A friend of mine died recently. Jeanne Audrey Powers was one of the first women ordained in the United Methodist Church. She worked for the General Conference in Manhattan and traveled the globe, hobnobbing with top religious leaders of every stripe. Just before she retired, she came out lesbian at an international conference, sending waves of dismay throughout the global church in hopes of leveraging transformation. She kept an apartment in Minneapolis and attended my church, which was how I came to work for a brief spell as her personal secretary.
Working for Jeanne Audrey meant handling mundane tasks like sorting mail, paying bills, and balancing her checkbook. This giant of a woman was paralyzed by a stack of unopened mail. I’ll always remember one evening when I helped her host a women’s gathering at her high-rise apartment. I carried a bag of vegetables into her kitchen, pulled a built-in cutting board out from under the counter, and began chopping. Jeanne Audrey entered—and nearly fell over. “What’s that?” she asked of the cutting board; “Where did that come from?!” Jeanne Audrey had lived twenty years in her apartment and had never once sliced a carrot there.
Jeanne Audrey, unlike me, thrived on conflict. I remember her at the Re-Imagining Conferences in the mid-nineties, the gatherings by which feminism hit the mainline denominations like a train wreck; Jeanne Audrey sniffed out the conservative infiltrators and press reps, brought them coffee, and engaged them in lengthy, honest, and disconcertingly intimate conversations. By the end of the day they were exchanging phone numbers. Jeanne Audrey was fearsome in her ability to transform enemies into friends.
What a bundle of contradictions! I love how Jeanne Audrey refused to be boxed in by others’ expectations. Years ago, on the Sunday I had determined to come out at church—during Joys and Concerns, when the community shares its prayers—Jeanne Audrey had just endured a bout with breast cancer and had had a mastectomy. We both raised our hands for the mic. I shook with nerves about calling myself bisexual in front of God and these people, so I was relieved when the usher handed the mic first to Jeanne Audrey. She stood, affectionately stroked her chest, and thanked God for her new body, clearly missing a breast. Moments before I came out in church, Jeanne Audrey as a form of prayer publicly fondled herself.
It was as though the universe had conspired to say to me, “See? Your inner contradictions are nothing compared with what’s possible.”
At eighty-five Jeanne Audrey was afflicted with aphasia and blindness; she had no living relatives and was steadily losing her ability to read, write, speak, and think. Her letter arrived last week: “I have had such a full and meaningful life,” she wrote. “It’s important that you understand that this was not a ‘suicide’ as commonly understood, but it was very much a death with dignity.” I hold the page in my hands. Her spirit is alive and kicking there, ardent, strong, and I laugh out loud because with her final act Jeanne Audrey managed to befriend even death. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Revision can change your life! If you don’t believe me, come to The Revision Revival at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality on November 17, 2017. These fantastic people will make you love revision by sharing their stories: P.S. Duffy, Kyoko Katayama, Susan Power, Vanessa Ramos, Jim Robinson, Roseanne Pereira, and Sieglinda Gassman.
We’ll also celebrate the publication of Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice, which is now available for preorder!
Other upcoming events:
Second Fridays, 1:30-3:30 p.m.: Spiritual Memoir drop-in sessions at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.
November 10: Holy Sexuality
December 8: The World Boiled Down to a Drop
October 25, 2017, 6:30pm: An evening exploring spiritual memoir at The Retreat with Women In Recovery.
October 27, 2017: Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice workshop at the Loft Literary Center.
September 24-28, 2018: Alone Together: Living Revision at Madeline Island School of the Arts.