We see ourselves

Gutsy women
Elizabeth Soto Albrecht and Patty Shelly ask Phoenix delegates if they are ready for two women to lead Mennonite Church USA. Photo by Emily Ralph.

I would have told you that I didn’t need a woman leading our denomination.

I would have been wrong.

When Elizabeth Soto Albrecht was given her charge as moderator of Mennonite Church USA on July 5, I felt a thrill run through me.  We had been on the road for a week at that point and I wondered, “Is this what a campaign worker feels like when she sees her candidate take the oath of office?”

A few moments later, Elizabeth and Patty Shelly, the moderator-elect, stood before the delegate body and asked, “Are you ready for two women to lead Mennonite Church USA?”  The crowd applauded and I almost bounced up and down with excitement.

Where was this coming from?  There have been other women who have served as moderator, although most of them were before I was involved enough to be aware.  Why was Elizabeth’s appointment so special for me?

In our first trip together, Elizabeth and I traveled to New York City.  As we ate dinner with a Mennonite pastor in Brooklyn, his face lit up.  “This is an important day,” he said.  “For years, we urban Mennonites have been looking at our leadership, looking for a face we recognize.”  And now, with Elizabeth as the first Latina moderator of Mennonite Church USA, they finally looked to their leadership and saw themselves.

Everywhere we have traveled so far, Elizabeth has been greeted with enthusiasm and warmth.  But when we visit Hispanic congregations, something is different; the energy in the air is palpable, the prayer is fervent.  These congregations sent her to Phoenix in the same way that God sent prophets to Israel: as one individual representing something greater than herself.

I knew this was the case; I have even explained to others on a number of occasions how important Elizabeth’s appointment is to the Hispanic community.  Until the moment when she received her charge, however, it was just knowledge.  In that moment, I felt a dawning awareness of how personal that identification could be: This is what it feels like to look at the moderator and see myself.

When I told my spiritual director that I was going to be traveling with Elizabeth this summer, she laughed.  “That’s one gutsy woman,” she said.  Then she stopped and looked at me.  “But you like gutsy women.”

It’s true.  I do like gutsy women.  And my heart’s desire is that I will be one.

To all the gutsy women who have challenged the status quo, battled through sexism, engaged the hard questions, bridged cultures and theologies and relationships, and sacrificed for the good of the wider church, thank you.  May you more and more often look to our leadership and see a reflection of yourselves.  And may our children and grandchildren look to our leadership and see you.