The Bishop’s E-pistle: We are Fearfully and Marvelously Made

This week’s E-pistle is excepted from Bishop Reddall’s presentation earlier this week at Adult Camp at Chapel Rock.

Twenty years ago this fall, I started seminary, and one of the requirements of our first semester was to go out and visit different churches’ worship services (I really wish I had done more of this!). I was with a group that went to St. Paul’s Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, a thriving several-thousand-member African American church pastored by the Rev. Johnny Ray Youngblood, a mover and shaker in NYC for equality and bringing people up out of poverty.

In the season in which we were there, evidently Pastor Youngblood had handed over leadership of worship to the women of the church by decade; so one week it was the women in their 20s who designed and led worship, the next it was the women in their 80s and so on. And each decade had been given a jewel as their icon. I think the women in their 20s, which was my age at the time, were the rubies.

The week we attended, it was the women in their 40s who led worship, and they were the Black Diamonds. Worship was beautiful. Music. Scripture. Reflections. Dance. And the Black Diamonds took as their Bible theme: “I am fearfully and marvelously made.” It’s half a verse of Psalm 139.

It made a big impression on me. There I was, 24 years old, surrounded by women in their 40s; a decade that seemed really mature and middle-aged to me then, but definitely still a decade where women are often told that they have reached the end of their physical attractiveness and where our bodies are undergoing changes and all the stuff that goes along with that. And here were these women, dancing, celebrating, being beautiful and confident in their fearfully and marvelously made bodies…and sharing their stories.

They told stories about their experience of motherhood.

They told stories about loving partners, and abusive partners, and lost partners.

They told stories about death—deaths of parents, friends, children.

They told stories about the joy of maturity and finally knowing who they were.

They told stories of financial independence, of satisfying work, and progress.

They told stories about their bodies: strength, grief, pain, pleasure, scars.

I was blown away. And I’ve remembered that service for 20 years now; long enough to age into that cohort; long enough that my own body has done marvelous things–and been frail and failed in some ways.

I am fearfully and marvelously made. You are fearfully and marvelously made. What is one aspect of your body that leaves you in (fearful) awe of God’s creative power? What is an important story of your life that has had a lasting effect on your body?