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Inclusion means joining the conversation

Women in formation with the Sisters of Providence who helped organize the Gathering in Solidarity at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods last Saturday. From left: Sisters Anna Fan, Dina Bato, Arrianne Whittaker, Hannah Corbin, Joni Luna, Tracey Horan and blog-post-author Emily TeKolste.

Six Sisters of Providence attended the Women’s March on Washington last weekend. I wrote an article about their attendance. It received some backlash, and even more support, when we shared it on social media.

Some commenters were disappointed sisters were attending what they perceived as a pro-abortion rally. The type of public dialog that resulted is precisely why I wrote about the March.

As a typical young American, I have family members from many different political and ideological viewpoints. I know all too well how even within families tensions can run high and assumptions are made about differences. I also know how harmful this is to building relationships, to coming together to achieve our shared goals. Because despite all our differences, there are some goals we share.

It seems that the Spirit has lately been leading me to break down my own walls and seek to build bridges in their place. It seems the Spirit has been leading me to the hard work of listening and bridging that which divides us.

When the organizers for the Women’s March on Washington chose to exclude a self-identified “pro-life feminist” group as a co-sponsor of the March, I was upset. I signed an open letter from a group of young sisters to the March organizers calling for a more genuine exploration of inclusiveness.

A group of Women’s March participants leaving for Washington, D.C., last Friday night. Among them were several Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates.

“If we are protesting divisiveness,” the letter says, “we need to model the uncomfortable but noble effort of unity.”

Similarly, if I allowed the issue of access to abortion to prevent my participation in an event calling for genuine listening and inclusion, that, to me, would be the opposite of inclusion and civility.

I am asking those who chose to condemn my sisters’ participation in the March to try to understand why those sisters were there and to listen to the stories they had to tell.

The only way we can bridge that which divides us is through encounter. We must seek ways of listening to understand rather than listening to respond. That is why I chose to stand up publicly for a culture of civility and inclusion at our own Gathering in Solidarity at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods last Saturday. That is why I refused to let one point of disagreement with March organizers exclude me from participating in standing up for the very foundation of society: civil, respectful discourse. Similarly, that is why I participated in calling to task the organizers for excluding others based on one point of disagreement.

As hard as it is for me to remember sometimes, we are all beloved of God exactly as we are.

As one of our community’s wisdom figures, Sister Nancy Nolan, is often quoted as saying, “Only love transforms.”

Love is getting down into the dirt of everyday life. Inclusion requires joining in the conversation.

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Sister Emily TeKolste

Sister Emily TeKolste

Sister Emily TeKolste is in formation with the Sisters of Providence. She is a native of Indianapolis and has a degree in sociology from Xavier University in Cincinnati. Emily is passionate about justice with special interest in environmentalism and sustainability. You can follow her blog at solongstatusquoblog.wordpress.com. She currently ministers with the NETWORK lobby for Catholic social justice.

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  1. Avatar Marsha Speth on January 25, 2017 at 9:25 am

    You expressed well what many of us hope for ourselves and others.
    Thank you!

  2. Avatar Cathy Campbell Campbell,SP on January 25, 2017 at 9:57 am

    Well stated,Emily! Listening with a flexible heart and well-formed conscience is one of the key ways we grow through dialogue. Peace.

  3. Avatar Mary Ryan on January 25, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    Thanks Emily for getting involved and saying what is in your heart.

    Mary Ryan

  4. Avatar Theresa Tighe on January 25, 2017 at 10:21 pm

    Listening and civility. Listening to learn not primarily to convert. You expressed it very well. Those ways of acting are rare in our society. And, I think, what we must do to move forward. I’m trying.It’s not always easy. One night last week, I walked around the basement 20 times working off steam after listening to a particularly angry friend.
    I learned from the conversation that while when I am down, I want to be distracted or lifted out. She however wants her grief to be recognized.
    I live in St Louis, Ferguson featured in my youth. After the upset, angry people with widely differing views met to listen to each other. In the first meeting or two, they screamed at each other. In the last few meetings, they found ways to work together taking into consideration the needs of all.

  5. Tracey Horan Tracey Horan on January 26, 2017 at 7:03 am

    This is beautifully said, Emily, and such an important call for us in these times. Thanks for calling us forward as a community and as people of faith. So grateful for your courage and witness.

  6. Avatar Peggy Ammerman on January 27, 2017 at 11:06 pm

    I would love to have seen the Sisters of Providence participation, support and a blog post about the March for Life today, a pro-woman and pro-human life event. This movement is inclusive of all human life regardless of race, gender, ethnic origin, religious beliefs or political persuasion.

  7. Avatar Paula Modaff, S.P. on January 28, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    Emily, you have been gifted with a clear head and an open, compassionate heart. Thank you for sharing those gifts with us. I hope to put more into practice “listening to understand.”

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