By Natalie Webb
Every September for the past three years, I’ve walked into the Nevertheless She Preached (NSP) conference. And every time, it’s like walking into an alternate universe. I’ve not found another public space like it – where my gifts and calling are not up for debate, where I’m not one of just a few token women, where I’m not fending off offers from benevolent and progressive men who would like to be my mentor (I’m good, thanks!). Once a year, if only for a few days, NSP is the place where I can lay down my defenses and relax because my gifts and calling and voice and body are embraced fully, without me having to do a thing.
NSP began on accident, really. In 2017 my friend and colleague, Rev. Kyndall Rothaus, and I were compelled to respond to our alma matter’s male-dominated preaching conference. We decided to host a supplementary gathering where women’s preaching would be celebrated, unquestioned, and unapologetic. With about six weeks to plan, we sent emails to several brilliant women preachers and scholars hoping one or two would be willing to headline our event. We explained our motivation and timeline, we were frank about not knowing whether or how much we’d be able to pay them, and we hit send with a hope and a prayer. Within days, almost all of the women we’d reached out to responded with an enthusiastic YES! What we had envisioned as an evening rally suddenly transformed into a three-day event featuring people like Karoline Lewis, Allyson Dylan Robinson, Margaret Aymer, and Jennifer Knapp. It was attended by over 200 people (in Waco, TX, by the way!) and funded by over $20,000 in mostly small donations.
That first year felt nothing short of miraculous. We learned that we were not alone (sexism is ecumenical!). We also realized that the space NSP set out to create for women in general – a space of affirmation and embrace and respect – was even more specifically necessary and elusive for women of color, queer women, trans women, and our nonbinary siblings. We committed ourselves to following the lead of BIPOC and LGBTQ+ board members and volunteers as we moved forward.
Over the past three years, NSP has grown and evolved in many ways. Our constituency has expanded ecumenically and geographically. We’ve hosted our second and third annual conferences and installed our founding board of directors. We’ve clarified our mission: “Nevertheless She Preached exists to empower all people to dismantle patriarchal structures by elevating voices of faith leaders on the margins, especially womxn and sexual minorities of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.” We’ve made (and continue to make) mistakes, and we’ve embraced (and continue to embrace) the learning and growth that comes from them.
This September, I’ll walk into Nevertheless She Preached once again. But this year, I’ll be walking into my office to host and participate virtually. I’m sure an all-online event will feel different; nevertheless, I fully expect the alternate universe NSP creates to show up, even over wifi! This year’s conference theme is “Disrupting politics, Elevating justice.” We hope you’ll join us on Facebook Live for our free public event September 20th, from 5:00-8:00 p.m. (CST) as we are guided by the Rev. Kyndra Frazier, learn from Dr. Nikki Young and Rev. Traci Blackmon, and engage with a panel discussion featuring all of our speakers and working group leaders (Rev. Amy Butler, Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer, Rev. Nicole Garcia, Rev. Tuhina
Verma Rasche, and Grammy award nominated artist, Jennifer Knapp). The interactive, collaborative working groups will take place Sept. 21-22. Register for access at nsp2020.eventbrite.com.
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Rev. Natalie Webb is co-founder and co-director of Nevertheless She Preached, a grassroots movement working to dismantle patriarchal structures by elevating voices of faith leaders on the margins, especially women and sexual minorities of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Natalie is also the Associate Pastor of Spiritual Formation and Outreach at congregational partner First Baptist Church of Worcester, Massachusetts and is a doctoral candidate at Baylor University.