Center Rev. Ada Cooper, Hermitage Church of God, Hermitage, TN
In response to Patheos.com “Why I am a…” in 200 words or less:
I am Church of God, Anderson, IN because I was raised up in love. I have been reared in the tradition that also loved and fostered my parents and grandparents. I was born into a local church where a founding pastor of the 1930’s had been a woman, raised up under a sense of welcome and inclusion, taught the distinctions of our Wesleyan-Holiness heritage.
I was reared in a church where I was invited to sing a special at six years old, where I watched women kneel and wash the feet of other women, spread the feast for a pie social and gather for Tuesday morning prayer.
As an adult I pursued ordination in this tradition and have attained graduate degrees at our School of Theology where I now also teach and I am committed to the fierce, radical passion for justice and evangelism that animated the earliest days of our Movement. I am the Spirit daughter of Lena Schoffner, pioneer Church of God preacher who demanded the rope separating races be torn down, I am an heir to the Movement who would welcome Every One to the table of love.
It's not too late! If you are a clergy woman or a woman preparing for ministry, join us for Rise Up, the tenth annual Wesleyan Holiness Clergy Woman Conference
. This was the single most encouraging event of my formation as a woman called to ministry and academy. Here you will worship with other women on a similar path, you will be challenged and equipped for ministerial life. The conference is conceived around workshops that are both academic and practical along with up close and personal time for networking with other women in your tradition and field. Break out sessions include: Narrative Preaching, Balance in Ministry, Responding to the LBGT community, Interfaith Dialogue, Prostitution and Sex Trafficking, Exploring Publishing, and a new Social Justice track added this year. If you need to be refreshed, inspired, encouraged, empowered, if you need to laugh and cry and worship with other women in your vocation; this is the place for you!! Join us in Estes Park next week!!
Fracctico Panis, Catacombs of Priscilla
Below freezing outside, the ground blanketed with new fallen snow, they come in from out of the cold, wet galoshes and heavy down coats dropped by the door. It is Friday morning, mid-winter in Indiana and they bring butter cake, cranberry muffins and clementines; the flames dance in the fireplace, the coffee pot hisses fragrant hot steam and we come together and thaw.
My home, visited by wisdom personified: women, leaders, ministers, seekers, sisters, daughters, mothers, mentors. We sip our coffee and share our lives. There are new babies to brag on, photos of the living dolls to pass around and fawn over, there are stories to tell, ground covered on the journey from last time until this. There are miracles to claim, praise to be given for those angels keeping watch, there are burdens to share, there is pain to confess. We laugh and eat and testify and my mind drifts to a place like this before us.
Far below the centuries of civilizations long come and gone on the Aventine Hill in Rome there lies a chamber beneath the rubble, inside the ancient Catacombs of Priscilla. Beautiful reliefs are painted on the wall throughout, images of women, pillars of the early church, Mary the Virgin, Theodora, Thecla and the Magdalene, their stories of surrender and grace all but lost to us now. Except for this funerary chamber, this cavern in the ground, this shrine for women valiant in the faith, this safe space where it seems they gathered for centuries to worship in Jesus’ name.
It is no secret to any student of Scripture that there was a time in the early days of the community of the baptized when women taught and encouraged, led and gathered the believers into their homes, those safe abodes and first sanctuaries of early Jesus followers. Even in the turmoil of the first centuries, in the midst of the struggle for identity and the battle to sustain what the Spirit had birthed, we find these sacred places hewn in the stones of the earth where holy women gathered to share the Lord’s meal to kneel and pray.
After the sanctuaries of the home had been abandoned, given way to cathedrals, long after women had been silenced in the church, still they gathered and we know some came here, to Priscilla’s Catacombs to this chamber because they believed it to be the resting place of St. Prisca, early church leader and ministry partner of Paul. An ancient fresco is stained into the stone commemorating seven women gathered together to share the Feast of the Lord.
I sample the butter cake and I think about them and us, all women, all called, all struggling to stand and sustain what the Spirit has birthed. I think about how much we all need each other, how grateful I am to have been visited today by my wise companions, those gathered now and those who gathered before us. I raise my hands and I give thanks for women wise and sacred space.
A month long hiatus from my mini marathon training finds me lying on the couch, crackers in hand, wistfully watching the pristine, chiseled athletes of the 2012 Olympics. I wonder as I watch them, twirl on the uneven bars and pummel the ball across the net, what drove them to wake up at 4 a.m. and swim morning laps in a neighborhood pool while the rest of us slept in our beds.
Today, haunted by images of disciplined Olympians and the half marathon training schedule that lingers on my laptop, not opened in five weeks, I rolled my soft body back into my running shoes. It wasn’t pretty, the heat unbearable, but at least, I’m moving again and sometimes, glorious things can come of failed plans and just being where you are.
This calls to mind, the life of the Apostle Paul. Sometime near 49-51 A.D., Paul made an appearance at the Jerusalem Council and gave an account for the healing and Holy Spirit work that had been taking place in the Empire among those who were not of the House of Israel. This will be Paul’s first official report to the Good Brethren in Jerusalem, where, he is called on the proverbial carpet regarding the questionable doctrine he had been teaching. According to Paul, for freedom Christ had set us free, the Law of the Fathers was no longer needed since in Christ Jesus the Law is love alone. After this encounter, Paul receives the blessing of James and sets out on his next missionary journey believing the matter of Gentiles baptized into Christ without the sign of circumcision is behind him.
According to Acts, Paul and Silas travel first to Bithynia because the Spirit had not permitted them to preach in the Asia province at that time, but when they arrive near the coast, they are stopped this time by the Spirit of Jesus from entering the city.
Paul, it seems, has every reason to be confounded by the failure of his plans. First, a senseless detour to Jerusalem and now heaven itself seems to be creating obstacles, frustrating his plans! That night, after feasting on salt fish and throwing back a few pints of ale, Paul falls asleep to the sound of the waves crashing into the beach at Troas. Belly full, mind buzzing, confidence brooding, Paul dreams of a man in Greece calling out to him, begging him for help; when the sun rises, Paul understands his mission.
When Paul arrives in Greece, he first visits the prominent Roman city of Philippi. The city of Philippi was the settlement colony for all those soldiers who had fought with Antony and Octavian against Brutus and Cassius, the conspirators who had stabbed and killed Gaius Julius Caesar. In Paul’s time, a wealthy port city, Philippi had no synagogues for Paul to visit as was his custom; instead, he meets a woman named Lydia and the women of her household who are down by the river when he arrives. Acts tells us that Lydia and her entire household are baptized, thus these women are the beginning of the house church in Philippi and the first converts in Europe.
The church of Philippi will grow and flourish across the centuries, according to Polycarp, it is the strongest of all churches planted by Paul well into the 2nd century. Paul refers to this church as his “joy and crown” and will write to encourage female leaders to work out their differences for the good of the community (Philippians 4). The women and men of Philippi will underwrite much of Paul’s missionary work so that he is able to plant churches throughout the Roman Empire.
Philippi was not where Paul intended to venture, Lydia was not whom he intended to encounter, but as it turned out, the time, the place, the partnership were all Spirit born and God breathed for the purpose of preaching Christ.
Just like Paul, I am sure every Olympian has faced some setbacks and even some dead ends that turned out to be new dreams. What are those places in your own life that you believe are dead ends that might turn out to be new beginnings? What are your frustrated plans that might be opportunities for divine appointment?