by Meghan Florian

labyrinth photo by BJ Fusaro

Photo: BJ Fusaro

I wasn’t familiar with labyrinths until I started an internship at the Resource Center back in 2009. One of my duties during that year was helping Jeanette Stokes haul our large canvas labyrinth around to different spaces in North Carolina and set it up for people to walk. A few weeks ago, for the first time, I was on my own, in charge of directing a team of volunteers in how to unfold and prepare the labyrinth for walkers in Duke Chapel. I’d helped with this task numerous times but found myself wondering if I’d forget some vital detail. As we started to unroll the large strips of canvas and sort out which went where, it all came back to me. Unroll, velcro, brush off, lay out signs, say a prayer…each step followed the others, a prayerful practice, preparing a space to hold whatever people might bring to the labyrinth the next day.

I have a busy mind, and practices that center me, that help me settle into my body, have been vital for me in recent years. Walking the labyrinth has been one such practice. The splits and turns of the paths in my head are numerous, but the labyrinth has one path to its center. If I put one foot in front of the other, eventually I will reach it.

Once I reach the center, I am often hesitant to leave. I like to have a good long sit. Sometimes it becomes a space for joy, other times it offers the freedom to crack all the way open, to grieve. Sometimes it’s simply quiet. Once I begin the second half of the journey, the path outward, I know I have to reenter the world where paths are not so consistent.

That’s the beauty in continuing to set up the labyrinth year after year, place after place. I can’t stay in that nurturing center forever, but I can return when I need to. The sacred space the labyrinth opens up remains, even as the labyrinth is transported from place to place, people to people, a shared source of peace.

This year we rented out our two smaller labyrinths to a record number of churches during Lent and Holy Week. Contact to inquire about renting a labyrinth for any season or occasion. I’m glad to be part of sharing and spreading this prayerful practice around the state of North Carolina. I hope the ripple effects continue throughout the year.

Meghan Florian is the Communications Director at RCWMS.

The Language and Practice of Self-Care

by Solita A. Denard

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in March, Mothers, Sisters and Daughters gathered in a circle for an event sponsored by RCWMS: “The Ministry of Black Women’s Self-Care.” Despite the chilly weather conditions and with myriad personal arrangements made to ensure our attendance, we responded to the invitation. Like a call to prayer, the call to pay deep attention to our individual health and well-being was heard and responded to. As we assembled, the collective awareness of our need to intentionally create space for this conversation was clear. It may have been the beginning of an answer to silent prayers, inward whispers and muted screams. On this day and for this moment we had chosen ourselves first. As each woman gracefully entered the building, I was warmed by her smile, grace, and courage.

Kimberly Gaubault (McCrae), the lead facilitator for our session, began by asking each woman to take a moment to define herself for herself. Who am I? How do I define the I who is me apart from the labels, roles and characteristics that others have applied to my personhood? Including our parents. We discussed the negative cultural stereotypes that prevail within our communities and society-at-large. As we offered words and examples, I was struck by how easy it was for us to build the long list of myths. Of course it was easy. We are all conscious of the way our world routinely applies general labels to our lives. There were several words on the list that are often used as “positive” attributes to describe women of color, but often result in the misinterpretation of our efforts and can distort our perception of ourselves. One effect that these “myths” can have on personhood is reducing our being just enough so that we fit neatly into any number of small boxes, despite our intelligence, creativity, individuality, and marvelously complex layers. A quote by the prolific poet, Lucille Clifton, was positioned like a crown above the list. It read: “Come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.”

Next, we investigated the distinction between the terms “selfish” and “self-full” and noted that the practice of self-full looks different for everyone. Understandably, we have repeatedly confused establishing healthy boundaries in our relationships as being selfish. How many times have we second guessed our “No” and allowed guilt to change our instinctual no into a yes? As women, we often receive no teaching, demonstrations or support employing the life-sustaining gift of being self-full and the practice of using “no” as a complete sentence. Further, it can be confusing when others react negatively when we choose ourselves first.

Finally, we explored our understanding of care-giving vs. care-taking. By now you may have guessed it, they are not the same! When we care-give we offer supplemental support to others and we assist them in healthy ways. On the other hand, care-taking undermines our goals for health when we take on responsibilities that others can and should do for themselves. As Kim simplified for clarity, it is a matter of “giving and taking.” Heads nodded, and we agreed that as women we know how to give. While care-giving can be a demonstration of affection, grace and service, Kim asked us to consider two questions:

  1. What have we taken on that we should not have?
  2. Are we living unsustainably as a result?

Again, she encouraged us to remember that “Light attracts a lot of things (like a porch light at night). You must be discerning about what occupies your space.”

The immediate gifts of our session are: an expanded language, increased self-awareness, and confirmation that more women are seeking to join this path of healing at every intersection of life.

To all of my Mothers, Sisters and Daughters: may we continue to choose life, be whole and live free.

In service and in health,
Solita A. Denard

The Story of Now

by Cathy Hasty

We gathered in the sanctuary of Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church in the middle of Durham. We were a small group of mostly strangers and mostly women drawn by the topic of “The Story of Now,” a connection to RCWMS, and singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer. I met my 22-year-old daughter in Durham as a respite from her work as a nursing student in Greenville, NC. There were a few people younger and many who were older.

In this two-hour workshop, we wove together our individual stories with a common theme, developed language and music that compelled us, and created a group song that speaks to the story of now. I did not learn many details about my fellow sojourners yet we found a rare intimacy in the writing of music together.

We moved quickly from introductions into sharing single-word then one-sentence reflections on what we noticed in the last 24 hours. I relaxed and let my mind wander to the unusual duck we saw at Duke Gardens with its black top hat that reared back before plunging herself under the surface of the dark water where she disappeared, reappearing much farther away than I thought possible. I enjoyed overhearing the others’ reflections, each a vibrant reminder of now.

Carrie introduced songwriting by saying, “A song is a short form and has one main idea, with the lyrics as the story behind, between, underneath the main idea.” As we shared ideas, Carrie invited us to respond with a BING sound to ideas that rang true to our experience. Our main idea became “and that was holy.” From there we landed on, “it caught my eye” and “it caught my breath” and “it caught my heart.” We fleshed out details, which eventually formed the basin out of which the lyrics of the song were chosen. I do not remember whose ideas any of the phrases were; they emerged from the group as if by magic.

To build the musical structure, Carrie played short idea selections and let us choose one of the two instruments she brought. On one guitar, which was bolder and more bass, she presented a few ideas of a cadence, melody and intonations that went with this building storyline. The picking and choosing between ideas was so patient and kind. Carrie had a way of affirming everyone and every idea, while guiding us to choose rhymes and a cadence that built an endearing and beautiful song. She was present to us in a unique and powerful way that brought out the best of us.

We sang the song together two times and later she shared a scratch track with her solo voice. I have played and shared this track many times. As Carrie reminded us during the workshop, “In depression, we live only in the past; in anxiety; we live only in the future. The challenge is to live in the present. The present is living in the impossible.” The entire workshop was a magical experience.

Thank You!

Thank you so much for supporting RCWMS in 2017 during our 40th anniversary year. We set a goal of raising $40,000 in the last three months of the year, and you helped us exceed that goal! We ended up raising $42,460. Thank you!

At our board meeting last week, we had a wonderful conversation about our plans for the year to come. We’re looking forward to “Reading and Writing Mortality,” labyrinth walks, an evening of songwriting with Carrie Newcomer, art and writing retreats in Durham and at the beach, and our 7th annual women’s preaching festival in the fall. And that’s just the beginning! Your contributions make all of these events possible.

We’re especially grateful to those of you who have become monthly sustainers of feminist spirituality and social justice. If you would like to set up recurring monthly donations to RCWMS, this helps tremendously as we budget and plan for upcoming programs.

Happy New Year and thank you for supporting this work!


RCWMS Trustees:
Barbara Anderson
Solita Denard
Jehanne Gheith
Erin Lane
Marcia Rego
Rebeccca Vidra
Karen Ziegler
Cathy Hasty
Molly Williams

Executive Director:
Jeanette Stokes

Circles of Gratitude

On November 29th, forty of Anita McLeod’s dear friends, colleagues, and family members gathered at the King’s Daughters Inn to honor her memory on what would have been her 78th birthday. Randa McNamara and Karen Ziegler sang songs that were special to Anita, and Elizabeth Manley reflected on her time getting to know Anita in the 1980s when they were both nurses. Jeanette Stokes recognized the various circles important to Anita’s life, which were represented by the people gathered. Anita’s husband, Mike McLeod, offered some very moving words that he has allowed us to share below.

I want to thank Jeanette and the Resource Center for this gathering tonight to honor Anita and her legacy of women’s circles. It is my intention to support the Resource Center in continuing her work around conscious aging and intergenerational circles.

This would be Anita’s 78th birthday and she had said to me during her brief illness that she knew her 77th would be “big” but she had no idea it would involve this journey. It has been a heartbreaking journey for me and yet as I go day-by-day through this grief I have brief glimpses of joy and gratitude for the life we had together and all I learned from Anita. Whatever I say in the next few minutes are my responsibility and I do not pretend to say what Anita would say at this moment. As each of you know she would have clear and strong opinions on these topics.

Anita felt circles allowed the creation of a safe container where women could share their experiences and be received and affirmed in the circle and in doing this could discover their own truth, listening to their own inner source of wisdom. For Anita, circles involved levels of vulnerability and the courage to discover who we are meant to be in the face of a culture that promotes living on the surface of life. She felt circles generated an energy that could be given to the center of the circle or taken from the center to the individual, depending on the needs. Circles also led to a sense of belonging.

As most of you know, her first groups centered on menopause as a natural transition and the potential for transformation. It was not a medical issue.

Entering her 60’s she was looking for “the road maps,” going on a vision quest in southwestern Colorado, gathering groups around the topic of conscious aging, to be fully awake to all of who we are, healing wounds around regrets and forgiveness. What parts of ourselves did we leave behind growing up in our families and culture, like assertiveness, enthusiasm, creativity, and sensuality?

Later Anita was involved in end of life issues and intergenerational work like Heron’s Walk involving women’s circles in nature, and later involved in intergenerational writing groups.

A second focus for Anita was the sacredness of nature, including the waters and she went to the woods often to be restored and to seek answers to her questions. As Rilke said to the young poet: “love the questions,” “live the questions.” I would say, living with Anita for 55 years, that she lived her questions.

A third and final emphasis was the importance of courage. We had many conversations over the years around fear and wanting to frame it as our growing edge, to face our uncertainty and walk the path.

Anita combined curiosity and courage. Courage to go on a vision quest in her early 60’s. Courage was choosing open brain surgery to remove the cancer while she was awake communicating with the surgeon rather than just biopsy and radiation alone. She had been told patients in her age group were usually given the conservative treatment. After thinking about her choices over night, she ask Lucy, our granddaughter, to go on a walk with her on the ward, telling her she would not let fear be her guide and would choose open surgery. Courage was there when we had a meeting with the radiation oncologist mid-way through her treatment. Despite what look like excellent surgical results, her cancer rapidly reoccurred. At this point Anita was paralyzed on her left side and had said to me she could not envision a life going forward where she could not walk in the woods, be on the boat or be part of her women’s circles. She told the radiation oncologist she was stopping the treatment, not wanting to risk any loss of her mental function for whatever time that remained.

I will never forget what Anita said the first day after surgery, surrounded by our family, “this journey is about love and not just about me.”

These circles that will continue to gather through the efforts of the Resource Center are in their essence about love and the courage to open our hearts, letting down our protective walls, and willing to be vulnerable. Loving involves vulnerability, and as poet David Whyte says, are you “willing to live, day by day, with the consequences of love and the bitter unwanted passion of your sure defeat”?

The late Angeles Arriens, an anthropologist, borrowed 4 principles from the indigenous cultures she studied. I feel Anita lived these principles, planting her seeds of wisdom.

1. Show up and be present.
2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning.
3. Speak your truth without blame or judgment.
4. Let go of the outcome. (Walking the path of the warrior, teacher, healer, visionary)

I thank each of you for coming tonight. I want to close with a poem by Pema Chodron:

Genuine Broken Heart

In the middle of the chest, deep, deep inside
Something has broken
And it hurts almost all the time.
Sometimes it gives birth to anxiety, fear and panic.
Sometimes it gives birth to anger, resentment and blame.
Sometimes it gives birth to tears.
This is our kinship with all who have loved truly-
From beginningless time.
You, my dear friend, understand it well.
This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion.
It humbles the Arrogant and softens The Unkind.
This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great
It awakens those who prefer to sleep and pierces through
This continual ache of the human heart-
Broken by the loss of all that we hold dear
Is this not a blessing
Which when accepted fully, can be shared with all.


Roots & Branches: RCWMS 40th Anniversary Celebration

flowers and "spread love" sign

by Marcy Litle

This year we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of RCWMS. Forty years! Amazing. Born of a spark of imagination, inspired by a conversation between RCWMS founder and leader, Jeanette Stokes, and her mentor, Helen Crotwell, the Resource Center has endured for forty years. Founded to support the small and growing community of women clergy in the South, RCWMS has continued that mission, while also supporting the creative, spiritual, and activist lives of a dynamic and growing community of women and their families.

On October 7th sixty of us gathered at the Scrap Exchange in Durham to mark the occasion with good food, good company, and art-making. The afternoon started with a delicious pot-luck lunch, served on real plates with real napkins and borrowed flatware, to honor our commitment to the environment. After lunch came workshops offered by women who have led various RCWMS programs over the years: participants made shrines with Charron Andrews, protest signs with lizzie mcmanus-dail, and personal icons with Bryant Holsenbeck. We wrote about “what has rooted and unrooted us” under the guidance of Carol Henderson.

We heard brief reflections from long-time friend of RCWMS, Rachael Wooten, RCWMS board members Solita Denard and Barbara Anderson, and Jeanette. And we had a surprise visit from another long-time supporter and current mayoral candidate, Steve Schewel. We participated in a raffle for a beautiful quilt made by RCWMS board member Márcia Rego. Throughout the event, attendees wrote their wishes and appreciations for RCWMS on handmade leaves, which they tied to a tree created by RCWMS artist-in-residence Bryant Holsenbeck. The tree now lives in a corner of the RCWMS office. If you weren’t able to make it to the celebration, you can still stop by and write on a leaf to add to the tree.

The day was a family affair, with feminists ranging in age from 19-months to their eighties. We rounded out the celebration by singing “Happy Birthday” to RCWMS and enjoying cake. Many of us left that evening inspired to keep weaving together feminism and spirituality, and to help RCWMS continue its work for the next 40 years.

Financial Fitness for Young Women

by Andrea Davis

Money, death, taxes–all topics most people prefer to avoid. However, Lisa Gabriel and LisaMarie Smith, along with a group of under-40 women, confronted these realities head-on in a workshop on Tuesday, September 12, 2017, at the RCWMS office. Ms. Gabriel and Ms. Smith, of Pinafore Wealth Counsel of Durham, provided a hybrid format which gave basic guidance while encouraging questions specific to the concerns and goals of participants.  

While money can be difficult to discuss, the group was set at ease by the co-leaders. Lisa and LisaMarie began the evening with an exercise inviting each person to write down the first word that came to mind related to money, and one or more burning financial questions. Healthy snacks and hot tea also soothed. Starting from the need to build an emergency account, discussion also covered college loans, tax implications of various decisions, and considerations around life insurance. Relational aspects included implications for households with significant college debt and the possibility of “financial infidelity.” The then-fresh news of the Equifax breach also prompted discussion of the importance of monitoring and protecting one’s credit. Investing and other retirement savings rounded out the discussion.  

Many participants expressed relief at learning more information, while also regretting that some of these lessons hadn’t been learned sooner! We found that we had many similar goals and that our financial knowledge was enriched by the time with our gracious leaders.

Gather the Harvest

On August eighth, twelve women gathered in the RCWMS office for one of our recurring seasonal writing workshops. A number of those were familiar faces, while a few were there for their first Resource Center program. Rebecca Welper led the group, which included women in their thirties through their sixties. The evening included prompts and quiet writing time, with opportunities to share aloud what had just been written. The prompts were based on the “Gather the Harvest” theme, inviting reflection on summer memories, the full moon, metaphorical and literal fruits of one’s labor, and gratitude. To foster an approach to writing as a spiritual practice, participants were encouraged to delve deep into their personal experience and reserve judgment about what they wrote and heard from others’ writing.

Pens flew across pages, and fingers clicked away at keyboards. At first, however, participants showed a hesitance to share, a common occurrence when new groups form. By the end of their evening, everyone found her voice, heard her words aloud, and got supportive feedback from the group. After the workshop, one participant said she appreciated the community aspect of writing together. She mentioned an “intimacy that rises within me at the onset [of the workshop] and remains. It allows for a depth of expression that I cannot always get to when writing alone.”

Connection with each other and depth of expression are what we aim to facilitate when we offer these writing workshops and weeks of writing at the beach. Have you been to one yet? This fall we have several opportunities for you to gather and write together. To see what’s coming next and register, take a look at our calendar. Hope to see you soon.

Freedom of assembly and speech at Tillis’ office

This summer, the RCWMS interns have attended weekly Tuesdays With Tillis protests in Raleigh, NC. You can read Savannah Lynn’s post about a “die-in” staged in June by clicking HERE. Below, Colleen Sharp considers issues related to freedom of assembly and speech at Tillis’ office. You can find out about future protests by liking the Tuesdays With Tillis Facebook Page or following them on Twitter, @TillisTuesdays.

by Colleen Sharp

First off, just so I don’t get accused of a crime, I have to be very clear that this is not legal advice. This blog post is intended to be an assemblage of information so you don’t all have to do the same Google searches I did. You could find all of this information on your own, but I am collecting it here as a resource for you.

To give some context: at Tuesdays with Tillis, we have faced increased restrictions on what we are allowed to do and how we are allowed to protest. We are no longer allowed to get past security in the building to meet with staffers and send along letters, we have been asked to take down signs, and we have been met with city police who now use police tape on traffic cones to block off the part of the sidewalk we’re allowed to be on.

While we’re discussing rights under US law, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the ground we are trying to walk on, and the land we are trying to occupy, is stolen from indigenous peoples in North Carolina, and the government does not have a valid claim to control it. That said, it’s important to know what the consequences might be for actions that we choose to take, regardless of the validity of the policies we’re examining. I’m writing this to help Tuesdays with Tillis protesters figure out what part of the restrictions on our weekly protests are constitutional, legal, or at the discretion of law enforcement.


Tuesdays with Tillis is legally a picket, meaning that we are conducting an action “primarily promoting or objecting to a policy” in a public, pedestrian/non-vehicular area. Picketing is regulated by Ordinance Section 12-1055 through Section 12-1058 under the City of Raleigh, so please look these sections up to come up with your own interpretations. The requirements of picketing include submitting a notice of intent to picket to the chief of police, and the organizers of Tuesdays with Tillis have been submitting this notice of intent for each week of protest.

Now, for the fun part: the standards of conduct! I’ve learned that I probably should stop going to these protests, because vicious animals are prohibited, and I consider myself to be a very vicious animal. I also should not plan to use my body as a sign, because signs are not allowed to be over 36 inches and because signs are not allowed to have words that would “tend to incite violence” (if you look hard enough you can see that my freckles spell out “punch Nazis” in at least three places).

We are only allowed to be on the outermost half of the sidewalk, not in the street and not in a parking lot (so leave your parking lots at home, folks). We are not allowed obstruct or block the sidewalk, people entering and exiting cars, or the entrance to the building, as I’m sure everyone knows. If someone who really hates health care, justice, or puppies happens to come up to us, and they have already indicated to the police that they want to picket, then the police will make sure that they have their own designated space to picket their cause. However, these puppy-haters are not allowed to physically interfere with our use of the sidewalk or to use language that “would tend to provoke… a breach of the peace.” So, the puppy-haters are neither allowed to blockade us nor to suggest that we set off fireworks in the middle of the street on a Tuesday.

There’s also a section about how everyone needs to disperse if the police tell them to. The interesting part about this section is that the only activity for which the ordinance directly mentions arrest is failing to disperse after harassing an authorized picket, but I suspect that’s not the only activity that could result in arrest at a picket, so I don’t plan to rob a bank while picketing and expect immunity.


As you probably know, picketing is protected by the first amendment to the US Constitution, and all government entities have to enforce the Constitution. As some of you may know from the country song, “Fightin Words”: “Son, the first amendment protects you from the government/not from me.” The government is not allowed to ever abridge protesters’ rights to gather and speak. Conversely, only the government is required to respect everyone’s right to freedom of speech; I can use my individual power to disrespect the heck out of speech I don’t like.

Now, it’s worth assessing whether the Raleigh ordinance is constitutional: although it’s totally constitutional to assemble, speak, and petition the government, cities can regulate pickets to keep “order,” so I guess we’d better practice lining up our protest ducklings in an orderly fashion. Municipalities are authorized by the Constitution to refuse to allow protesters to block off the sidewalk or prevent access to federal buildings. However, the municipalities’ ordinances cannot leave too much to the discretion of the individual law enforcement officers: so if law enforcement officers are tasked with only keeping “order,” they’re likely to view that as subjectively as we do.

However, these municipalities are not allowed to treat different protests differently based on the content of the speech. So, say, hypothetically, there were a group of our neighbors with silly red baseball hats who had also protested somewhere and did not face similar treatment under similar circumstances: that would likely constitute unconstitutional discrimination. But let’s say, hypothetically,  we wanted to sue for discrimination. We would have to first, find a pot of gold and second, find a comparable example of other groups picketing under the same circumstances who were treated differently.

This has been a very cursory analysis of Supreme Court cases, and I’d recommend checking out Cox v Louisiana, Shuttlesworth v City of Birmingham, Cameron v Johnson, Gooding v Wilson, and all of the footnotes of those cases, if you want to know more. Most of these cases are from the Civil Rights Movement, and a lot has changed since then, but the constitutional interpretations are likely pretty similar.

Officer’s Discretion:

As you can see, a lot of the legal questions that have come up during the Tuesdays with Tillis are precipitated by the actions of the individual officers and staffers at the federal building. The constitutional questions seem to indicate that if too much in the city ordinance is left to the officers’ discretion, and/or if the officers act in a discriminatory manner, then they are acting unconstitutionally. If the officers act in a manner that is not in keeping with the city ordinances, they are acting in an unauthorized manner. I hope that this information helps you to decide whether or not your rights are being violated, and to act confidently however you choose.

Colleen Sharp is a rising senior from Raleigh studying African & African American Studies and Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies. She spends her after-class time working on sexual violence victim survivor advocacy and workers’ rights on campus.

The Art of the Condolence Note

by Amy Dosser

One Thursday evening in July, eighteen women gathered at the RCWMS office to consider the condolence note. When I first signed up for this workshop by Carol Henderson, I think I was hoping for a lecture on the science of writing to the bereaved. But, alas, as Carol demonstrated, writing is an art, and one needs a compassionate pen when communicating with the bereaved.

As usual in the workshops she leads, Carol brought in her own life experience. To discuss which kinds of condolence notes are more helpful than others, Carol drew from losses she has suffered, including the death of her first child (which she wrote about in her first book, Losing Malcolm: A Mother’s Journey Through Grief).

Carol shared several notes that she had received over the years to help illustrate specific wording that is helpful – and some that is less so. The problem letters were too general or contained too many clichés and platitudes. Also problematic were those that purported to know just how the bereaved felt or what she should expect. (Although sometimes it can be comforting to hear these things from someone who has been through a similar situation and is offering possibilities rather than certainties.)

More comforting are acknowledgements of the death and using specific language: specifics about what the deceased meant to us, about things we remember about the deceased, and about ways that we might be helpful. Rather than writing, “Call if there is anything that I can do,” one might say, “I can take you to lunch one day next week,” or, “I go to the grocery store every Wednesday; let me know if I can pick anything up for you.”

Before the workshop, I went through a group of letters that I had received after my daddy’s death. It was interesting to look at them and find the ones that really meant something to me – and still do. They were the ones that mentioned specific things about Daddy and his life: memories they had of my talking about him or things that had stood out to them in his obituary. It made me happy that a friend would take the time to read about my daddy’s life and comment on it to me.

Carol emphasized that the most important thing is that we find a card (or a sheet of notebook paper, for that matter!), sit down, and write a few sentences from our hearts. And so at the end of the workshop, we took what we learned and each wrote a condolence note. We found that taking the time and energy to write a note is a concrete way to let the bereaved know they are surrounded by love. Just this small act conveys volumes.

Carol Henderson and Participants in The Art of the Condolence Note