RISE Together: A National Mentorship Network for Women of Color in Ministry holds conference
by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — “Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving me the grant to go to this conference. It was absolutely powerful and life-transforming!” said pastor Elizabeth Chu. “My life has changed because I was able to participate in it. I truly appreciate your help!”
Chu was one of six young women of color to receive a grant from the Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries from the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries to attend the RISE Together: A National Mentorship Network conference for pastoral and prophetic leaders, scholars, community activists and seminary students.
The three-day event provided networking opportunities for attendees and offered a “social justice and pastoral voice in support of women of color.” The conference also fostered professional connections for innovative and nontraditional ministry and empowering and equipping participants with the knowledge and practical tools that benefit the church, academy and community.
“I was delighted to partner with the executive director, Lisa Rhodes, for the RISE Program,” said Jewel McRae, associate for Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries. “This initiative fits right along with our mission work plan goals to inspire, equip and connect women leaders in the church. It is a blessing that women of color will be able to form a lasting mentoring relationship and be supportive of one another.”
The RISE Together Mentorship Network is an initiative of Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York in collaboration with the Women of Color in Ministry Project. RISE Together seeks to Renew, Inspire, Support and Empower female ministers, activists and scholars by providing compassionate, culturally relevant, professional connections and leadership development opportunities.
Doris Evans, another grant recipient and student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, said, “My experience at the RISE National Mentorship Network inaugural event was awesome. It was great to be in the company of such noted presenters such as Dr. Renita Weems, Dr. Lisa Rhodes, Dr. Leslie Callahan, Rev. Gail Bantum and Dr. Teresa Delgado. I feel it is a privilege to be in the first two-year cohort.”
Grant recipient the Rev. Dr. Perzavia T. Praylow said her participation in the conference came at a good time in her ministry. Praylow recently transitioned to start a new pastoral call as pastor at Fifteenth Street Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the worship experience throughout this conference experience,” said Praylow. “It was healing and uplifting for me being able to worship with 200 women as we encouraged and sometimes lamented with each other concerning the joys and struggles that we experienced in ministry. Being with 200 women of color in ministry was a stark contrast to my reality of sometimes being the only one of a few women of color in my mostly all white Presbyterian context.”
Praylow also expressed her gratitude for the support she received from the Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries in support of leadership development throughout all levels of ministry while serving in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
Chu said, “In my journey becoming and being a pastor, one of my biggest challenges is not seeing enough good role models that look like me.” As a student at Fuller Seminary, Chu did a project on Asian-American female preachers because she was having extreme difficulty seeing herself preaching in front of a group of people.
“There are not very many women preachers, and there are very, very few Asian-American women preachers,” she said. “So I did a project just to research on that and the result was very limited as well. As an Asian-American woman, the call to pastoral ministry and church planting is a very lonely path, and I have suffered from depression because of how lonely I often feel.”
Chu said she understands that there are many other types of ministries that are more available for women, such as art, music, writing, children, youth and family. But the call to plant a church and be the lead pastor is a narrow path and seems to be gender-limited.
“Because of the frustrations I experienced, I found myself often speaking negative messages to myself in my head, and I did not think that being a woman of color in ministry can do much,” said Chu. “However, this RISE Together conference changed something in me. I felt the Holy Spirit deliver me from my cynicism and negative attitude, and I felt so much love and power from the Holy Spirit at the conference.
“Seeing so many wonderful women of color leaders truly encouraged and empowered me. In addition, the Rev. Gail Bantum proved me wrong — she showed me that an Asian-American woman can be a powerful preacher. Her message stays with me, and I really needed to have a strong Asian-American woman telling me that ‘yes, it is!’ I am called by God.”
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