Saturday, August 8, 2020
Sister Joist-Strengthening One Another
The Rev. Kathleen Bean and Sara Gorby, family ministry director at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, light candles ahead of a Sister Joist meeting.
Sunday, November 10, 2019


Late morning fall light streamed through the windows blending its subdued glow with the light from the candle that the Rev. Kathleen Bean was lighting.

As she lit the first candle, a dozen women took their place inside the Fireside Room at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

Each lit a candle, as well, saying what they were grateful for as they did. Then they joined together in 20 minutes of silent reflection.

Allowing people to share their lives and supporting them can be a powerful thing, said The Rev. Kathleen Bean.

Silence? In this day and age?

“Many of these women have never had time for that,” said Bean. “But it can be so powerful. I get a feeling of community even in silence with my eyes closed.”

The gathering, which takes place between 8;15 and 9 a.m. Wednesdays at the church on Sun Valley Road is a new one.

It’s named Sister Joist after a carpentry term that refers to strengthening a joist beam by attaching one or two more beams. When it comes to sisterhood, the idea is to strengthen one another by being present, listening, laughing and loving.

Candles are an important part of Sister Joist.

“I envision us sistering each other during the good times and holding one another when we’re inevitably saddened,” said Bean.

Bean was inspired to start the group by a women’s ministry she was involved in for 15 years with St. Mary the Virgin parish in San Francisco.

There she saw the power that lay in bringing women together for conversation and reflection, especially among young mothers with kids.

“When you have kids at home, you’re so busy being pulled in so many directions. I wanted to create a space where they can be still and silent and where they can support one another.”

Deep bonds are also developed in such groups, she said.

A lot of women in the Bay area, especially those who were affluent, felt everyone else’s life was perfect but theirs. Once in a place of trust where they knew their confidences would be kept, they opened up.

“I’m afraid,” said one. “I’m depressed,” said another. “My husband has gone off the deep end,” said another.

“These women realized everyone’s life was not more perfect that theirs. It was not so much about giving advice but love and support.  And the women were more attune to each other—and others outside the group--when they left the room.”

Sometimes the morning starts with music. Sometimes Bean will recite a poem for the women to reflect on as they sit in silence.

“Another time we focused on letting something go,” said Sara Gorby. “I love the silence. When my mind wanders, I think of the word ‘rest.’ And when my mind wanders, I rest.”

Bean organized a six-week group for women with children in school that she called Luminesce prior to Sister Joist. They met for two hours a week for prayer, reading of scripture and inspirational poems. And they charted their spiritual journeys on paper.

Some drew a meandering path. Others, a straight line. One started, and then took another path.

“If the journey was anchored by where they lived, it showed how important places were to that person,” said Bean. “It was a tool to help define, ‘Who am I?’ ”

The new group is designed with the idea that not everyone can be there all the time. It’s open to everyone, regardless of whether they’re Christian or not.

“I think it’s important for women to meet and share life stories,” said Lisa Leach, who is among those who have taken part. “This is how women learn—in sharing. And Kathleen is a gentle and loving person—the perfect someone to open an interesting and safe dialogue.”

This gathering starts at 8:15 a.m. to accommodate mothers who have just dropped children off at school.

“The idea of dropping off a child and taking time for quiet before you get started on your laundry list of things to do is very appealing.,” said Gorby. “And, while I have my own prayer regimen, it’s different when you hear what others need and you pray together for one another.”

Bean is thinking of starting another group—perhaps, in the afternoon—that might accommodate other women.

“The Episcopal church is that place where all are welcome. The key is people coming in with open hearts, open minds into a safe space.”


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