Unexpected Gifts

by Cindy Barto
Central Congregational UCC, Atlanta, GA

Sometimes it’s the unexpected gifts that become the biggest blessing. As a child, my mother used to ask my sisters and I what we most wanted for Christmas and our birthdays and we would sit down and make a list. Mom always tried to get at least a few things from our list for us. This brought me some joy, but I was always surprised that it was often the unexpected gifts that brought me the most joy because to me they said: “I know you and I thought about you and when I saw this, I knew it was for you.”

I felt this way today as I sat down for coffee with my Feminist Theology professor from undergrad. She had seen on Facebook that I was at General Synod and let me know she was here as well. She is neither UCC, nor from the area, so I was surprised to hear that she was at our national gathering. I found out that she was a part of our ecumenical counsel present at General Synod.

Lynn and I have kept in touch over the years, me reaching out every few years to let her know what I am up to and to share some intersections I have had with her or her class, but I have not seen her since I graduated 6 years ago. We planned to get together for a quick hello between lunch and worship, but after talking for 2+ hours, we realized that we had missed our communal worship time, but indeed had had church right there at the coffee shop at the top of the convention center.

Lynn changed my life in so many ways. I still remember seeing the title of her class “Christian Feminism” as a 19-year-old and thinking, “well, that’s an oxymoron, I bet it’s just a catchy title to get people to take the class.” It never occurred to me that there were actually many well-developed theological frameworks within Feminist Theology that were in line with the Christian Tradition. I still remember the day I walked into Lynn’s class and saw a life-sized projection of Her hanging on the wall. I remember taking an extra breath in as my eyes moved around her bronze body, taking in what my body was already responding to. That day, we were looking at the sculpture by Edwina Sandys called “Christa,” the female Christ on the cross. I remember so many emotions present in the room that day, some were disgusted, some joy-filled, and I was very conflicted. What I did know was that never in my whole life of seeing images of Jesus on a cross had I ever had the experience I was now having. Seeing this female image I remember thinking “Wow, this Jesus died for me (as a woman). This Jesus understands what it’s like to have labor pains, and abdominal cramps, and to be embodied in the body and life of a woman.” I had never realized how much the male Jesus wasn’t working for me until I saw my faith embodied in a woman.

I am so grateful for that day in my Christian Feminism class and for many other moments as well. I have no doubt that this exposure to Feminist Theology in my college years changed the trajectory of my life and work. I have no doubt that my life (faith) was saved that day by realizing the intimate ways the Christian faith intersects with my own story. I have no doubt that without Lynn’s class, I would not be here today, a fairly new member of the UCC, seeking ordination as a Feminist Artist Chaplain. I have no doubt that without Lynn’s presence in my life, I wouldn’t have found myself at the 31st UCC General Synod. Therefore, being reunited with Lynn today, my story came full-circle. We never know the unexpected gifts that the Divine will present us with, but I am so grateful for them in my life.