Julia Chester Emery

Daily Reading for January 9 • Julia Chester Emery, 1922

Julia Chester Emery is not the kind of person one expects to meet in a calendar of religious commemorations, in part because of the nature of her accomplishments. Her story does not involve extraordinary feats of courage, neither was she tortured or executed for reason of her faith. She was only twenty-four years old when she assumed the only ecclesiastical post she would ever hold, secretary of the Woman’s Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church. In that office Julia Emery served for forty years, a faithful lay woman.

By the time Julia Emery left her post in 1916, she had helped organize branches of the Woman’s Auxiliary in nearly two-thirds of the eighty-five hundred parishes of the Episcopal Church. Moreover, the Auxiliary itself dispensed many dollars in financial aid to missions and raised the awareness of the larger church to the important work of outreach.

Julia Emery reminds us that the most difficult and demanding work of mission is the most mundane, the work of administration and education. Increasingly, missionary work involves not exotic travel or rare courage; far less does it involve a zeal for conversion to one’s own ideals or methods. Instead, modern mission demands just those qualities Julia Emery devoted to service—gifts for educating, organizing, and administering.

We remember Julia Emery for raising funds, organizing volunteers, administering institutions, and educating lay members of the church. Apparently, her only training for this ministry was a willingness to try it, for she possessed no special education or preparation. Her only authority was collegial, for being a lay woman, she had neither the office nor the perquisites of ordained status to buttress her leadership. Julia Emery reminds us that we all possess the resources we need to be effective missionaries, except perhaps the two most important qualities exemplified in her—a willingness to try and the commitment to stick with it, even for a lifetime.

From Brightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts by Sam Portaro (Cowley, 2001).

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