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African American clergywomen gather for retreat

Theme is ‘Finding Rest for Your Souls’

By Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service | Photos by Gail Strange

The Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett addressed participants at the African American Clergywomen’s Retreat and reminded them of the need to rest for more effective ministry.

DAYTONA, Fla.  — African American clergywomen from 24 states are gathered in Daytona, Florida, for a time of Sabbath rest, to reconnect with Christ, to deepen relationships of learning and support and to gain emotional, intellectual and spiritual support for their ministries in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Rhashell Hunter, director of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, opened the three-day African American Clergywomen’s Retreat, which began Monday, Aug. 26, by reminding the participants that this event was a gift from the Church. “We’re happy to do this because we believe in you. We believe in your ministry,” said Hunter.

The theme for the 2019 retreat is “Finding Rest for Your Souls.” “As clergywomen, we are often so busy that we do not attend to our own needs, including our physical, emotional and spiritual needs,” said Hunter. “There is a time for work, and there is a time to ‘find rest for your souls,’ and that rest is found in Christ.”

The group sang a spirit-filled rendition of the hymn “What a Fellowship, What a Joy Divine” to kick off the opening worship service. The preacher for the afternoon was the Rev. Dr. Diane Givens Moffett, president and executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Drawing from Matthew 11:28–30, Moffett’s sermon, titled “Play a Rest,” began with a story of one man challenging another in an all-day wood-chopping contest. She shared that the winner of the contest would receive $5,000. Moffett said one challenger worked hard, resting only for a brief lunch break. But the other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised to find that the other man had chopped substantially more wood than he did. When questioned, the woodsman replied that what the other man didn’t notice is that every time he sat down, he was sharpening his axe.

African American clergywomen gathered in Daytona, Fla., for the biennial retreat.

“And like the woodcutter in our story, rest allows us the opportunity to sharpen our axe so that our ministry will be more effective,” said Moffett. “Rest, repose, recess and remission also provide opportunity for reflection, rejuvenation, relaxation, refreshment and divestment of the demands, duties, responsibilities, restraints and complaints of daily living.”

Moffett says the gospel provides accounts of Jesus practicing what he preached when it came to the subject of rest. “Jesus was known to be a regular rester,” she said. “Now I know that word is not in the dictionary; I just made it up.” She added: “After teaching and preaching to the crowd, healing the sick and making the broken whole, after tutoring the disciples and nurturing them in faith, Jesus would pull away and step back from his ministry and mission in order to rest and be by himself before reentering the space of ministry the next day, because the work of ministry can be daunting.”

Referring to the Negro spiritual “Jesus Knows All About our Struggles,” Moffett said, “Whatever our struggles, Jesus knows all about them. He’s aware of the labor and the load carried by those called to continue his ministry and mission in the 21st century. He knows about the injustices and suffering we are called to combat as African American clergywomen. He knows about the healing and hope we are moved to administer to our people who are impacted by racist and oppressive systems. He knows about the mass incarceration, sweeping deportation, the elevation of a president who tweets and texts, stirring up violent and vicious hatred and division in this nation.

“He knows what we deal with when it comes to employment in this denomination. He knows that too many African American clergywomen find it hard to receive calls from churches black and white,” she said. “Even in this day and time, congregants don’t want a woman — let alone a black woman. Too many of us are in positions where we are forced to make bricks without straws. We have to occupy spaces that are dilapidated and in disrepair. We’re in situations where we are trying to build congregations with little resources and financial support,” Moffett said.

“While we delight in seeing the Holy Spirit at work — in us, around us, among us in the church and in the world — Jesus also knows about the struggles that come with this call to serve him, and so he calls us to rest,” she said.

The retreat is offering a wide range of topics to enhance and inform the women, including Bible studies on “Reconnecting with God’s Spirit” and “Reconnecting to Your Call to Ministry,” a presentation from the Board of Pensions on benefits, and sessions on healthy lifestyles and the benefits of peer group support and mentoring.

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