Vice President Lauren Carpenter's Farewell Reflection: Dignity - A Spirit-filled Web of Support Connecting Past, Present and Future

Below is the text of the address Lauren Carpenter delivered during the Golden Anniversary Banquet during our 50th Anniversary conference in Chicago, July 6, 2019.

Good afternoon. What a bittersweet speech to give. After five years on the board, including two years serving as your vice president, I am stepping back to spend some time focusing on my family, my career and experimenting with this radical concept called “rest.” And while I am looking forward to seeing what surprises life has in store for me, I will deeply miss spending time with these incredible fellow board members and Dignity staff.

As I reflect on my time on the board, what stands out to me the most is the opportunity I had to travel all over the country and meet with many of you in your own chapters and communities when we visited for board meetings. This was my favorite part of being on the board because I got to hear so many stories and see so many unique expressions of Dignity.

Earlier this week, as I thought about all the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met, I got this image of a web of support. In my mind, it looks like one of those maps in the back of an in-flight magazine, with lines criss-crossing the globe showing all the places the airline flies.  Over the past 5 years, I have traveled to visit Dignity communities in Houston, Seattle, Dallas, the San Fernando Valley, Pittsburgh, Orlando, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, and Philadelphia, so on my map, there lines stretching out from my home in Baltimore connecting me to each of those cities. But then I realized that each of these cities is not just a dot on the map, it is its own little web connecting all the Dignity members who live in that city. My web becomes even stronger when I think of all the people whom I have met at conferences from all over the county, and now from all over the world, each of whom has their own web of support with lines spreading and connecting to my web.

 As I continued to reflect on what I have learned in these past few years, I thought about all the people who have come before me, people who I never met, like Kevin Calegari and Michael Bushek, but whose stories I now know, and immediately, I saw my web go three dimensional, expanding rapidly into the past 50 years. My web contains the beloved members who have passed away but supported the mission of Dignity and who live on in the hearts of each of you.

And then it occurred to me that if the web reaches back into the past, it must surely reach into the future as well. I believe in a future where all are affirmed and welcomed in our church, but  the grips of homophobia and transphobia are strong, so I know there are young people out there who will need us in 5, 10, 15 years, and each of them is a point on the web as well, points that we are working towards supporting even now, without knowing their names or faces, people who will someday look back and express their gratitude to us without knowing our names or faces. As I envisioned this web, connecting first the chapters I’ve visited and people I’ve met, then growing bigger and stronger as it encompassed all Dignity supporters and their communities, then going three dimensional and reaching back to include ancestors and forward to future generations, I realized that what I was envisioning was more than a web, it was the holy spirit, living and breathing through us all. As active as I am in this faith-based movement, I am someone who is often plagued by doubt, so I express so much gratitude to you all for being active participants in my sacred web and reminding me the spirit is alive and well.

The term “sacred web” is one that my fellow board member, Patrick Journet, used in a different context at our meeting on Wednesday, and it resonated with me as I searched for words to express my vision, so thank you, Patrick.

And before I go, I also need to say a word about Chris Pett. To be honest, when I took on the role of VP I kind of thought I would just be a figure head, included in our slate to bring gender diversity. I felt too young and inexperienced to bring much to the role and figured that Chris would do most of the heavy lifting. But Chris has another idea in mind.  Every time he was called on to speak at one of our chapter visits or at a conference, he made sure I had equal time to speak. If I hadn’t said something in a board conversation, he always called on me to share my thoughts before we moved on to the next topic. He trusted me with big projects, like managing Thursday’s global forum.  He believed in me when I wasn’t quite sure of myself and has pushed me to grow and develop as a leader in our movement.

To honor what Chris has given me, my parting request for each of you to consider how you can contribute to the future of Dignity and to use the energy you feel this weekend to continue to work together for justice. There is so much work to be done, but I am confident that if we can continue to be each other’s sacred web, we will be able to provide whatever the next 50 years asks of us.

Thank you.