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Women in faith leadership roles reveal how the pandemic has impacted their work and their lives

Women share struggles, emotions and victories during final Lydia’s Listening Session

by Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — In the final episode of Lydia’s Listening Session, hosted Tuesday by the offices of Women’s Leadership Development and Leadership Development for Leaders of Color of the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, women of color who are in faith leadership roles gathered to share their experiences during the COVID-19  pandemic and how it has impacted their lives and ministries.

The listening circles were created to provide participants with the safety of a space that honors their voices and their experiences during this challenging time caused by the pandemic. They were designed to equip women spiritually and emotionally and to let them know that their voices have been heard.

Emotions ran high during the final session as the women shared their experiences over the past 18 months.

Jewel McRae, coordinator for Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries, asked participants, “In light of the past 18 months of this pandemic, what have been some of your struggles? What have been some of your emotions and what have been some of your victories?”

Women leaders of color offered a wide range of responses.

One participant who had lost her job because of COVID-19 said, “My victories have been getting a job. I lost my job because of COVID and was grateful to come back and in a different capacity. But the financial struggles and emotional struggles that go with that were an issue. But I think one of the big threes for me was having some time and space. I also graduated during COVID. So, having some time and space to just connect more deeply with God in some ways that I had not been able to … in the past is the greatest victory of all.”

Another woman said, “My struggles during COVID have been not being able to see my grandkids, not being able to go to church for a long while. We are a small family church. We know everybody and not being able to see them every Sunday like we used to was really kind of hard.”

“But we’ve had some victories too,” the woman added. “We were safe from COVID-19. We did not contract it. So, there’s really a lot to give thanks for. My family members are all safe in spite of the fact that we’ve lost over 600,000 people to this disease. We had struggles, but we had a lot of victories as well.”

“That’s a very good question,” said another member of the listening circle. She expressed her struggles with not being able to see or hug her grandchildren when she was able to see them. “I’m a touchy-feely person and not being able to touch those around me is a struggle. I just buried my father who was 102 and a World War II veteran. Out of an act of love, we could not have the kind of worship service experience for him that his life warranted, that he deserved. But the victory in that is that we were able to honor his life with a military burial. Those who were able came and we remembered him.

“Another victory is I’ve learned to master technology and those who know me know that that is a victory. For me to be able to preach and do Bible study workshops and other means of fellowship and worship by Zoom without preaching an entire sermon that no one heard simply because I didn’t hit the unmute button is a victory.”

“It was just heavy,” said another member of the circle.  “I’m a creative person. I did a lot of writing and poetry. I also reconnected with painting. I did a lot of watercolors and found peace in those colors.

“But my biggest struggle and memory was from the beginning of the pandemic … when everything shut down. I have two sons and a grandson. Both of my sons contracted COVID. At that time, you could not be near anyone. So, to have your son sick and in the hospital, it was the hardest thing I had ever gone through in my life.

“God is so amazing and so gracious and so good. I still have two boys today, but not everyone was that fortunate. I really recognize the blessing that it is to have my children with me. My youngest son that was in the hospital was afraid to tell me that he thought he wasn’t going to make it out. So that’s my memory. It was a hard struggle at the beginning, but I’m on the other side. In that I have my emotions, the struggle and the victory.”

According to the Rev. Alexandra Zareth, Associate for Leadership Development for Leaders of Color, following this final session, RE&WIM will gather the data to produce resources and other support mechanisms for women so that RE&WIM can walk alongside clergywomen of color and women leaders of color in their ministry.

“We want to be able to better advocate for our sisters,” Zareth said. “We do that through listening to what the struggles really are.”


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