Free Speech and Religion

Reflections on Building and Sustaining Relationships

August 13, 2020  • Rev. Melissa Patrick

Leading in the midst of our unprecedented, global crisis here in Birmingham, Alabama, continues to be both challenging and also ripe with opportunities for growth and reimagining the future. I am heartened to come alongside such a diverse and talented cohort of faith and community leaders of the Inclusive America Project’s Powering Pluralism Network. It has been a long time since I have had the opportunity to engage with a diverse group of faith leaders, and with each passing session, I found myself strengthened, relieved, and reminded that I am not alone.

In community, I have been reminded of the power and empowerment of relationship-building across multiple faith perspectives. Each of us is a courageous and compassionate leader, and together we are strengthened for the journey and can give each other tools to not just survive but to thrive during these hard times.

While I longed for more time with my new cohort members on the “Zoom screen,” we managed in-depth conversations about personal and organizational leadership challenges. Balancing the personal leadership challenges of internal and external responsibilities, navigating fundraising during a pandemic, working within unjust systems, trying to work and lead constituents resistant to change or resistant to the racial reckoning in our country, and developing new skills and resources for maintaining and growing a digital community were several of our key concerns. Some of us seem exhausted, while others have come to life reimagining rituals and holidays and building seemingly vast networks of multi-layered systems.

I found myself strengthened, relieved, and reminded that I am not alone.

I listened in awe as one cohort member described her congregation’s quick response to COVID-19 challenges on every level—moving multiple worship services online, caring for senior adult members, empowering young adults to assist with technical support of digitally challenged members, and so much more. Her leadership team’s over-arching theme of connected, committed, and consistent resonated with me as a nonprofit executive director and United Methodist Church pastor. It motivated me to mirror my cohort member’s enthusiasm and organization of purpose.

I was also reminded of the importance of prioritizing duties and responsibilities while also taking care of my soul. There is much to grieve, and yet how do we as faith leaders intentionally create personal mourning spaces or time alone to simply be? In the midst of so much noise and constant stress and change, it is sometimes impossible to prioritize essentials. Compounding some of our lives is a profound sense of loss over the death of family members, congregants, and community members. All of us are experiencing the intense loss of gathering together in our houses of worship or holy spaces, of sharing in important rituals and holidays. The rabbis in our cohort spoke of upcoming High Holy Days, while priests among us spoke of the absence of the Eucharist and other sacraments set aside until it is safe to share together again.

Hope. Continuing our relationship-building and peer learning. Engaging in trainings that build capacity for dismantling racism, building multicultural communities, and leading in a pluralistic society. These components describe many of our hopes for this network and for our communities.

The time spent together was so brief yet so dense and life-giving. I am grateful for this timely opportunity to be in community with faith leaders from Chicago, Los Angeles, and Birmingham, to share authentically, to honor and learn from all our varied contexts, and to offer wisdom and understanding as we journey forward.

Rev. Melissa Patrick is a Pastor at Woodlawn United Methodist Church and is a member of the Inclusive America Project’s inaugural cohort of the Powering Pluralism Network. The Powering Pluralism Network is an IAP initiative to connect individuals and organizations across faiths and sectors who will have opportunities to build strong, meaningful relationships, learn from one another, and increase their personal leadership and organizational capacity.

The Inclusive America Project is committed to advancing a thriving US Religious Pluralism and believes an important step to achieving this goal is sharing diverse voices and ideas across our platforms. In this spirit, we are pleased to publish blogs written by external authors working in and around the space. 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute.

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