Yesterday, the San Antonio community came out to celebrate the life of Rev. Kelly Allen. It’s impossible to think about writing publicly about all of the thoughts in my heart and mind about her life, her death and her legacy, but some folks who were at the memorial service asked for me to post my remarks here, and I feel so happy and honored to do this.
The remarks are based on this passage from the book of Exodus.
The story of the Hebrew Midwives is not one we often hear at a memorial service, if ever. We chose it for this service, though, because it was one of Kelly’s favorites. Shiphrah and Puah were two Hebrew Midwives (or Midwives to the Hebrews). They decide that they will not listen to the Pharaoh’s command to kill all the male babies. Instead, the text says because they fear God, the babies will live.
The last week of Kelly’s life, she was leading a workshop at the Mo Ranch Women’s conference. The title of her workshop was Solidarity and Imagination: Women’s Stories of Resistance and Courage. Kelly was telling stories of civil rights leaders, immigrant rights activists, and the Hebrew Midwives. She was doing what she did her entire ministry; she was using these stories of courageous women to encourage others to be courageous too.
Shiphrah and Puah, because they feared God, saved lives. The book of Numbers says that there were 603,550 men who left Egypt in their adulthood. Many (or most or all) of these men, presumably, are men that would not have survived if everyone had listened to Pharaoh’s command to kill them when they were innocent newborns. Clearly two women couldn’t have attended the birth of over six hundred thousand baby boys all on their own, so we’re left to wonder how they did it. We don’t know, for certain, but we can speculate that these women, Shiphrah and Puah, lived lives that were bigger than their own. They trained other midwives about the importance of saving innocent lives, and others learned from their message and their courage.
It’s not hard to understand why this passage was a favorite for Kelly. These women were bold and courageous, and they stood up for what was right in the face of injustice. Kelly took inspiration from them and from other bold leaders. She stood up for what she knew to be right, even if there was a cost to that, professionally or personally. Throughout her ministry Kelly stood up for LGBTQ rights when same-sex marriage was not legal or popular. She organized on behalf of marginalized and disenfranchised people, wherever she ministered, for twenty five years. Here in San Antonio she was among the most prominent voices for ending the detention of Central American refugee women and children. Her life made a huge difference to so many people, even people she never had a chance to meet.
Kelly was also a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a colleague, a pastor a mentor and a friend to us. Her sudden death leaves us shocked and bewildered and full of a grief that will not soon dissipate. In this past week we’ve heard it asked so many times “How will we fill those big shoes she left for us? How will we ever fill a void so big as the void she left in our hearts, in our church, and in our community?” The answer is “we can’t.” People like Kelly are once in a lifetime people.
What we can do, though, is pray that God would let Kelly’s spirit live in all of us. Just as she told the story of Shiphrah and Puah to us, we can tell her story to ourselves and to others. We can make sure that the lessons she taught us about standing up for what we believe in, and about being brave in the face of injustice are lessons we truly take to heart. Just as Shiphrah and Puah’s courageous actions were taught to others and multiplied again and again to save the lives of over six hundred thousand babies, so can we multiply and magnify the good in Kelly and the lessons taught us. May we have great courage as we do this.
More about Kelly: I wrote about her love and compassion earlier this year (I went back to that post and underlined the part that references her.) Find that post HERE and then also when she was running for Moderator HERE.