I met Judy Fletcher, the author of the 2015–16 Horizon’s Bible study, Come to the Waters, in August of 1987 when she and her husband, David, accepted a call to serve as co-pastors of the church where I was a member. During her six years at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Houston, Judy redefined and expanded what it meant to be a pastor, a woman, and specifically what it meant to be a woman in ministry. She opened doors (and minds) with her passion and presence. Within my own family, I saw Judy’s influence as my three-year-old daughter’s play shifted. During dress-up, it became common for Meredith to drape a long cloth over her shoulders and pretend to be a preacher, complete with a Bible and small table as her pulpit. She served communion to her dolls and brothers. For her, putting on a stole was as natural as putting on a firefighter’s helmet, stethoscope, or apron; totally within the realm of possibility. For that, I was, and am, ever so grateful.
I grew up in Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church in Dallas and currently serve as director of Christian education and spiritual formation at First Presbyterian Church, Pasadena, Texas, where my husband, Jim, serves as pastor. Like many of you, the FPC Presbyterian Women began our new year last week with a dinner, installation of officers and the introduction to Come to the Waters. I had been asked to lead the lesson and was delighted to say yes! I was going to do this “right,” after all, I was familiar with the lessons and the author. I had such fun preparing a feast for the senses: a tablescape complete with artwork, a bowl and pitcher of water (as suggested in the lessons), blue cloths and multiple scarves encircling the tabletop, a slideshow with my favorite water photos set to music, a short film from YouTube and a playlist with sounds of water from a nature CD. On the Gulf Coast of Texas, we had not seen rain in almost two months so I thought the sound of water would be soothing and appropriate for this study. I was ready.
But thirty minutes before the evening began, the sky blackened to the north. The wind lifted dirt and debris, moving it in a strengthening circular rotation. Branches snapped and flew like tumbleweeds across the churchyard. One large crepe myrtle split down the middle. Lightning danced all around, simultaneously accompanied by thunder, and just as the women began arriving, the heavens opened up. Many were drenched, their umbrellas turned inside out as they navigated the puddles in the parking lot and strained against the powerful winds. With one loud boom, the lights inside the church flickered and went out, leaving us in the semi-darkness, with only a handful of dim emergency lights scattered among the ceiling tiles.
We stood in silence, our minds racing, but Presbyterian Women are resourceful and resilient. Suddenly, dozens of tapers in starburst glass bases appeared and our covered dish meal became a candlelit dinner. Friends grabbed towels and blotted dripping heads and bodies, and soon the entire fellowship hall was filled with laughter. We had known our theme was Come to the Waters, but that night, the waters had come to us!
After the dinner and installation, I stood to begin the lesson. Without electricity, I had to let go of my carefully prepared plans of a slideshow, YouTube film, and music. I laughed out loud, thinking how easy it is to let one’s ego grow bigger than the biblical story. As I looked out over the faces of friends, old and new, tears sprang to my eyes and, holding a candle to the page, I read aloud Judy’s words in the introduction on page 5, “ . . . Water and Word go hand in hand as we strive to live as faithful followers. This Bible study turns to some of the water stories and images in the Bible to enable us to learn more about God and how God would have us live our lives. The study also draws our attention to the power of water, its potential, and its effects on our lives and culture . . . Water and Word work together to quench the thirsts of our bodies and our souls.”
Water and Word. That’s what I had on that stormy summer night and it was all that was needed. It’s also where we are going this year. Through the biblical images of water, we will celebrate creation and baptism this fall and winter. We will explore times of thirst, danger, storms, and the need for justice. In the spring, we will experience streams of mercy, living water, and finally words of hope and a new creation! It’s going to be a rich year and I look forward to the journey.
To say that Judy has been an influence in my life would be a vast understatement. While she is not my current pastor, she continues to be my mentor and friend. Last spring, when she asked me to consider writing the blog for this Bible study, I was honored, humbled, and more than a little nervous. I still am. I pray that in the coming months, my words will do her words and, most of all THE Word, justice as we come to the waters as Presbyterian Women.
The column I write for our church newsletter is called Through the Open Door. My invitation each month is for folks to stop by my office and chat for a while about whatever is stirring their souls. My prayer for this blog is that you will feel free to come through the open (virtual) door and share your experiences of the words and Word you find here and in the 2015–16 study. This month, I’d love to hear your stories about the women who have shaped you along the way. I look forward to chatting with you about it and thank God for the opportunity to do so.
With love and a grateful heart,
Jo Ann Currie