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Equipping women leaders of color to combat racism

Listening sessions provide opportunity to share wisdom, struggles and victories

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The excitement could be felt through the screen as nearly 30 women entered the virtual room to gather for the second of the three-part Lydia’s Listening Session hosted by the offices of Women’s Leadership Development and Leadership Development for Leaders of Color of the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries (RE&WIM).

“It’s wonderful to see us come together in this sacred space as women and siblings in Christ, where we can be our authentic selves to share and hear one another’s stories,” said Jewel McRae, coordinator for women’s leadership development and women’s ministries.

She says the sessions were created as a result of a RE&WIM strategic goal to dismantle racism and to create a sacred space for clergywomen of color and women leaders of color, so they can be their authentic selves in every setting to equip them to combat racism.

McRae noted that according to the latest Faith and Leadership report, a large number of clergywomen and lay women have quit their job as a result of this pandemic. Many have reported exhaustion, burnout and decision fatigue from the prolonged care of congregations, communities and households, as well as combating racism, including the violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders that is happening all over the country.

“We’ve gathered more than 70 women of color in two Lydia’s Listening Sessions to equip them spiritually and emotionally to share their experiences as they struggle to balance their ministry, home and community in lives upended by the coronavirus,” said McRae. “These sessions have been an opportunity to share wisdom, victories and struggles and to be open to where the Holy Spirit may lead us.”

In addition to McRae, the Rev. Alexandra Zareth, Associate for Leadership Development for Leaders of Color, and spiritual coach Karen Henderson led the women in discussion groups.

“In our previous session we witnessed the powerful sisterhood spirit breathe new life into the hearts that showed up a bit sad and depleted from their labor for God,” said Zareth.

“We trust that the Spirit will prepare the hearts and minds and God will show up to nourish the hearts of the sisters who join us today. And we know that COVID-19 is a collective trauma that has us all worn out, so we know it is the right time to gather and seek God’s light to shine upon us, so we have peace (Numbers 6:24-26).”

Zareth says that following the final Lydia’s Listening Session, RE&WIM will gather the data to produce resources and other support mechanisms for women so that RE&WIM can walk alongside them in their ministry.  “We want to be able to advocate better for our sisters. We do that through listening to what the struggles really are,” she said.

In the group led by Henderson, two questions were posed to the group: What is your source of inspiration for ministry and what are some emotions, struggles and or victories you are experiencing?

Replying to the questions, Ruling Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018), said she found inspiration by reacquainting with art. “It has been a source of joy and it has been a source of a revelation in meeting the Holy Spirit and meeting God through art, she said.

Another participant said she was inspired by her pastor. “She’s a female pastor and she has multiple sclerosis, but she has not been deterred by her disability. She continues to preach the Word. Before the pandemic, she would travel to different conferences. I’m sure there were times when she felt discouraged, but she just persevered. She’s still leading us, shepherding us every week.”

The final session is scheduled for September 14. After that, the data will be compiled from all three sessions and will be shared with participants in October.

“One of the highlights of these sessions is the gathering of women to come together to pray and come up with a personal commitment,” said McRae. “In October they’ll also have an opportunity to share their personal victories.  I’ve been truly inspired by all these women leaders of color.”


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