It is now May 13th. It’s been 9 days since Rachel Held Evans (RHE) died, and I have been attempting to process why her death hit me as hard as it did ever since. I usually don’t cry over people I’ve never met in person.
It has been 3 days since RHE died. Since then, an invisible but very loud and persistent bird has been sitting on my shoulder, chirping until I write something.
Saturday morning, late for many people, I was feeling exhausted and getting ready to crawl back into bed when C, looking at his phone, says, “Rachel Held Evans died.” I put my hands to my face, exclaiming, and crawl back into bed, pulling the covers over my head, my throat choking with tears. He reads me Dan Evans’ latest update and I feel the tears streaming down my face. Why am I crying? I thought. I never met her. I only exchanged a couple tweets with her, at the most. No emails or other messages. Why am I crying? It must be because of low blood sugar. I push it aside.
But here is, three days after, and I feel the tears come to my eyes after looking at a portrait of her, and I feel the tears writing this. What is happening?
I was surprised at how hard the news hit me. I stopped following her closely about 2 or 3 years ago (I can’t remember), because it seemed she was constantly beating the same drum, and I wanted to hear something new. I wanted to go deeper, and while Rachel spoke well to the masses, she wasn’t a scholar. So I stopped paying attention, only checking on her blog once in a while.
She was one of the first Christian influencers I followed on Twitter, and I was delighted she had followed me back, because she was kinda famous, as far as Twitter goes.
While working in a Christian bookstore, I came across RHE’s first book, Evolving in Monkey Town (now, Faith Unraveled). I eyed it with some suspicion, lumping it in together with Velvet Elvis, and never read it.
Shortly after A Year of Biblical Womanhood was released, I picked up a copy on Kindle, and read it with some amusement and connection. This was around the time I was started to question the complementarian theology I was bombarded with my entire life, shortly before C and I married, and around the time I started to really follow Rachel’s blog. I was looking at other sources, but I felt some strange comfort in in knowing that someone around my age, a journalist, not a scholar, and a woman, was asking difficult questions and exploring a divisive topic in public. I probably read every post she published on complementarian theology v. egalitarian theology, because she made me feel braver.
If you’re a friend of mine, you probably know that one of my favorite authors is Lauren F. Winner. I read her first memoir, Girl Meets God, before I even went to The Master’s College, and have read it multiple times since then. She convinced me of the idea that Evangelicals weren’t the only Christians, and introduced me to the Episcopal church through her honest and witty reflections on growing up, ritual, and theology. When I moved to Virginia, I knew right away I wanted nothing to do with the ubiquitous religion of the South, that was floating under the name of “Baptist.”, so I found a little ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) church plant, and it was there I fell in love with Anglicanism. A few years later, I was exploring the Episcopal church around the same time RHE was, which gave me even more in common with her.
Two years ago, I began to explore a shift in vocation. The work I was doing then was depleting me, and the work I thought I would be doing was no longer on the horizon, so I began to tie my interests, passions, and proclivities together and pondered the idea of pastoring. My previous aspiration, librarianship, was a type of pastoring, so I thought about how that could translate to traditional pastoral work. That work has been slow going, especially when I refused to be tied to any one parish for three years. I still needed a tent-making profession, so I stuck to what I knew until it burned me out. I have not been working for a while, and I keep encountering dead ends in job searching.
Last week, C and I had a conversation about my latest thoughts regarding my vocational direction. I talked about trying CPE to explore chaplaincy, an idea that thrills and scares me to the bone. We also talked about sharpening a skill I’ve already had in my back pocket, sitting unused for some time: the written word.
Saturday, Rachel dies. I spend much of the day wondering who is going to be the next Rachel Held Evans.
Sunday morning, the day after, I am sitting in the chancel, listening to the vicar, a woman, preach about John 21. “Feed my sheep.” After partaking in and serving the Eucharist, I hear the words of the Post Communion prayer: “send us out to do the work you have given us to do.”
I realize several things. First, If RHE were my actual friend, you know, IRL, she would be telling me to get up and get to work on these new aspirations, instead of sitting around and thinking and researching. Second, it is partially because of RHE that I was sitting and listening to a woman preach the Word. Third, it’s going to take more than one person to continue the work that RHE started.
I’m not crying that much anymore, but it has become clear to me that I wouldn’t be who I am, and I wouldn’t be thinking about serving the church in a pastoral way, without RHE’s influence.
Thank you, Rachel, and thank you for leaving a gap that will take a great many to fill. May we not take this calling for granted.