Memphis & Me

When I arrive at my first-ever Gathering of Leaders at St. Columba Episcopal Camp and Conference Center in Memphis, Tennessee last month, I do so with my eyes shut.  

In many ways, I know this place. I live in Memphis and serve the Diocese of West Tennessee, and St. Columba is an essential part of my work in ministry. I need no support from Siri as I drive to the site, and the comforting crunch of gravel under my tires as I pull onto the grounds tells my anxiety to take a hike. The crunch here is a solid, more nourishing bubblewrap pop 

I can let the peace of this place wash over me.  

I know where to go. Wayfinding is easy.  

I always enjoy participating in churchwide work like that of GOL. Isn’t this what church is?: being around others unlike ourselves who are drawn to the same light? We can tend the fire together, each bringing our own skills and lessons and adding to the rhythm of life together. We can shut our eyes to rest when we’re weary, trusting that we will be cared for.  

At the end of the first day, my friend Maggie, also in attendance at the Gathering, walks with me to my car.  

“Have you been back here, since…?” 

I know what she’s gently inquiring.  

“No. Wow. I didn’t even realize it. This is my first time being back to St. Columba since last summer.”  

I’m startled at my own obliviousness. In hindsight, I’m not surprised at all, though. Grief has dulled my mind and my heart.  

The last time I was at St. Columba was in July of 2023 for my brother’s funeral. After Trevor died, there was no question that this would be the place where we should honor his life. He had worked at St. Columba for a few months over the winter and the spring, helping to maintain the grounds. He quit when his mental health took a turn, but he was still loved there. He was still known there. He gave what he had to this place in his own quiet way.  

I suppose that I shut my eyes for the same reason that we all tend to do this when life is…a lot. Sometimes we just need to overlook hard things. We need to chalk up the Holy Spirit’s synchronicities to plain ol’ garden variety coincidence.  

But sometimes, the Gathering of Leaders is in the exact same room as your brother’s memorial service, and you know the Holy Spirit is calling you to exhale in safety.  


We are thinking about what the Church is, what she’s called to be, and how we can reaffirm our baptismal commitment each day. As I open my eyes, I see a Church that, in many ways, is discarding her old, worn-out garments and wearing with pride the threads of the Good News that have always bound her together.  

We are boldly finding ways to include those we have marginalized.  

We are being church outside of the walls of our houses of worship.  

We are loving those who have been hurt and bringing them succor.  

We are interrogating our own dysfunctionality and demanding better of ourselves and our leaders.  

We are letting go of our egos, replacing our self-serving nature with the Heart of God.  

And we’re doing it together. We must do it together.  


Recently I was listening to a podcast (or maybe it was an audiobook? I have no clue; between my neurodivergencies, grief, and my voracious listening appetite, I’m not the best at tracking my sources!) that pointed out how God is so committed to community and companionship that They didn’t even create the world alone. Our trinitarian God went…together. I was reminded that none of us are ever alone. 

Gathering two or more, we’re doing this together, grafting ourselves together and keeping that fire going. 


Emily Austin (she/her/hers) is the Director of Communications and Community Engagement for the Episcopal Diocese of West Tennessee. She loves art, learning, creating things, and God, and she often feels like she’s conned her way into the best job ever. She lives in Memphis with her husband, Ben, her daughter, Cecille (12), and their three rabbits with whom she is understandably obsessed.