This has been the weekend of the autumnal convent and investiture for the Priory of St. Andrew, our "local" arm of the Grand Priory of the United States of America, Sovereign Military Order of the Temple of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Templar. It was the first "C&I" for Ken and me since our investiture in April when he became a knight and I, a Dame, and also an assisting chaplain.
This was a big weekend for us as newly minted knights and dames, and also because since my investiture at the last convent I experienced a quick elevation to acting chaplain for our priory (the existing chaplain needing to step away for a period of time to take a sabbatical). I had a role in the service, a homily to present, prayers and blessings throughout the weekend, and a part in the postulants' vigil Friday evening. The experience, without having any real training or cheat sheet to follow, felt a bit like being thrown into the deep end, but I survived with only a minor scratch of embarrassment when I blanked giving the final blessing at the close of last evening.
We were honored last night to have as our guest speaker Becca Stevens. I know Becca as a colleague in this diocese. We cross paths in that capacity and have had a few occasions to get acquainted under other circumstances. The rest of the world knows Becca as the driving and inspiring force behind Magdalene House and Thistle Farms. The two are distinct but intricately connected outcomes of Becca's ministry to women of the street recovering from prostitution, trafficking, addiction and abuse. Magdalene House is the residential arm of the program, and Thistle Farms the business portion that makes high-end personal products like body lotions, healing oils, candles, room and bug sprays and more. Thistle Farms provides jobs, training, confidence and then some to these women as they do the tremendous work of leaving behind a life that resembles nothing of the kind. Becca began this ministry 15 years ago with six women, and over those years her efforts have grown exponentially, touching and healing not only the lives of the women served but those who get to know this story and are moved by it.
Each year the Priory of St. Andrew chooses a charity to which it makes a fairly significant donation. This year's choice was Magdalene House/Thistle Farms, and as a result of that choice Becca was invited to be our guest at dinner last night, speak for a few minutes, and receive a check for $5000.
Becca's resume doesn't prepare you for the person you meet. In addition to the incredible results that bear witness to her work and the recognition she has received locally, she was honored last year at the White House by President Obama as one of 15 "champions of change," she has raised more than $14 million dollars since Magdalene's founding in 1997, Thistle Farms products are sold in more than 200 retail outlets around the world, a new commercial undertaking--the Thistle Stop Cafe--will open in January, and she oversees what are known as "infusion" weekends so that others can come to learn about the Magdalene Model to replicate its efforts in other communities. Oh, and she serves as chaplain to the Episcopal community at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Clearly this is a woman who has the capacity to run a billion-dollar empire. I don't know when she sleeps. I do know that Becca is probably the most humble person I know. She doesn't wear shoes when she leads worship. Her dress is modest (she prefers jeans) and her hair long. She has a razor-sharp sense of humor.
I refer to the local nature of our priory in quotes because our geographic spread covers northern Alabama, all of Tennessee, western North Carolina, north Georgia, western Virginia and parts of West Virginia. As well-heeled and -everything else represented by this group it wasn't a surprise that a significant number of our members weren't familiar with Magdalene and Thistle Farms last night. But after Becca spoke and received a spontaneous standing ovation, one of our knights conducted an auction of three Thistle Farms products and two other items donated by members of the priory. Those five items raised an additional $516 to send home with Becca, and Ken witnessed a number of people essentially thrusting cash into her hands that included several hundred-dollar bills. As our prior noted when confirming that the group's intention was to direct the money raised by the auction to Becca's ministry, "we can't leave a waiting list of 100 women out there."
What I think makes Becca so compelling, besides her down-to-earth, no-holds-barred honesty, is that she makes it clear that the ministry to which she gave birth is about two things: love and healing. As she shares stories of Magdalene House and Thistle Farms her anecdotes reveal every day challenges that are encountered and the ordinary but grace-infused and organic response that she brings to them from her heart. Start with love, healing will follow. She recognizes the deep need for both in our world, whether in a room of women working to claw their way from a damaging past or a village where industrialization has robbed a community of its capacity to make its own choices. The recognition that all of us need love and healing and never failing to offer the hope that we may experience both is, I think, Becca's greatest gift to the world.
Today as I reflect on the impact her message had on me and on my heart, I can't help but want to reflect that hope myself in the world. There is consistency in that desire. Perhaps my prayer needs to focus on how that might come to be.