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Cultivating young leaders to serve beyond the Church

Ministry area prepares young women to focus on leadership

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

Law school student Lisiann Rodriguez gained leadership skills from the programs and events provided by the Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministry. (Contributed photo)

LOUISVILLE — Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries is a national ministry of the Presbyterian Mission Agency operating within Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries (RE&WIM). The office provides resources and training programs to young adult women ages 18-35 considering leadership opportunities in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

The ministry provides young women with opportunities to serve in various leadership positions at a national level. It also develops leadership skills in Presbyterian women in college or university through national and regional events that offer young women opportunities for networking with peers and mentors. It seeks to globalize leadership development of young women by partnering with ecumenical agencies, connecting young women with each other and the larger church and exploring Christian identities as women and students.

But how does a young woman who may not have pursued a formal calling in the church utilize the skills and training she’s acquired through the efforts of this ministry area? How does she transfer those skills into her professional life so that she is better able to minister and serve others while not working in the Church?

Lisiann Rodriguez is in her third and final year of law school at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) John Marshall Law School. She has experience working at the Cook County Public Defender’s office as well as at Donato and Baez, an immigration law firm. Currently, she is working at the UIC John Marshall Law School International Human Rights Clinic, where she practices asylum law and writes reports on international human rights violations occurring around the world.

Rodriguez is a member of Wildwood Presbyterian Church in Grayslake, Illinois. While she never had a desire to work for the Church, she is actively involved at the national level. She is the young woman representative for Presbyterian Women’s Hispanic/Latina Presbyterian Women national board. She was elected to this position after serving as the young woman representative for Presbyterian Women’s Board of Directors for four years.

In 2015 Rodriguez was one of the PC(USA) delegates at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. She also attended Big Tent that year. Both events were made possible through the Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries of Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries.

Rodriguez says from those events she learned the necessity of Latina representation in any field.

“The inherent divinity that lives in me manifests in a voice that adds value to any room and because of that, I should feel empowered to show up just as I am and not be afraid to take up space,” she said. “These events set off a chain reaction in me and my social justice work. At the time, I was in college still trying to figure out what kind of impact I wanted to leave on this world and these opportunities help mold me into a leader.”

“The training and these events helped me focus my energy so that I could act with love, empathy, and conviction in all of my leadership roles to come,” Rodriguez said. “The training at these events helped me gain a view as a holistic process under which the spiritual contributes just as much to leadership as any other facet. I was empowered by the women around me and continue to be with through their friendship.”

Rodriguez says she has been able to transfer the information and the skills she’s acquired at the leadership events into the work she is now doing.

“I am currently in my last year of law school with a focus in international human rights and immigration,” she said. “The legal field can be very elitist, classist, and often racist and sexist. I feel that it is revolutionary to exist in these spaces and to assert myself in a way that paves the way for the women coming behind me.

“I do not think that I would be the leader that I am today were it not for the Young Women’s Leadership Development,” she said. “In my activism, the training has been pivotal in understanding my privilege and helping others understand theirs so that we create real structural change.”

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