Sister Denise Ellen

Long ago in a different time, I served on a board. Part of my charge was to plan a professional education day for a bunch of religious educators but for some reason the budget had been completely cut in the cycle before I came on the board. So, plan a big educational day for 100 people at a convention hotel, but with no funds.

OK.

After some conversation we decided on the theme of “Interfaith Work” and I set about recruiting a panel of experts.

One of the ideas for a speaker was a woman who I could hardly imagine just picking up a phone and calling. She was a powerful woman in this denomination and was a part of the the Interfaith Alliance working on their youth programming (Leadership Education Advancing Democracy and DiversityI knew if I could get her to speak pro bono, our shoestring program would be OK.

She agreed almost before I finished asking and told me she was coming to Seattle, where I lived, and in her words “would have wheels” so could meet with me to talk further about the event.

I assembled a panel and when the day arrived I took the three Interfaith experts out to lunch. No time for chit chat, these three women were off talking about overcoming hegemony to promote peace and justice among people of different faiths over the salad.

As we prepared for the program, the three experts at the front of the room, me in the “Oprah” role wandering the audience with a microphone, I realized that I might have to do the hardest thing of my career and actually interrupt Denny Davidoff.

But the truth was, Denny asked as as many questions of the other two speakers (Hannah McConnaughay from the Interfaith Youth Core and Kathleen Carpenter from Mecklenburg Ministries) as she was asked. She was a force, for sure, but it required no tricky moderating. Denny was more interested in what the others had to share than in what she had to offer.

This was almost a decade ago, but it stuck with me. Denny looked people in the eye, listened. She held back nothing, and moved forward with full faith that the toughest troubles in the world could be overcome if we just kept working on them.

Today I watched Denny’s memorial service on a livestream from Westport, CT.

And then I turned to my homework in Interfaith Studies at The Interfaith Chaplaincy where I am working toward ordination as a community minister and chaplain. If my faith tradition called on me to take the name of beloved saint as a symbol of entering my religious life, I know what I would choose.

Seeds are planted. Ideas stick.

May I remember the moments and the people who change me and move me on to the life I am meant to live. I bless Denny’s spirit as she leaves this world and send her love forward and onward with the very work I do.

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