Today’s blog post is devoted to remembering the life and ministry of Janie Stevens. Janie was an early supporter of formation ministries in The Episcopal Church and friend and mentor to many of us over the years. We are all deeply saddened by her death and wish to remember the passion and joy she shared with us all. Today’s blog post is offered by Ruth-Ann Collins, who has known and admired Janie Stevens as both a colleague and a friend. You may also want to read the memorial published by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas.
“Spiritual Formation is not about steps or stages of perfection. It is about the movements from the mind to the heart.”
I know very few people who really embody these words of Henri Nouwen. My dear friend Janie Stevens was one of them – a woman of grace, courage, class, passion, and conviction. We will never know the number of people whose lives have been transformed because of Janie’s incredible and faithful ministry.
Janie and her husband, Jim, met in grammar school and whenever I was with them I was in awe of their never ending devotion and deep love for each other. In one of our last conversations Janie and I talked about our legacies. Janie’s ability to love unconditionally will be carried on by her daughters, son-in-laws, and in the lives of her beautiful grandchildren. We would talk for hours about our grandchildren, be it a simple conversation about Janie working diligently to finish embroidering Christmas stockings for each new grandbaby or as complex as the concerns we shared about the fragile world they are growing up in. We would laugh and cry and pray.
Many years ago, Janie was part of a small group of women Christian educators, who with the strength of each other and the grace of God began the modern day Christian Formation movement in The Episcopal Church. Janie was right there in the middle of the action stepping up to lead whenever called upon. Even as she struggled with her health she still found the strength to chair the Standing Commission for Lifelong Christian Formation and Education because her passion for the cause was unending.
I first met Janie at an education conference at Camp Allen where she introduced me to southern hospitality. There was never a shortage of laughter when Janie was around, even when we became the “elders” of the Christian formation community we still managed to stir up some mischief.
One of my fondest memories is of Janie sitting on the floor telling stories to the children of military service personnel who were deployed to Afghanistan. The children were mesmerized as were all the teachers, I can hear her sweet lyrical voice as she focused on each child as if they were her own, because in her heart they were.
I have so many wonderful memories, because God blessed me with my friend Janie. Those memories and the memories of all who know and love Janie make up her legacy. As I weep this day for my dear friend, I can hear her southern accent saying that’s enough, there are position papers to write, curricula to complete, and Christmas stockings to finish, so get to work and have fun doing it. As I weep this day, I am reflecting on Nouwen’s words:
“the Spirit of God within us says: ‘There is a time to mourn and a time to dance.’ The spirit of healing that makes us mourn is the same Spirit that makes us dance. The mystery of the dance is that its movements are discovered in the mourning.”
May peace be with Jim and the girls, and may we all dance in love, as Janie would want us to. I am dancing in celebration of your life my friend.
Shalom, your sister in Christ.
Ruth-Ann Collins has been serving The Episcopal Church as Missioner for Lifelong Christian Formation since 2007 and is currently taking medical leave to tend to knee replacements. The Rev. Shannon Kelly is serving as the Interim Missioner during Ruth-Ann’s absence.