This week the world lost arguably one of the most important Christian feminists of the twenty-first century. Rachel Held Evans, 37, author of a Year of Biblical Womanhood, Inspired: Slaying Giants and Living on Water and Loving the Bible Again and Searching for Sunday, passed away from complications relating to the flu.
In 2012, Christianity Today named her on the top 50 Women to Watch, and they were right. Evans was a force, never settling for trite Christian messages, pushing evangelical culture to change and become inclusive not only to women and the LGTQI community and ultimately having to leave Evangelical culture to save her faith. She was the voice of smart, somewhat snarky Evangelical Women everywhere.
I had the privilege of meeting Evans March 10, 2014, when she was the keynote at Siena Heights University’s Chiodini-Fontana Endowed Lecture Series on Ethics.
My academic division was in charge of her visit, and I begged my department chair to allow me, the most junior member of the department, to be her tour guide for the day. A Year of Biblical Womanhood had literally saved my faith. Before reading that book, I was sure I was the only evangelical women in her early 30s campaigning for social change. I knew there were others out there, but I didn’t know where. So many Christian feminists seemed to be in a different life moment than me and couldn’t relate to the added call of pushing for gay rights AND women rights in the church.
I knew we would be kindred spirits and I was right. It was like meeting an old friend you hadn’t seen in a few years. I can think of only about two other people in life I have connected with that quickly.
However, I didn’t want to act like a fan. I was an academic. I had to be cool. If we happened to start talking Christian Feminism it would need to be organic or I was just going to play tour guide the two days she was in town.
My division chair picked her up from the airport and we all met up for dinner in Adrian. I think it was Sauce we took her took. She was polite to everyone and was cracking some jokes about evangelical and Catholic culture differences. Most of my colleagues had never read her blog, articles or even books. A few read a couple chapters from Year of Biblical Womanhood before she came. I’m honestly not sure how she was chosen as the speaker for that yearly lecture series. The professor in charge had no idea who she was. I think he just Googled “Christian Feminist” and she popped up.
It was just her and I as the evangelicals at SHU, it was nice to have company for two days.
The second day of the visit, I took her around campus to speak to classes. In between, we hung out in my office. She took a phone call from her husband and we talked about life. She was so approachable. I’d finished my doctorate degree in 2012, and she wanted to hear all about my dissertation on early Free Methodist women and their unsuccessful quest for ordination in the 1890s. Get your work out there was her advice, but I wasn’t Evans. I had my blog, but who would really want to listen? I just nodded.
She was in the process of finishing (or trying to) Searching on Sunday when she was in town, and a lot of our one on one conversations revolved around writer’s block and other woes I could relate. I wasn’t a pop culture writer, but academics have their fair share of writing deadlines to meet, too. So I could empathize.
She admitted she had been traveling way too much for her Year of Biblical Womanhood tour, and had been neglecting the new book. It was almost a godsend that there was a late spring snow storm coming in and her flight had to be delayed a day. She could hole up at the Carleton Lodge in town and try to catch up on a couple of deadlines.
After lunch, I left her at the Carleton to try to prepare for her talk. When I went back that evening to pick her up, we started talking about who knows what. We had so many things in common and before I knew it I was in auto pilot driving her my normal route home (the opposite direction we should have been going). I was horrified. She laughed.
My division chair was less than thrilled that we arrived after hor’dorves and just in time for the pre-lecture meal. Rachel didn’t mind. Before she was whisked away to go sit with a Dominican sister, she signed a Biblical Womanhood posted for me.
“For Christy, a woman of valor with the coolest office at SHU.” – Rachel Held Evans
I framed that poster and it’s been in my office ever since. I look at weekly and often reflect on that visit. I’ve moved on in my career, and I’m at a new college now, but that simple note from Evans has reminded me who I am even when I have forgotten myself.