Written By Jim Lawrence with Roslyn Taylor
Rev. Roslyn Taylor (ordained in 2018) has led a house church ministry for the better part of two decades in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. Most recently she has initiated a non-profit organization called Deborah’s Tree, which in the words of its website, “provides spiritual resources and educational materials in a variety of media within the Swedenborgian theological and spiritual movement, focusing primarily on the work of female authors, scholars, clergy, and artists. It serves the Swedenborgian movement worldwide by bringing balance through lifting up the voices of Swedenborgian women.” The many branches of Deborah’s Tree have been growing with voices, activities, and contributions. For readers of the Messenger, I held the following conversation with Rev. Taylor to bring greater awareness to this organization’s life and work.
Jim Lawrence: What is Deborah’s Tree, and why is it named Deborah’s Tree?
Roslyn Taylor: Deborah’s Tree is a ministry that I started as a “pandemic project.” It’s a non-profit religious organization that aims to promote the work of female Swedenborgian and New Church scholars, writers, clergy, and artists through our website (www.deborahstree.org), social media, and events. Our board consists of Pastor Robbin Ferriman, Rev. Julie Conaron and myself, our IT Consultant is Liz Kufs, and we have several volunteers from within the wider Swedenborgian/New Church faith community, who generously share their talents with us.
The name comes from the Biblical Deborah, a female prophet and judge who guided the Israelite nation while seated under a palm tree. She led them into a successful battle, which ensured peace for forty years. A whole chapter in the Hebrew Scriptures (Judges 5) is dedicated to “The Song of Deborah” about her success and leadership. From the imagery of Deborah sitting under her tree, we envision Swedenborgian women sitting still under our collective palm tree, speaking our truth together from our own female perspectives. The description of “Deborah, the great mother of Israel” rising up, and her orders to “Awake, Deborah! Rise up! Rise Up! Break out in song!” inspire us to actively arise and wake up and sing our own song. Our intention is to actively live our own spirituality and to share joyfully what we have learned together, both within our global Swedenborgian community, and within the wider female spirituality community.
JL: What programs and activities does Deborah’s Tree offer?
RT: Our Spiritual Inspiration program consists of fortnightly Excerpted Inspirations, monthly Spiritual Quotes, and weekly Spiritual Reflection videos. The Excerpted Inspirations are nuggets of a spiritual nature from literature mostly by female authors, or by male authors who write about strong female characters. The Spiritual Quotes are from the Word, Swedenborg, and other wisdom traditions. Four female Swedenborgian clergy are in a rotation to provide short Spiritual Reflection videos. All aspects of the program are posted on our website, our Facebook page, and on Twitter. According to our online analytics, engagement with all three is consistently growing. We love it when our Swedenborgian friends share our posts to their own social media!
We’ve also started a blog, “The Women’s Companion to Conjugial Love.” Four female editors are tackling the task of condensing the work of the women who completed a critical reading together of Swedenborg’s book Conjugial Love, also known as Marriage Love, and shared their responses to the text as women in the twenty-first century. Coming soon is a podcast in which we plan to have women discuss topics of interest to the Swedenborgian/New Church community. The blog is also shared on social media, and the podcast will be as well.
In addition to our ongoing online activities, we have been holding hybrid in-person events twice a year with the Lord’s New Church congregation in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. We are very blessed to have had them partner with us, in support of our mission to lift up the voices and work of Swedenborgian women. The first event was a Launch Brunch at their lovely property, followed the next month by an art exhibit and talk by Eleanor Schnarr. We’ve also held an online presentation about Logopraxis by Rev. Sarah Walker from Australia, a Silent Retreat and a (non-silent) hybrid Day Retreat about Responding to Conjugial Love in the twenty-first century. In addition, the Deborah’s Tree community is always invited to attend the hybrid monthly Saturday Brunch, with a speaker, held by the Home Church in Bryn Athyn. I am happy to extend that invitation to all Swedenborgians who might want to attend! Just contact me at email@example.com.
JL: Are there any group discussion spaces in Deborah’s Tree?
RT: We do not have any dedicated online group discussion spaces at present for Deborah’s Tree. However, we do interact with each other as a community, online and in person. Discussions can emerge from comments on our Facebook posts, blogs, and YouTube videos. Individuals can post their own material or questions on our Facebook page and stimulate discussion that way. The podcast will offer an opportunity for guests to share their perspectives and thinking. Of course, as you can imagine, discussions happen at our hybrid events, often quite lively and even impassioned!
JL: Is Deborah’s Tree only for women?
RT: No! Our mission is to promote the work of female Swedenborgians for the benefit of all Swedenborgians, and for all people involved in the women’s spirituality movement. Men, and persons who do not identify as female, have attended all of our events, except the Silent Retreat, and have interacted with us on social media. Our focus is on lifting up the voices of Swedenborgian women, so we are limited to women in that sense, but we want those voices to be heard by everyone.
JL: How can people get involved with and possibly support Deborah’s Tree?
RT: There are several ways for people to get involved with the Deborah’s Tree community. By contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org, they can be added to our email list to receive our monthly newsletter, and notifications about upcoming events. Visiting our website and interacting with us on social media are both great ways to support us and strengthen our community. Those simple actions help us become more of a visible presence online, and thereby help us get the voices and work of Swedenborgian women out into the public domain. Sharing their talents by contributing to the programs at our hybrid events, volunteering to help edit the “Women’s Companion to Conjugial Love,” selecting and displaying our Spiritual Quotes, or letting us know about Swedenborgian women whose work could use some promotion, are all wonderful ways to get involved and offer support. Financial support is also very helpful! It’s easy to donate through the Deborah’s Tree website.
Read the full issue of the March 2023 Messenger
Meet Jim Lawrence
Rev. Dr. Jim Lawrence is the president of the Swedenborgian Church of North America. He was the dean of the Center for Swedenborgian Studies for 21 years prior to being elected President in 2022.