Listening to Our Elders: Following Role Models in Our Calling

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by Bonnie Nicholas

I had the wonderful privilege last week of attending the Sojourner’s Summit in Washington DC. It was inspiring to hear from so many amazing social justice activists who are really making a difference in the world. There were honored “elders” at the Summit as well as younger activists, who all shared from their wealth of varied experience. I would have loved to spend weeks with each one; there was so much to learn from each of them.

One morning I attended a women’s breakfast featuring the “elder” Reverend Dr. Yvonne Delk. In her allotted time of only 15 minutes, she summarized a lifetime of wisdom into a few key principles. She began by talking about her mother, who she said was a praying woman who believed that all things were possible with God. She noted that her mother prayed over her each day by name as she went out. This was a great gift, Rev. Delk shared, because, “I know who I am, I know my name.” Below are some of Rev. Delk’s principles:

  1. I have learned that it doesn’t matter what they call you; it’s what you answer to that’s important. What people call you does not define you. Knowing who you are in the Lord, his blessed child, is what anchors you, in all of life and whatever life brings.
  2. I have learned to follow my heart, my passion, and my pain. It’s important to be willing to invest your heart, knowing that sometimes it will be broken. If you are human and aware of all the injustice around you, you may live in a constant state of rage, which can burn you out; passion on the other hand, will sustain you and give you energy and life. It’s important to trust your pain, which lets you know that something is wrong.
  3. I have learned how to face my demons and my fears. I’m aware of how racism, sexism, and classism have created demons and fears. I need to take them to the touchstones of what I believe in, to my faith that cannot be moved.
  4. I have learned that I cannot travel this road alone; I need communities. God has not created us to be alone, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
  5. I’ve learned to risk, even when there is no safety net. There are not guarantees, sometimes you have to risk it all. We must step against the wind; a ship ready to sail doesn’t stay in the harbor.
  6. I’ve learned the difference between location and destination. There was a journey before us and there will be a journey after we’re gone. The location is not the only thing; we live midway, in between.
  7. I’ve learned how to reflect, release, and rest. One must learn to live in the grace that God provides for each day, every day. Life is a gift, what we do with it is our gift back to God.

Each one of Rev. Delk’s principles applies to my Safe Church calling, and perhaps to your calling as well. I’ve come to this place, as director of Safe Church Ministry, by following my heart, my passion, and my pain. Indeed there have been times where this work has been heartbreaking. And I too have learned the difference between location and destination, often reminding myself and others that we are not in heaven yet – but that’s where we’re headed. Though the arc of history may be bent toward justice, it’s a long arc. I’m so thankful for my elders, for those who have come before, paving the way, and for those who currently give me courage to continue the journey. My prayer is for the Lord to continue the work of Safe Church long after I’m gone, and I ask for wisdom in my work now to help make that a reality.

Who are your elders? What lessons have you learned from them that sustain you on your life and faith journey?

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Bonnie, God's sustaining blessing and care to you and those around you who continue to lead us in this vital ministry of being Safe Churches.