On April 10, 2010. we gathered in Rochester, New York, to pay tribute to the life of Virginia Davidson, a mentor and advocate and dear friend to many. We came from across the United States, from California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and of course from Rochester, New York. We met in Celebration Hall in the Downtown United Presbyterian Church, where we prayed, sang, read Scripture, and remembered moments, words and encounters with Ginny. We were guided in our celebration by Janie Spahr, who spoke powerfully about her association with Ginny, her faithful “snowy-haired het” companion in traveling and speaking across the national church for many years. Sylvia Thorson Smith and I each presented a brief meditation guided by texts from Proverbs on Woman Wisdom.
Former vice-moderator of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S., Virginia was an outspoken advocate for the rights of all to be included in the privileges and responsibilities granted in the Presbyterian Church, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. In my reflection I remembered how she, together with Tony De La Rosa, strode ahead of the long line of demonstrators at the 1991 General Assembly in Baltimore, to protest the once-again affirmed exclusion of our sisters and brothers from ordination in our denomination. As delegate from my Presbytery, I joined the line when it passed my row, together with an elder-delegate from New Jersey who whispered as she held my arm: “It can’t be long now; it can’t be long.” Once facing the General Assembly, De La Rosa hammered nails in the cross he had carried forward and we sang “We are a gentle loving people, and we are singing for our lives.” I have never forgotten that moment, and now, almost twenty years later can only grieve for how long it has been and how we are still not where we should be.
I remembered how Ginny was one of the people giving me a charge at my ordination in the very church where we were gathered, almost exactly 33 years ago, and how she had been in so many ways a mentor and guide in my life, embodying woman wisdom in opening windows and doors in my thinking and acting, as a church woman, a pastor and a teacher of Bible. As I spoke of the house that Wisdom built in Proverbs 9:1-6, I observed that Virginia, as embodiment of a Wisdom woman, did not stay in the old patriarchal house, mildewed and moldy, filled with false dualisms and old hierarchies, structures that diminish and hold both men and women captive. Virginia Davidson was one of the few who was able to step outside of this old house and cast a critical view. Wherever she went promoted the construction of a new house, where old hierarchies and gender codes would be thing of the past. In this effort her public and her private life were of one piece. One day sitting on the deck of our rented cottage in the Adirondacks, one of us asked her whether she was familiar with Walker Percy’s book The Moviegoer, which had just come out. Without missing a beat she replied: “Well, if this is another book written by a man about men I am really not all that interested.” It was one of those remarks that causes one to sit up and pay attention. While I did not exactly stop reading books written by men, I turned my attention, my interest and my wallet foremost to the books written by women who were often not the first to catch the critic’s eye. Far from setting a new boundary, she helped me break through an invisible boundary rigidly held in place in the house of patriarchy and expanded my view.
In closing I recalled that Virginia West Davidson, who not only in Baltimore but in many other ways and at other places marched ahead of all our parades into a better day, was one in whom we caught a glimpse of the spirit of Wisdom. We may not have built the new house, and we are not yet there, but we can at least envision it, thanks to wisdom-breathing sisters like Ginny.