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Pushed online in pandemic, women of color find safe spaces for faith and healing

(RNS) On Sundays at 8 a.m., the Rev. Melva Sampson dons her bright, chunky glasses and a frayed pink robe as she welcomes attendees by name to worship via Facebook Live. No COVID-19 workaround, Sampsons ministry is definitely online and for grounds: Its theology isnt designed for Sunday morning walk-ins.

In this space, while there are lots of representations of different religious traditions, it’s the African Indigenous traditions that hold center, Sampson told Religion News Service in a recently available phone interview.

The weekly services, called The Pink Robe Chronicles, are distinctly womanist and Afrocentric concentrating on the spiritual wisdom of Black women and members of the African diaspora. Sampson identifies the gathering as an electronic hush harbor, adapting the refuges where 19th-century enslaved Africans would secretly gather, integrating African and Christian rituals.

She began the group unintentionally six years back, after she have been disinvited to preach at her very own church beyond Atlanta, Georgia, and reeling from the death of a Black woman in Baltimore who was simply killed by police. Sampson continued Facebook to talk about brief reflections on lessons inherited from her grandmother. Initially it had been attended by family and friends, nonetheless it grew, and Sampsons meditations now cover topics such as for example sacred motherhood or the burdensome myth of the Strong Black Woman and explore spiritual books by Black women authors Red Lip Theology, by Candice Marie Benbow; Divining the Self, by Velma Love; Creating a WAY TO AVOID IT of NO CHANCE, by Monica Coleman; among others.

The Rev. Melva Sampson. Courtesy photo

The Rev. Melva Sampson. Courtesy photo

Today the meditations are accompanied by a Zoom discussion called The Clearing, where participants are invited to talk back again to the chronicle shared. About 50 women normally attend, though in the first days of COVID-19, she could expect some 175.

Sampson, who’s a minister in the Progressive National Baptist Convention and assistant professor of preaching and practical theology at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, said, It allows women to activate and practice and stand and speak from their very own lived experiences, validating them in a manner that traditional religious faith have not. The groups spirituality is occasionally Christian, nonetheless it pushes at night bounds of organized religion.

The Pink Robe Chronicles is merely one of the groups that grew during quarantine but took on a post-pandemic life. Several groups are populated by women of color, most of them grappling with religious trauma. For them, the digital meeting places give a spiritual community clear of the symbols and hierarchies that some find triggering.

Liberated Togethers online presence became popular in-may 2020, days after George Floyds murder, after public theologian Erna Hackett took to social media marketing on a whim to ask whether any Asian American women were thinking about meeting virtually to go over anti-Blackness. To her shock, about 100 people said yes.

In lockdown, we were in need of connection. Individuals were watching stuff decrease with the murder of George Floyd and all of this anti-Asian hate. So thats when I started experimenting maybe this may be something?

Soon, Hackett was turning people away, having chock-full virtual rooms with non-Black Latinas focusing on anti-Black bias, 20-something women of color leaders or those attempting to decolonize with badass Indigenous grandmas.

Liberated Together charges from $450 to $1,800 per cohort, based on the amount of meetings and whether an in-person retreat is roofed. (Scholarships, Hackett said, can be found.) The price, she explained, means that the group leaders are fairly compensated.

Members of the Liberated Together team. Photo by Kayleigh Shawn

Members of the Liberated Together team. Photo by Kayleigh Shawn

Unlike Sampsons group, Hackett restricts hers to women of color. Theres really no space in the nonprofit world, racial justice world or the ministry world that’s simply for women of color, queer women of color, she said.

The Liberated Together website makes clear that some debates are off-limits, including whether women could be spiritual leaders, whether queer women ought to be fully included or if trans women are women, and when patriarchy and white supremacy are real.

Im not attempting to be for everyone. Im not attempting to be considered a big tent, said Hackett. For most of the ladies, once the Zoom opens up plus they know everybody there’s decided to be not only tolerant, but actively co-creating an area that centers liberated queerness and queer theology, it starts the conversation in wildly different spaces.

That became true for the Rev. Riana Shaw Robinson, a pastor in Oakland, California, who attended Liberated Togethers cohort for women of color over 30. She said one of the primary gifts was simply being heard and believed.

My years in seminary, in the ordination process and serving at a multiethnic church wore me right down to an extremely sad and burnt-out place, said Shaw Robinson. Also it was women of color who put me back together, who listened me back to life and invited me back to joy.


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Some women who participated in Liberated Togethers cohorts saw the necessity for another group, where they could begin to imagine the spiritual spaces they wished to participate long-term. Hackett teamed up with three others in late 2021 to launch QUNI, a network for disabled people, queer folks of color and women of color. QUNI a made-up word which allows others to choose what this means includes a podcast and an Instagram account and contains offered a number of virtual listening sessions and gatherings.

The QUNI team of Erica Ramos-Thompson, from left, Rose J. Percy, Karla Mendoza and Erna Kim Hackett. Photo courtesy of Hackett

The QUNI team of Erica Ramos-Thompson, from left, Rose J. Percy, Karla Mendoza and Erna Kim Hackett. Photo thanks to Hackett

Erica Ramos-Thompson, a masters degree student at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, who’s now a QUNI facilitator, attended among the first listening sessions for disabled folks of color.

Being surrounded with some people that have several intersectional identity point overlap with me, I was like, I could breathe. Im not holding my breath, and Im not getting ready to explain or justify myself in this space, said Ramos-Thompson. I felt like I had a need to take shoes off, it felt that holy and sacred if you ask me.

Ramos-Thompson, who now leads QUNI groups for disabled folks of color, has begun running Disability 101 seminars for nondisabled people aswell.

This fall, QUNI will launch networks for spiritual directors and church planters. Among the women who hopes to birth a church, as she puts it, is Shaw Robinson, who says her church begins off having an online Advent series later this season. She says the church will initially only most probably to women of color, who’ll set the cultural foundation before it opens around others. Eventually, she hopes the church may also have an in-person component.

Sampson can be seeking to expand the Pink Robe Chronicles in-person ministry. The group has given rise to a traveling event series called the 1Love Festival, and Sampson already visits community members with health issues and contains officiated weddings for those who surely got to know her online.

The group in addition has used its networks to improve a lot more than $20,000 to aid Black women-led households through the pandemic and will be offering scholarships for Black women attending historically Black universites and colleges.

Because I’m not linked with a offline church will not mean I’m out of touch and will not mean that I’m not called, said Sampson. This means I have already been called alongside others to usher in something new.


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This story has been updated showing that Sampsons former church was located beyond Atlanta, Georgia. A previous version said it had been in Winston-Salem, NEW YORK.

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