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‘As women that God created, you are prized’

Women gather for the first of three Lydia’s Listening Sessions

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — In the first of three listening circles, the offices of Women’s Leadership Development and Leadership Development for Leaders of Color of the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries hosted PC(USA) women of color who are in faith leadership roles to provide them with the safety of a space that honors their voices and their experiences as they voice how COVID-19 has impacted their lives and ministries.

Nearly 50 women from across the mainland United States and Puerto Rico gathered Thursday for the online session to discuss their source of inspiration for ministry as well as their emotions, struggles and victories over this past year.

Jewel McRae

“So as women that God created, you are prized,” said Jewel McRae, coordinator for Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries. “God gives women unique dreams and purposes. And just like in biblical times, those purposes and calls may not always be what society is looking for.”

McRae says COVID-19 has had a major impact in the way these women leaders do their ministry. “Too often, we come together to hear people talk, but is anybody listening?” she said. “Today’s church needs to send the message loud and clear to its women. When God calls you, we support you 100% as such. You need to be cared for and loved on by the church to be told often how much you are appreciated and cared about to be treated as beloved sisters in Christ.”

the Rev. Alexandra Zareth

“We are here to listen because we trust the witness of Scripture that says in the book of Acts that as Lydia listened, the Lord opened up her heart,” said the Rev. Alexandra Zareth, associate of Leadership Development for Leaders of Color. “So, our prayer tonight is that as we listen, that the Holy Spirit that might be calling, [the wisdom] that Proverbs 8 says was at Creation. The wisdom that was the architect at Creation as the heavens were arranged, as the mountains were formed, as the oceans were created — that wisdom is welcomed.”

As the evening progressed, participants shared a variety of ways illustrating how they have been inspired to continue their ministry during the pandemic. But the discussion that generated the most conversation was the women’s responses to two additional questions. Participants were asked how they are being served by the PC(USA) and in what ways they need support.

The Rev. Philomena Ofori-Nipaah, the interim pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Saginaw, Michigan, said, “I’m being served in the PCUSA its through the leadership institutes. I get emails checking on me, asking how I’m doing and letting me know someone prayed for me. We all pray for one another, but being able to receive a card or an email with encouraging words is an inspiration that empowers me to keep up with what I’m doing and what I have said: ‘Yes, Lord, I will do it.’”

“The other thing is the support from the Board of Pensions,” said Ofori-Nipaah. “They offer education on how to do self-care. I have found a new way to embrace that, to clear my schedule and to tell myself that yes, you can, you’re here to serve and help others, but you also need to take care of yourself and being able to observe that with all the prayer and support. But it can’t work if I am not listening or paying attention to who I am and how to take care of myself.”
“So, I’m grateful and thankful for the support that I’m receiving from the Women’s Leadership Institute and also from the Board of Pensions,” she added.

The Rev. Danilie C. Hilerio-Villanueva, Moderator for Presbyterian Women in the Presbiterio del Noroeste, Vice-Moderator of the Synod Boriquén of Puerto Rico and Disaster Recovery Coordinator for Presbiterio del Noroeste, replied to the questions this way: “I think that I’ve been supported by the truth, particularly over a year from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance support. PDA has been constant, has been in communication with Presbyterians in the staff regarding the status of the church, regarding disaster recovery, and right now during the COVID pandemic as well.

“We’ve also been supported in some way by the Board of Pensions, which has been a making us aware through email and through newsletters what different resources we have available for self-care, in particular for mental health care.”

“We also have support through different colleagues in ministry because we have share experiences,” said Hilerio-Villanueva. “We share struggles, prayers, and the fact that it’s so OK if you’re not OK. It also has taken us to grace. We’re not perfect. Life is not perfect the church is not perfect, and we can’t control everything. Other PC(USA) support is having listening sessions like this one that we’re having right now. I think it’s very important.”

Caly Fernández, a ruling elder at New Covenant Presbyterian Fellowship in Austin, Texas, says the PDA grants have been really helpful for her fellowship’s ministry.

“We got a grant to serve in the communities and that has been a tremendous help for me,” Fernández said. “I just feel like we’re abandoned down here. So, when Rosa Miranda [Associate for Hispanic and Latino-a Intercultural Ministries] sends me stuff, I share it with all my Hispanic pastors down here and all the way up to Laredo. They’ve been able to also apply for different grants and services.”

And I didn’t know about this group, and I love it,” Fernández said. “I plan to participate for future meetings. This is wonderful.”

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