Sarah Ann Bixler is a Ph.D. student in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary, focusing on Christian education and formation. She has served throughout Mennonite Church USA in education, youth ministry, curriculum writing and conference leadership. She currently chairs the Orlando 2017 adult worship planning committee. Sarah lives with her husband, Benjamin, and their three children in New Jersey. They attend Oxford Circle Mennonite Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
I come from a long line of women who are short in stature.
My grandmother told my mother,
“You might be small, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Good things come in little packages.”
My mother recited this mantra to me as we entered the mall and marched straight to the petites section. She indoctrinated me into regarding my shortness of stature as an advantage. I found that I could save $10 by buying my sneakers in the children’s section. I’ve even purchased cropped pants on the fall season clearance rack and worn them all winter long.
Sure, it was a disappointment when I stopped growing in eighth grade. And there’s probably a psychological reason that I married someone who stands over six feet tall. But my grandmothers and my mother always carried themselves well beyond their height, and they taught me to do the same. Now I find myself telling my two little girls, “Good things come in little packages, you know.”
So don’t think for a minute that we don’t have any power just because we’re small.
This sense of power has been made manifest in my life through higher education. My grandmothers both had the desire and the intelligence to get more schooling than their patriarchal communities allowed. But even though their circumstances limited them from realizing their dream, they exercised the power to instill that dream in future generations. One grandmother did this by giving me seed money every year for college, and the other one showed me the potential for self-education through reading. The realization of this dream started to change with my mother, and I’ve taken the dream further yet.Now, as I sit in class as a doctoral student, I like to consider this the realization of “our” dream. A deep well of power has propelled little me to do mighty things.
The theme for the Women Doing Theology conference, then, strongly resonates with me. For a long time, women in the Mennonite church have felt small and often powerless.
It’s time to name and reclaim our power, not in retaliation against bigger forces at work in our church and our world, but as a force for good. We may still be small, but our power is a mighty force for education, healing and transformation.
I look forward to imagining these possibilities together at the upcoming conference.
There’s a surprising sense of power, too, in coming from a small faith community. After years of formation and service in Mennonite congregations and schools, I now find myself in the unfamiliar position of being in a non-Mennonite setting. In many ways, I’ve never felt smaller in my life. I’m part of the roughly two percent Mennonite portion of the student body at Princeton Theological Seminary. The Presbyterian Church USA seems monstrous compared to Mennonite Church USA – it has over 1.5 million members, while Mennonite Church USA falls below the 100,000 mark.
It’s easy to assume that the only entities that have power are the big ones, but I’ve found that this is not at all the case. Even though we’re a small tribe, there’s something about the Mennonites that catches people’s attention, and there’s power that accompanies that. In class introductions, I’ve become accustomed to murmurs and turning heads when I proudly introduce myself as a Mennonite. The Presbyterians never get such reactions! My faculty advisor, Kenda Creasy Dean, once commented, “I’ve never known a Mennonite student who wasn’t exceptional.” Our reputation precedes us, and in many cases it’s extremely positive. There’s something powerful about being from the small Mennonite faith community and the heritage we carry as members of it. And that also requires the exercise of responsibility. Even when parts of that heritage are negative, we can claim the power we have through the Spirit of Christ to transform them for good.
At the I’ve Got the Power! conference, I anticipate connecting with my sisters from across our little denomination to refill that well of power that lives deep within me, and to help replenish others’.
We have to continually remind one another that we may be small, but we’re mighty!