Julia Chester Emery traveled the world in her work encouraging the mission of the Episcopal Church. For forty years, she led what would become the Episcopal Church Women (in her day, the Episcopal Women’s Auxiliary). She knew Jesus in her life and wanted to share the love of God with the world. Stretching the confines of what was possible for women’s leadership, Emery’s work changed the church and the world in her decades long ministry. The United Thank Offering that she helped start shapes mission even now.
From her home in New York City, she traveled to China, Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Hawaii, and to every Episcopal diocese in the US. She worked hard for the recognition for deaconesses as professionals. Even in the face of the rigors of travel (we think it’s hard now!), she wrote that she set out with “hope for enlargement of vision.”
There is something curious about commemorating someone whose life was so global and stretched so many boundaries in the middle of a pandemic. We have become so aware of our vulnerability to each other, and yet our lives are more physically circumscribed than ever before. Even breathing next to another person in this pandemic is potentially to risk your life—and, maybe even more profoundly—theirs.
On the threshold of this new year, I, too, want to pray for “hope for enlargement of vision.” My county’s Covid-19 update is delivered at precisely 11:03 every morning: a daily reminder of lives lost, case counts increasing. It has been too easy to allow our vision to become as small as the towns we barely leave or our fury at the latest political outrage.
One of the projects Emery founded as part of her work was the creation of the “thank offering” box, in which small amounts of money could be saved, given in moments of gratitude. I think in this year of being forced to slow down and notice small blessings, we can find some common ground with her there, too. Among my small blessings: a new running practice, listening to my kids play together when they don’t think I’m paying attention, random text messages to church members whom I haven’t seen since March. There have been harder blessings, too: like our older members, we’re all homebound now. That we’ve begun to offer church services online and over the phone has brought them deeper participation, something we’d never done before but will certainly continue.
Here’s my prayer with Julia,
Dear God, we thank you for the witness of Julia Chester Emery. Give us the grace to widen our vision as she did, that we may see your hand at work in our lives and follow where you lead in thanksgiving for blessings small and great.