The Family Life Ministry is excited to continue our “Tea Talk Traditions” series with Jocelyn Mathewes. Jocelyn is the wife of +Fr. Stephen Mathewes of Christ the Savior Orthodox Church in Bluff City, Tennessee. Jocelyn is also a mother and photographer and we are eager to introduce her ministry, Women with Icons, to our readers and the Orthodox community at large who may not yet be familiar with her ministry and work.
FLM: Tell us about your ministry and what is the most interesting part of it.
Jocelyn Mathewes: It’s my opinion that any priest wife’s ministry is simply the practice of being a Christian in the world, however that manifests itself for each person, in family, relationships, business, and the community at large.
That said, I’ll talk specifically about the Women with Icons project. I’m fascinated by people’s stories–who isn’t? We fascinate each other. Each person’s life is an intricately woven story of who they are, of important, deeply meaningful and felt events. I firmly believe that the smallest things in life are just as important as the largest things. Just because you don’t hear about a person on television or don’t know them yourself, doesn’t mean they can’t have an impact on you. But of course, learning about other people firsthand–saints that have gone before and the faces in front of you–is another way of learning how to love and understand ourselves and our relationship with God. We learn how to love–I learn how to love and open my heart–every time I meet someone who shares their story and their saint with me. That’s what’s interesting.
FLM: What was your inspiration to follow this path? How long did you contemplate this ministry?
Jocelyn Mathewes: +Fr. Stephen and I came into ministry together. We married right out of undergraduate, and after a few years of married life in Baltimore, we decided seminary was the thing to do. It had always been on Fr. Stephen’s mind to go to seminary–something I knew about throughout our courtship. I didn’t give much thought to the big question of what it would mean for me to be traveling along that path in particular; I just knew that wherever he was going, I’d go alongside.
For the Women with Icons project, I had been contemplating femininity, gender roles, and Christianity in the back of my mind for some time. Orthodox Christianity was one of the first places where I discovered inspirational female Christian figures in the form of saints. The culture at large, and indeed other Christian denominations, didn’t appear to me to have that same rich history, so I sought to explore it and discover a whole new dimension of what it meant to be a Christian. Indeed, for both men and women, the stories of the saints are so rich and powerful. They are worth bringing to the forefront.
It all came together when my mother-in-law, Frederica Mathewes-Green, asked me to take a portrait of her as a possible author photo for one of her books. I took a portrait of her with the icon of St. Felicity, her saint, and then I wondered, “Why not take more portraits like this?” It just kept going from there.
FLM: In what way does your faith play a role in this ministry?
Jocelyn Mathewes: In my role as priest’s wife, my ministry is first to my husband, and then to my children and family. I’m here to help Fr. Stephen be the best Christian he can be, to journey with him. We’re sharpening each other. My children’s time in my care is the blink of an eye in the scheme of things; I’m fortunate to have a flexible career and enough resources to prioritize spending time with them and educating them as best I can. I’m a poor Christian; I should steep these things in prayer more deeply. I aspire to a greater prayer life. Right now, the busy-ness of family is its own kind of desert, and I find myself praying for my daily bread: strength and patience for the day, wisdom for what’s in front of me.
FLM: How does it impact others, your family, your church?
Jocelyn Mathewes: Women with Icons has ebbed and flowed with the path of my life. It began in my immediate church community in my early married life, and I was able to travel more and spend more free time photographing people. Right now, I catch any creative project (especially Women with Icons) in fits and snatches. Originally I thought I’d set a particular goal for the number of portraits, but people just kept asking, and then I figured, why not continue for as long as I can? There’s no end point, and so I see it growing and changing into anything, really. My job is to show up and do. I saw a church marquee recently that said, “Have the tools ready and God will supply the work.” I feel that’s true for this project, and other things in life: you’ve just got to have your tools ready, your eyes open, and to stop looking for a particular form of work…just look and pay attention.
FLM: Where do you see this ministry growing? Short or long-term goals?
Jocelyn Mathewes: I’d like to photograph as many women as I can in my lifetime. Short-term goals would be to add a half dozen women a year, depending on my availability. Long-term, perhaps there’s a book in the mix, something self-published, or maybe it will just live online, or the experiences themselves between me and these beautiful women will be the transient but important, lasting pieces.
FLM: How can others get involved?
Jocelyn Mathewes: Anyone can e-mail me or call me at anytime and ask about having their portrait taken. You don’t have to have a fancy icon of your saint; you can even print one out on paper. It’s not about how beautiful you are, how awesome your saint is, or whatever–it’s about the particular relationship you have with your faith, with God, with your saint. Even if you’re shy in front of a camera, let’s talk.
In 2006, the Women with Icons project was featured and shown at Baltimore’s Creative Alliance as well as featured in The Handmaiden Issue 10.1. Baylor University’s journal, Christian Reflection, also featured an article I wrote about the project very recently.
Find more on Jocelyn Mathewes’ ministry Women With Icons on the web as well as additional information and portfolios of her work.
WOMEN WITH ICONS: A Documentary Photography Project
“An ongoing documentary photography series of Eastern Orthodox women iwth the icon of their patron saint by Jocelyn Mathewes.”
Download the Artist’s statement here.
Download: “Women with Icons” by Jocelyn Mathewes, an article published in The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, 2013.