her opportunity to instill in young patrons the importance of reading and power of imagination, starting with her children at home. Little did I know, Grandma and Mama were my first examples of religious educators. They stirred up the gifts of teaching and care inside of me through their nurture, encouragement, and love.
Gina A. S. Robinson is a native of Georgia, currently pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Christian Education at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and serving as a minister to youth and young adults at St. John AME in Aurora, IL. She enjoys spending time in nature, cooking, concerts, and traveling the world.
Grandma’s scarred, Survivor Strong hands grasp the freshly picked, Kelly green beans. Her small kitchen fits more than eight of us: Grandma Argrow, Grandma Crisp, Aunt Roxanne, Aunt Babydoll, Mama, Geanna, Artrina, and Miranda. I am the youngest, barely eight years old. Snapping those beans that came from Grandma’s southern, North Carolina garden. Hundreds of beans. All of our hands snapping away. The smell of fried chicken, red tomatoes, and freshly picked green beans fill the air. I see my Grandma, Mama, and Aunties laughing as they talk about the weekly “church gossip.” My cousins and I snap away, complaining about the time, yet basking in the joy of being around such beautiful women who love each other. Who love each other fiercely. Regardless of our age, we are blood. We are each other’s keeper. The beans are food, but also an excuse to gather in community to listen to and celebrate each other.
I remember Grandma’s hands so well. Those brown, beautiful hands that raised Kelly green beans, eight children, and a husband she married at the age of 14. I remember the scars on Grandma’s hands. Not the scars from a small kitchen hiccup, but the scars that came from cuts from my grandfather’s knife when he was under the influence of alcohol. Those scars stayed with me. Years later I have similar scars. Scars that came from the knife of a stranger who was also under the influence of alcohol when he broke into my apartment and sexually assaulted me. Grandma’s scars and my scars are different yet look profoundly similar.
When I think about Grandma, I see our scars. They are rigid, bloody wounds that are keloids now. The wounds have closed and healed. Closed and healed.
The glimpse of our scars is just that, a glimpse. Because, what I will really remember is the Survivor Strong hands of my grandmother that grasped those freshly picked, Kelly green beans. The smell of fried chicken and red tomatoes. My cousins and I snapped away at those beans, complaining about the time, yet basking in the joy of being around such beautiful women who loved each other. Who loved each other fiercely.
Dr. Kit Evans-Ford is the Founder & Director of Argrow’s House of Healing and Hope. Argrow’s House is a bath and body social enterprise and healing house for women survivors of violence. She also teaches in the Department of Theology and the Master of Public Health programs at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa.
It was Monday so, naturally, we were having soft-boiled eggs for breakfast. I sat at the long table and bowed my head as Adjan Bill prayed blessing over the meal, ending with that distinctly Thai take on the closing: “Amiiin.” Picking up my spoon I cracked the egg carefully along the top, the goal being to create a hole just big enough that you could scoop out its goodness, but not so big that it became a liability to the tablecloth.
“So!” Bill boomed, and my head turned left. There he sat, the head of the table, arms folded over his enormous belly—what he fondly referred to as his “front porch.”
“Will you join us for our annual family vacation?”
It would have felt intrusive to go only months before, but now I had learned that family is less about blood and more about time spent together; shared space, meals, experiences, stories. Pushing and pulling against one another like the tides that made their repeat journey along the coast of Hua Hin where the family gathered. Dozens of adoptive children, grandchildren, cousins, and stray friends collected, raised, and loved by Adjan Bill over his 30-plus years of missionary service. Crowded around tables overflowing with grilled fish, mango, and sticky rice, there was always a way to add one more stool to the circle. No one left without an aching belly full to bursting, threatening to do real digestive damage that no one would regret. The loud talking over one another, laughing and tumbling conversation, “easy come and easy go”—sabai sabai—shaped the fluid family and was at once foreign and familiar. I never knew such warmth, such unguardedness. It was belonging without an audition, application, or membership fee—just show up and you’re in.
Rev. Emily McGinley serves as the Executive Pastor of Urban Village Church, a multi-site faith community committed to LBGTQIA inclusion, anti-racist values, and activating the life-giving, liberating, and loving ministry of Jesus in every way that the Spirit leads. In addition to planting UVC’s fourth worshiping community, Rev. McGinley has written, preached, and presented nationally on the topics of vocational discernment, preaching, church planting, social media in ministry, inclusive evangelism, and anti-racist church leadership.