This is a reflective piece I wrote immediately following my experience after attending Leader Development Days (LDD) hosted by United Methodist Women (UMW) in St. Louis MO Nov. 11-13, 2016. Find out more about UMW HERE
I have always been compelled to be a leader. You know the kid on the playground that organized the other children into a silent standing strike until the kickballs were returned to the playground, that's me! How about the college student who wanted to take the Biology Club on a camping trip in the wilderness of Tennessee with a zero budget yet found a way, me again! More recently, who is that crazy doctor who is shouting about needing change in the current medical system to stop physician burnout and the damage it is causing to the very professionals who render great care, you got it...me!
But the sad truth is, until very recently, I was convinced the only place I could lead would be in my professional life. I had always felt a chasm down the middle of my faith life. How could God create me with an instinctive desire for leadership and equip me with strong gifts and talents but yet not have an appropriate outlet for me to lead? Why was I told "I'm special and uniquely made" but not equal when it came to ministry and mission? Why would I be prepped for leadership then left outside a closed door?
Growing up in a faith tradition that absolutely did not allow female pastors or high level leadership position, I matured in a system where I would either have to blaze my trail outside of ministry or become a pastor's wife or global missionary if I wanted to be in Christian leadership. (Retrospectively viewing my career choice, I choose medicine because it is still engaged in mission and service. And also if you know me, I don't play well as the "sweet, quiet, support only" spouse.)
Needless to say, for as long as I can remember, I DESIRED to lead! It fuels me and makes me tick. So I was intrigued when at church, we received a new minister and she was a she!
Leaning back on my past experience, I thought, "Woah, is this ok?" So, like any good problem solver, I went to the source and started to develop a dialog and relationship with our new pastor (Logananne McCullough) at our church (Otwell United Methodist). She asked me if I knew anything about United Methodist Women and invited me to explore UMW. Through the local UMW district newsletter, I discovered more about Limitless and decided to attend. Limitless 2016 was pivotal in breaking down the my walls of limitation. The event revealed to me new truth of who I am in the eyes of God and that I was fully accepted as I was, a woman leader, in my church and especially in UMW.
After Limitless, I was pulled aside by our conference president Cathy Burris (who at the time, I didn't realize was actually "the big cheese" of this UMW stuff in Indiana). She looked me in the eyes and spoke the exact truth that I had been feeling in my heart for years, "Errin, you are so gifted and I see leadership potential in you." She went on further by asking, "How can I and UMW help develop this?" I told Cathy that being a mother of 3 and family medicine physician, I literally have no additional time for more meetings or taking on another traditional leadership position. Cathy appreciated my honesty and then later emailed me about a leadership training opportunity in St Louis. I explored the UMW Leadership Development Days on my phone while feeding my 3 month old after finishing up a long office day at about 2am and decided right there and then I would go for this weekend conference. Little did I know that 4 months down the road, I would become part of a community of women I had been searching for.
The conference started off like many I have attended with workshops. My first workshop was discerning to lead which helped each participate examine our leadership style and explore the gifts of others. It was insightful but really I began to feel the undertones of something more. I realized soon this would be called the "Sisterhood of Grace." It sounds a little woo-woo at first but as I sat quietly, I began to realize these women around me truly wanted to listen. Dialogue and participation was open, respectful and brave as we shared, prayed, learned and listened to one another. Many topics were entirely new to me, such as: particular events of climate justice, the ongoing criminalization of communities of color and different perspectives on economic inequality within our culture. My other workshops focused on leadership in the church and (my favorite) communication across the generations. Not only was I a participate, I felt as though I was a contributor.
Prior to leaving, I told my husband that I was going to just try to blend in with the ladies. Many times once others find out I'm in healthcare, I feel as I am labeled. Either I become the "go-to" for everything medical or I'm unapproachable because of others preconceived ideas of "what doctors are." So my whole goal was to fly low on the radar and just be a woman. Well, God evidently had other plans.
The first plenary session on Saturday morning started great. The beautiful speaker started the responsive reading and suddenly collapsed. What happens, my doctor brain kicked in and God said, "Move!" Soon, our ill sister was surrounded by a qualified team of nurses, retired EMTs, hospital techs and me. 911 responders and EMS soon arrived and got her to the nearest hospital. During this time, the room cleared and everyone attending was praying.
I was reminded from this one event, I cannot hide the gifts and talents I have been equipped with. I couldn’t just go “be one of the ladies” because God has purposefully placed skills in me and when it's time to go and he calls, I go!
Many felt overwhelmed by the realization on how quickly life can change in a second! To go from addressing hundreds to being served by the ones you were just getting ready to nurture, amazing. I also know it was testament to other attendees that God does provide. I had hugs and sighs of relief thanking me for being in attendance. But what did I really do? Mostly provided direction while awaiting for advanced technologies and medical personnel to arrive. I didn't even have a stethoscope on me. In the moment, I felt helpless but to the other women around, I provided them hope and support by just being present.
So as much as Limitless reassured me of my calling and value, LDD confirmed in me that my leadership is valued and desired. I am far from being alone and this is only the beginning of what God can accomplish through me. Ladies, UMW has empowered me.
Cathy, being the great mentor she is, continues to ask me, " How can the conference or district better engage you and other young women?" I encourage each and every reader to focus on one woman. Maybe she is young or perhaps she is just young at heart but be present for her, really listen, drop your preconceived notions and hear her needs. Maybe she doesn't want to come to meetings, coordinate VBS or do funeral dinners but that doesn't mean you have to stop if you enjoy these activities. Instead, find out the experience she is asking for. The only way to know is ask questions and then just shut up and listen. This is how UMW "caught" me. A community of women who are actively living the purpose to know God and to experience freedom as whole persons through Jesus Christ; to develop a creative, supportive fellowship; and to expand concepts of mission through participation in the global ministries of the church.
I leave you with the prayer slip written out to me by a fellow UMW LDD participate with the following message:
"May you always be filled with the "unreasonable" love of Christ to go forth and be the hands, feet and voice you are called to be. Be bold and courageous in all your efforts."