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Retreat for African American women in ministry quenches spiritual, professional thirst

Feb 27, 2009
By Toya Richards Hill

Women in ministry aren’t precluded from feeling broken and encountering spiritual emptiness, and at times they, too, need the healing waters of Jesus Christ to quench their thirst.

The thirst we experience reminds us “that we have a need that is deeper than what physical water can provide,” said the Rev. Dr. Gina Stewart, senior pastor of Christ Missionary Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn. “We need living water if we are going to be effective.”

It was a message that flowed deep into the hearts and minds of the nearly 100 people gathered at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary for a two-day spiritual retreat for African American women in ministry or in theological training. “Women At The Well: Come and Drink” united students, faculty, community leaders, and even those from outside Kentucky for reflection and renewal.

Praise and worship experiences, workshops, meals, and fellowship provided opportunities for nurture and encouragement and helped participants build a network of women leaders upon which to utilize for professional and spiritual support.

The retreat was provided through Louisville Seminary’s Women at the Well organization, in partnership with several Seminary groups and programs: the Lifelong Learning Program, the Gender and Ministry Committee, the Cultural Diversity Committee, and the Women’s Center.

As women in ministry, we pour out so much that it is essential to have a context in which to gather together and receive, and that it be a safe space, said Angela Smith-Peeples, co-chair of Women at the Well and a second-year Master of Divinity degree student at Louisville Seminary.

It also is important “to foster relationships,” she said. “We are on the same journey.”

Participants immersed themselves in sessions that covered topics such as “The Water Breaks: Ministering in the Midst of Your Own Brokenness;” “Active Labor: An Abundant Prayer Life/Traveling Through Prayer;” “The Press: Obedience at All Costs;” and “The Delivery: Walking in Your Destiny.”

“This is a very unique opportunity,” both for the Seminary and the region, said Dr. Elizabeth Johnson Walker, associate professor of pastoral care and counseling at the Seminary and the advisor for the Seminary’s Women at the Well organization. “Come and drink,” she said as she welcomed participants.

And drink the women did, taking in the cooling waters of the Holy Spirit that seemed to flow abundantly.

Reading from the New Testament text of John 4:7-14, Rev. Stewart preached the opening sermon about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. On the face of it, she said, Jesus, who broke all social and cultural norms by simply talking with the woman, asked her for a drink. But his deeper intent was to share with her God’s “living water.”

“He knew that she needed the healing power of Jesus,” Stewart told the worshippers. “Our thirst is just as real. We are thirsty tonight just like that woman.”

Stewart reminded the women that although they feel as if they are running on empty tanks and risk losing their connection with what led them to ministry in the first place, the water is there for them to drink, too.

“We can drink for ourselves,” she said. “We also need to be refilled.”

First-year Master of Divinity student Beverly Couts said the retreat helped bring home the message that “in all that I do, maintain balance.”

It is important to take care of others, “but also to take care of this temple,” she said of herself.

Additionally, Couts said weekend retreat helped her recognize the connectedness she has with other women in ministry.

“We all are in this thing together,” Couts said in reflections after the conference. “We are aptly fitted together, firmly connected by faith, perfectly joined piece by piece by the Holy Spirit.”

“And though we have different assignments, are in different stages of our spiritual life, and have different gifts, together we create a beautiful complete portrait of unity covered by the blood of Jesus,” she said.

The Women at the Well program was the brainchild of two women students at Louisville Seminary, who submitted a proposal for support to initiate a multicultural program that would benefit women of color who are students at Louisville Seminary. In 2003, the Office of Evangelism and Racial/Cultural Diversity of the General Assembly Council of the Presbyterian Church (USA) awarded Louisville Seminary a grant in the amount of $1,000.

Women at the Well aims to “promote the strength of women (everywhere) and to assist other women of varied diversities economically, spiritually, and in overall total well being.” The members seek to contribute to local and global issues through frequent service projects; attend, create, and lead multicultural worship experiences; establish ongoing prayer/Bible study on campus that addresses both exclusion and inclusion; host roundtable discussions; and bring experts on campus to speak about denominational commitments to multicultural ministry.

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