Whenever I think about my experiences over the years at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) Conference for People of African Descent, Our Allies and Friends (PAD), I can’t help but think of the Tree of Life. Perhaps you’ve encountered this tree (pictured above) before and just didn’t know it.
Remember Rafiki, the old and wise mandrill from The Lion King, who presents newborn lion cubs to all the animals at Pride Rock? Well, he made his home in one. If you’ve read The Little Prince, it’s cited as the tree that could split a small planet into pieces. If you know me, you may have even seen one on my favorite shoulder bag.
The Tree of Life, or Baobab (ˈbā-ə-bab) tree, is truly one of a kind.
Also called the bottle tree, or the upside down tree, it can be found in the savannahs of Africa and India, and some parts of Australia. Considered among the oldest trees on the earth, it can grow as tall as 98 feet and develop a trunk as wide in diameter as 36 feet, with every part of the tree able be used to sustain life.
In the wet months, water is stored in its thick, fire-resistant trunk for the nine months of dry weather that will follow. The bark is used for cloth and rope, while the leaves can be used as condiments, as well as for their healing powers. And the fruit, also called “monkey bread,” is supposed to be quite tasty. I was once told the branches of the baobab reach up toward Heaven so God can give it everything He has to offer, to then pass those wonders on to each one of us.
My experiences at the PAD Conference have made me feel fully embraced and cared for, as though each person and every element of the conference was a root from a Baobab—feeding, healing, and sustaining me for what was to come in my faith journey and my time in MCC. Watching folks arrive from all over the country and world to hear words of welcome and familiar stories about family and faith is always as though we are a part of one big family gathering under one roof again in love and appreciation for one another.
Consistently, the learning opens my mind and warms my heart.
The worship touches a place in my Spirit that, before my first PAD in 2004, had long been tucked away. The gathering at table was like home.
You see, I was a very different person back in 2004. I had a name and an identity that meant very little to me. I was new to MCC and new to the church and her people. I hadn’t found my peace or knew where to look for my joy. I’d remained silent about my passions and was afraid of my truth, fearful of just how awesome God created me to be.
But that first PAD conference changed things for me. I felt connected and a part of something beautiful. And looking forward to and attending subsequent conferences, as well as having other opportunities to see folks along the way, laid a pathway for growth that has been immeasurable in my life.
As I recall my fear of saying “YES,” I think of Pastor Boone, and his urging for me to trust what God has in store for me.
As I continue to live into my call to ministry, I am reminded of Rev. Kristen and Rev. Delores. As I embrace families of choice who have loved me through difficult relationships and helped me get out of my own way, I smile and think of Norma, Noah, ET and Pat. And when I need a reminder that my voice is unique and beautiful, given by God to serve God’s people, I hear Cheryl and Rev. Candy singing, feeling blessed by everything I continue to learn from them.
Because of these and so many other roots, my life is different and better. I have an extended family that walks with me through many transitions, watches over me when times get tough and helps me understand what God’s love is all about, and what the power of the Holy Spirit can do. Just as the Baobab’s branches offer so much nourishment to its land and people, the people that PAD has brought into my life continue to feed my heart and mind and spirit with God’s abundant love, grace and peace.
My hope is that our PAD family can continue to grow, offering new life to everyone who journeys with us and, this year, as our theme suggests, inviting each of us to be the change we hope to see within our own hearts and out in the world.
So please join us in Atlanta, GA from Thursday, May 15th through Saturday, May 17th for the 8th installment of MCC’s PAD Conference.
It is going to be an incredible time, with plenaries that will help shape our notions of change and transformation, worship that will stir our souls and opportunities to connect in ways that we don’t ordinarily get to during the year.
Folks from every walk of life will be there, and I hope that will include you.
See you there!
For more information about attending the PAD Conference, please visit their website.
Rev. Nancy Wilson, Global Moderator of Metropolitan Community Church, will be honored for her work at the intersection of religion and LGBTQ equality on May 29, 2014, at our 2014 Awards Celebration.