For the first time nearly twenty years, more than thirty African American clergywomen gathered from across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for a time of spiritual rest and renewal during the African American Clergywomen’s Retreat.

Responding to the words from Mark 6:31,“God said, come away to a deserted place all by yourself and rest awhile,”the African American Clergywomen’s Retreat—held June 16-17, prior to the Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women in Minneapolis—focused on addressing specific challenges African American women face in ministry, and provided a place for relationship building, rest and spiritual rejuvenation.

“African American clergywomen in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have been working since 1974 to establish supportive communities, to engage in continuing theological education and to explore the unique challenges they face in ministry,” said the Rev. Dr. Rhashell Hunter, director of Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries. “One thing we know is that God is good, and God has blessed us to be able to come together as we work to release our stresses and frustrations, relate to our sisters in ministry and rejuvenate our spirits.”

Attendees had the opportunity to learn from African American women leaders from across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), including the Rev. Carmen Mason-Browne, an urban ministry pastor and community organizer; the Rev. Erika Rembert-Smith, pastor of Washington Shores Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla.; the Rev. Ruth West, program manager for programs in Christian Spirituality and Clinical Pastoral Education at San Francisco Theological Seminary; and elder Jewel McRae, associate for women’s leadership development and young women’s ministries.

The Rev. Veronica Goines, pastor at St. Andrews Church in Marin City, Calif., and spiritual faculty member for CREDO delivered the keynote address at the gathering. In addition, a panel of clergywomen leaders shared words of wisdom and their own experiences in ministry. The women were also able to have one-on-one sessions with two spiritual directors, Therese Taylor-Stinson and Gigi Ross.

“Women have served in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in leadership roles throughout its history,” said McRae. “This event provides an opportunity for us to gather together to provide support, and to learn and grow together.”

During worship, Mason-Browne engaged attendees in a ritual of creating sacred space through song and mediation, and encouraged the women to “examine what makes for dry spiritual bones and hard pebbles in their walking ministry shoes.” Her message reflected on restoration and renewal, lifting up passages from Mark 6:30-32 and John 4:5-30.

The retreat also provided a chance for participants to attend the Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women. “It’s not a coincidence that we’re gathered here,” said Hunter. “We have a history with Presbyterian Women, an organization that has long fought for opportunities for women to engage in the mission and ministry of the church.”

“This event has helped strengthen my personhood as a black female clergy,” said the Rev. Estelle Aaron, a retreat participant. “I’ve been reassured of my purpose and see my unique value as an instrument in the hand of God for the coming of God’s kingdom.”

For the Rev. Ella Busby, the retreat provided some much-needed rest. “I’m committed to embracing the gift of God in Sabbath rest, and I will return to my ministry as a rested, revived, restored and fully energized minister ready and willing to serve,” she said.

Three offices in Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries sponsored the African American Clergywomen’s Retreat: The African American Congregational Support Office, Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries, and the Office of Racial Ethnic Leadership Development.

Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries seeks to engage the Church in its mission to become more diverse and inclusive of racial, ethnic, cultural and language groups, and equip women for leadership in all ministries of the Church. The office is working to create an awareness of institutional racism in the church and create an environment where racial ethnic persons, new immigrants and women can serve fully in ministry and leadership.