My wife, Erin, and I first became aware of Rachel Held Evans when we were serving in Florida. As we were working with youth from a number of churches, one of the teenagers asked us to read something called A Year of Biblical Womanhood.
It struck us as an odd request – odd enough that we bought a copy and started reading.
The book was engaging, insightful, and above all else, really funny.
We began to wonder about the author who would undertake such a project, a woman named Rachel Held Evans.
Ten years later, sitting in a dining room at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, we asked a group of pastors and seminary students to dream big. The Seminary’s Miller Summer Youth Institute 20th anniversary was coming up, and we wanted to know who they would like us to bring as a speaker.
They came up with three names. Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and, if there was money left over, Bono.
We aimed for two of the three.
In contacting Rachel, we quickly realized that she was indeed someone we wanted to bring to celebrate the anniversary of SYI, and things fell into place quickly.
When the event finally arrived we were impressed with her content and presentations, but we had expected them to be good. What surprised us was something else.
The Grace of Rachel Held Evans
The memory we have of Rachel is how incredibly gracious she was. She spent time chatting with participants, signing books, sharing that same insightful humor that had first caught my attention all those years ago. (Nadia also came and was likewise wonderful to work with, but this post isn’t really about her.)
As we receive the news of Rachel’s passing today, SYI extends its sympathies and compassion to her friends and family, especially her husband and two young children. She was a blessing to our program and a delight to work with. Her legacy of insight, humor, and most of all grace has been a blessing to so many and will continue to influence people for years to come.
The Rev. Derek Davenport ’05 is director of the Seminary’s Miller Summer Youth Institute and digital marketing analyst. Derek is also a PTS alumnus of the Master of Divinity (MDiv) Program and Master of Sacred Theology (ThM), between which he served at a church in Orlando, Fla., for five years. Besides working with youth pastors and young adults, he serves as a guest preacher in Western Pennsylvania, researches church symbolism on his website, and tweets at @DerekRDavenport.