Coming Out of the Shadows

By Rebecca Welper

On an unseasonably hot Saturday at the end of April, sixty people, many of them new faces to RCWMS, gathered with our full queer, spiritual selves, to sing, share, and re-imagine our stories and faith journeys. “Coming Out of the Shadows: Connection and Spirituality Among LGBTQ Communities,” our first ever LGBTQ festival, took place at the Recreation Center at Lyon Park in Durham, just a few streets over from our hometown saint Pauli Murray’s childhood home.

Longtime fixture of the Durham dance community, Tony Johnson, opened the day with a moving solo dance to Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up.” Music was interspersed throughout the day, with Randa McNamara’s soulful rendition of “Old Devil Time” and Kathleen Hannan leading everyone in singing her original creation, “Fathomless Pull.” In her invocation, Marilyn Bowens, pastor of Imani MCC, invited everyone to honor our LGBTQ ancestors and bring them into the sacred space with us.

Workshops celebrated Pauli Murray; offered prayer as movement with dance and yoga; and provided queer perspectives on the Hebrew Bible, our activist forebears, and how to heal from spiritual trauma. Other offerings included free Tarot and Reiki sessions and a panel discussion on disparate faith journeys.

Workshop leaders and panelists represented a variety of faiths and backgrounds, ranging from Dr. Anathea Portier-Young, professor at Duke Divinity; to Saba Taj, founding member of Durham Artists Movement; John Paredes, who serves on the board of the Chapel Hill Zen Center; Karen Ziegler, former MCC minister; and Noah Rubin-Blose, who organizes with Jewish Voice for Peace.

The day was rounded out by a delicious lunch provided by Cris Rivera and Beth Stringfield at CMR catering, talking circles for processing the day’s events, and a closing circle dance and thread ceremony to remind us of our ongoing connection to each other.

Being Mortal

Over the course of the past few months, Duke professor Jehanne Gheith and Duke student Katherine Zhou facilitated a workshop on Dr. Atul Gawande’s best-seller, Being Mortal. A group of seventeen members participated in the biweekly discussions, generously hosted at the beautiful residence of Dot Borden.

By delving into the book, the discussion group focused on discovering individual end-of-life priorities, bringing up death in conversation with loved ones, destigmatizing death in society, and developing personalized plans for end-of-life care. To support this process, the facilitators guided participants through targeted exercises, including working with Go Wish cards, writing prompts, and mini clearness committees.

Throughout the discussions, the group members shared many vulnerable and intimate moments together, talking about some of the things that scared or worried them the most. There were heartbreaking occasions where some of the participants’ lives reflected the intense topics covered in Gawande’s book. Through it all, the group was a transformative and healing place, where participants could feel safe and grow together.

Wishing to extend their time together, several members of the group met the week after the group ended to see Gawande’s Frontline film, Being Mortal. They are now are sharing haikus they wrote in the group and considering other ways to continue this discussion.

Mother May I?

On March 10-11, 2017 thirteen women gathered for “Mother, May I? A Narrative Leadership Workshop.” Reverend Jan Gregory-Charpentier, DMin and Senior Pastor at First Congregational Church in Westbrook, CT, came back to Durham for the second year in a row to lead this popular seminar.

During this year’s weekend intensive, the women explored their relationships to their mothers through three lenses: 1) the genogram; 2) personal mythology; and 3) the Myers-Briggs personality indicator. Dr. Gregory-Charpentier had participants write the “Ten Commandments” of their mothers (everyone knew what these were in about three seconds!). The group delved deeply into the mother-daughter relationship, looking especially for how it had shaped their sense of themselves and how they relate to, manage, and inhabit their own sense of authority. By the end of the weekend’s intense and gratifying work, the group of women had bonded with each other and came away with new insights about how they carry themselves in the world.