An African American Male’s Reflection on the Katie Cannon Womanist Conference

On April 13th -15th in Charlotte, NC, a cadre of Black Presbyterian clergywomen and PCUSA staff gathered—not only to take part in the celebration of and a series of workshops for Black women—but to have a meeting in dialogue about the issues, concerns, and challenges of Black Presbyterian clergywomen.

Conference attendees worshipped and attended a series of workshops, sunrise yoga, and 39 plenaries over three days, as Black Presbyterian woman leaders met to embrace, inquire, question, and prophetically call out their struggles as Black female religious leaders.

As the only Black heterosexual male in the room, I knew I was being given the honor to listen, learn, consider, rethink, and not say too much as I heard the passions, convictions, and the many expressed traumas the institutional church has waged on their minds, bodies, and beings. However, this was not just a grieving session about the realities the double indemnities of being Black and a woman or the demands of ministry. There was something else brewing here.  It was the dynamics of when Black clergywomen and leaders get together in in a cathartic way and begin to name, deconstruct, elucidate, and share their souls in solidarity around the presence of God and sisterhood, knowing that they are not alone in their struggles or their hopes and dreams of claiming their full humanity. I could see and hear the soul connections these leaders were making. The power of the gathering, in my estimation, was a powerful form of existential release. Somebody understands what’s going on in my soul.  In other words, I heard  the  collective cry of the group saying,  “I need a place to holla!”

So, as a Black male I could hear it, reflect on it, empathize with it, however I knew I could not feel it like they felt it.

The leadership team consisted of seven Black clergywomen diverse in areas of ministries and backgrounds within the PCUSA. From left to right: Sonya Allen- Bellefonte Presbyterian Church (NC), Khayla Johnson – Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church (TN), Chinetta Goodjoin – Pastor at New Hope Presbyterian Church, Anita Wright – Trinity Presbyterian Church (NJ), Angela Johnson – Grace Hope Presbyterian Church (KY), Brooke Scott – Church on Main & Presbytery Organizing pastor Hanover Street Presbyterian Church (DE), Janel Dixon – Cedar Park Presbyterian Church (PA), British Hyrams – Associate Chaplain Presbyterian College (SC).

The Rev. Shanea Leonard, the new director for Racial Equity and Women’s Intercultural Ministries, initiated the call for the office of African American Intercultural support and Jewel McRae, Associate for Women’s Leadership Development, to gather a Black Clergywomen’s team to begin to form and create a network of connection and support.

Within the meeting, Rev. Leonard put forth a request for acknowledgement of the term womxn in the spirit of humility, inclusiveness, and solidarity as a non-binary person. The group had a plethora of suggestions and ideas to maintain and build a stronger network.  The women also shared significant concerns around self-care, resistant patriarchy, ministerial trauma, and unfair and unequal compensation without real advocacy for them within the denomination that makes their call to ministry extremely difficult.

In all, it was a unique experience for me and one I will not forget. During one of the luncheons as I sat at the table in conversation with a woman who asked how I was enjoying the conference, she exclaimed “Michael you’re a womanist!” I paused to think about it from all that I experienced and learned, and I realized that a womanist is an individual that is capable and courageous who is committed to the “survival and wholeness of an entire people, male and female.” I agreed and responded,  “I can own that!”

The Rev. Michael Moore serves as the Associate for African American Intercultural Congregational Support in the office of Racial Equity & Womens Intercultural Ministries at the Presbyterian Mission Agency.