Abby, RachelOn Monday I graduated from Candler School of Theology with my MDiv degree, and I am not sure I would have ever considered seminary without the work of Rachel Held Evans. I do not know exactly how I found her blog. Probably someone shared it on Facebook. But I do know that I began showing up to it regularly, seeing if she had anything new to say, watching her put words to things I was feeling but wasn’t ready to put into words yet.

Rachel was a popular faith blogger and writer who passed away suddenly on May 4 at the age of 37. I do not know how to properly quantify her impact on my life, and on the larger public conversation about faith.

Just like Rachel Held Evans, I too started blogging in 2010. But unlike her I was not ready to deconstruct my faith on the internet…yet. I moved everything to a new URL in 2011 and got on Twitter, dipping my toes into the theological conversations there and hoping someone noticed me. I was also trying to figure out how to fit into my Southern Baptist Church. I loved the people, and they loved me, but they weren’t sure what to DO with me. I wasn’t sure what to do with me either, but I had all these ideas and all these opinions and I cared a lot about so many things. So I poured it all out onto my blog, and Facebook and Twitter. Rachel noticed. I was featured on her blog with an essay about my mother, a woman of valor (a biblical term Rachel brought back into the Christian consciousness). Pieces I wrote were sometimes featured on her blog as a “Sunday Superlative,” something she told her readers was worth checking out. I was invited onto her book launch team.

At a conference, she asked a mutual friend to introduce us. I managed to hold in the squeals of excitement until I went to lunch with my friend. Rachel was one of the biggest names on the Christian blogosphere, and she was always so generous with her platform. She could have stood on top of her success, and demanded we applaud her. We would have. Instead, she pulled up a place for as many as she could find at the table and generously shared what she had. Here, take some of my readers. Here let me introduce you to my agent. Hey, I just want you to know you are a good writer, a woman of valor, what you are saying matters.

Sometime between that writers conference where Rachel so kindly introduced herself and the fall of 2016, my calling became clearer and I began seminary at Candler, seeking ordination within The United Methodist Church. When I stumbled upon Rachel’s blog, I was not even sure if women were supposed to be pastors; I had certainly never considered if I should be one. At Candler, it is simply assumed that women are going to be pastors. I got to watch Dr. Teresa Fry Brown, Dr. Karen Scheib, and Dr. Anne Burkholder preach my favorite sermons in chapel. I was asked to take a student pastorship, I was generously invited into friends’ pulpits. But I wouldn’t have ever known any of that was possible if I hadn’t first been invited to consider it by Rachel.

Turns out, I am not alone. In the wake of Rachel Held Evans’ untimely death, people began sharing what she had inspired them to do. I am one of a generation of evangelical women inspired to follow our call to preach. The hashtag #BecauseofRHE began trending on Twitter shortly after her death became public. Because of Rachel’s work, I had to write a sermon just 24 hours after I heard of her death. I serve as a local pastor to a small congregation, and my voice cracked and the tears fell as we celebrated communion with “all the company of heaven.” How could it be that that phrase now included Rachel? We really still need her right here on earth.

While Rachel Held Evans spent her last weeks on earth in a coma, I spent my last weeks of seminary analyzing her work. My final paper for Dr. Helen Kim’s class was about Rachel’s response to the World Vision flip flop of 2014. I remembered her saying it was the last straw, that she was uninterested in fighting for the label “evangelical” anymore. I remembered because it was the last straw for me too.

In a mainline seminary taking a lot of classes with my fellow Methodists, I had a different journey than most. I wasn’t raised with female pastors. I sometimes get weird looks when I mention some of the hang ups of the church of my youth. Writing about Rachel’s journey helped me make sense of my own. It showed me how I got here, and the gifts I possess moving forward.

As I wrestled with the strange dichotomy of writing about someone I deeply admired while she was fighting for her life, I remembered what she talked about at that festival where we met face to face. She laughed about her lack of discipline sometimes, said she needed to remind herself that her next sentence was not on Twitter or in the refrigerator. She spoke about abundance, about how we didn’t need to compete with each other because there is just so much good work to be done. Rachel knew that deeply, she knew what her work was, and she was faithful to it, and she loved to encourage others as they did the work that was faithful in their life. I finished my paper with 24 hours to spare because it was the work that was in front of me and being faithful to that work was the best way to honor her legacy in my life.

Rachel Held Evans was willing to wrestle publicly with her faith, when I was only just admitting to myself that mine wasn’t working for me anymore. She carefully laid out the ways that women were being kept out of the callings that God intended for us. She may not have gotten her MDiv or been ordained, but there are literally hundreds of women who have already entered seminary because she lit the path for us to follow.

I am grateful for the opportunities I have had here at Candler. It only occurred to me to apply #BecauseofRachel.