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‘You Are Phenomenal Women’


Ridgill uses poetry to encourage African American clergywomen

By Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service

Alice Ridgill preached at the African American clergywomen’s retreat and reminded attendees that they are “Phenomenal Women” with an amazing spirit. Jewel McRae

DAYTONA, Fla. — In a sermon that made you wonder whether you were at a retreat or a revival, the Rev. Dr. Alice Ridgill, founding pastor of New Faith Presbyterian Church, the first African American Presbyterian Church in Greenwood County, South Carolina, and a Presbyterian Mission Agency board member, reminded the women attending the African American Clergywomen Retreat sponsored by the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries of the PMA, that they were phenomenal women.

While Ridgill’s message focused on the strength, wisdom and tenacity of the prophetess, judge and warrior Deborah, she creatively interwove Maya Angelou’s famous poem, “Phenomenal Woman,” into her message. And in an exercise following the sermon, the clergywomen were asked: “What does it mean to be a phenomenal woman in Christ and how does that impact your ministry?” Following are some of the women’s responses.

Chineta Goodjoin, pastor at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Orange County, California, said, “To be a phenomenal woman in Christ means that I can courageously and faithfully use the gifts that God has given me to be a stronger advocate for justice and peace in the community and world.”

Arlene Gordon, currently serving as a parish associate at the Korean Presbyterian Church of Miami in Cooper City, Florida, replied, “In June of 2019, I celebrated my 28th year in ministry as an ordained pastor and presbytery/General Assembly administrator. I could not have done any of it without the presence of the Holy Spirit that makes me the phenomenal woman I am. That means I am able to be all that God has called me to be and do all that God has assigned to me.”

“It’s usually easier to see phenomenal qualities in others rather than in yourself,” said Desiree Lawson, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Sudbury, Massachusetts. “This morning I found myself surrounded by phenomenal women who are educated, beautiful, accomplished, and overflowing with God’s purpose, and I was reminded by the Rev. Alice Ridgill that I too am phenomenal — that I am not simply a spectator in this crowd. Indeed, I could count myself in and part of such strength and perseverance.”

“It’s usually easier to count yourself out rather than in,” said Lawson. “I recently accepted a call to a congregation that I once believed would have never even looked my way. And I also had people tell me that this particular church would never call a woman of color. But God knew the plan God had for me (and them) and they called me and wanted to move forward in ministry with me as their pastor. Rev. Ridgill reminded me of this reversal phenomenon when she spoke about Deborah and Barak and how Barak showed great wisdom in stating that he would only go into battle only if Deborah went with him. I bet Barak never imagined that a woman would lead him into battle equipped with the gifts and skills needed for success. And I know that my current congregation never expected to be led by a woman of color. God has a place for us and will use us to accomplish God’s purpose.”

Tanya Smith Wade, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, said, “God has planted and made me a phenomenal woman through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. My church benefits from my relationship with Jesus, who is the source and bread of my life. They are loved, welcomed, encouraged, challenged and even fight sometimes to overcome struggles. I am a woman who does not do anything alone. All that is done is through and with God. It is also done with my family, and we walk as a ministry unit — not to the beat of our own drum but to the beat of God’s drum. I am grateful to renew and return to my roots living these words. Like Paul I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

Gloria J. Tate, pastor of Teaneck Presbyterian Church in Teaneck, New Jersey, said, “It means believing that you can do whatever Christ has called you to do. Fortunately, back in the ’70s I didn’t know that I was supposed to be afraid of doing what people weren’t allowing women to do, and I guess I still haven’t learned that lesson!  So throughout the decades, I’ve never acknowledged or given power to obstacles. Thanks to both male and female role models and a phenomenally courageous woman, who was my mother.”

And in a true spirit of worship and truth the service concluded with a spiritually charged and deeply emotional rendering of the song, “Thank you Lord, I just want to thank you Lord!”

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