response: July/August 2021

Caring for the Soul

United Methodist Women pilots first Soul Care retreat, 
a new membership growth initiative.

Caring for the Soul
Artwork created by the Rev. Dionne Boissiere during United Methodist Women’s Soul Care Retreat in February 2021.

The socially distanced musical trio kicked up a soulful medley of positive pop and gospel to open the virtual retreat piloting United Methodist Women’s initiative to attract new and younger women. The theme for the inaugural event was Black joy.

“Through turmoil and distress, anxieties and fears, external macro and micro aggressions, internal struggles, through inherited traumas and collective grief, sorrow or tears, we must be determined to find and hold onto the joy that is ours,” said Ebony Diaz, United Methodist Women’s executive for membership, nurture and development and one of the event planners, looking directly through her Zoom camera. “It is our birthright, even as the air we breathe. It is God’s gift to us, and we must receive it for ourselves. Joy is our theme song. Joy is our weapon to fight the battles ahead. It is our hope. It is our healing.

“So welcome to this sacred space. This is your time of retreat and joy.”

And so began Soul Care. As part of United Methodist Women’s strategic plan for growth, the organization surveyed more than 24,000 women over the age of 18 in United Methodist Women, The United Methodist Church and beyond, to get their say on everything from how they prefer to meet, how they prefer to give, what’s most important to them, and what they’re seeking. One need rose to the top across demographic differences: the need for soul care.

“We defined soul care as self-care and spiritual nourishment. So, our Soul Care events are about nurturing your mind, body and spirit while deepening your faith through spiritual practice and creating bonds of sisterhood,” said Khia Shaw, director of United Methodist Women’s membership and engagement work.

Shaw said Soul Care is a research-based initiative.

“The research showed that younger women wanted to gather with other young women. It showed that women wanted to gather by shared concerns and interests. It showed we have a great opportunity for growth if we meet the expressed need of ethnically diverse women,” she said. “Soul Care is one way we’re making this happen.”

The first Soul Care event reached out to African American members of United Methodist Women, ages 35-59, and asked that they invite a friend of the same demographic who was not a United Methodist Women member. Women invited friends far and wide. Planners for the event included Nora Cunningham, United Methodist Women executive for spiritual formation, and Jennifer McCallum, consultant coordinating logistics for the event.

Future Soul Care retreats will include a changemakers retreat for women who advocate daily for social justice and an intergenerational retreat allowing women to invite daughters and nieces to share a space for mutual mentorship.

Shaw said the Soul Care pilot events will serve as a model for member-led events.

“The intention is for member leaders to host their own welcoming event using the Soul Care model,” she said. “Soul Care retreat toolkits are being created. Templates will be released to conference presidents this summer and will be available to member leaders later this year.”

Claiming joy

Invitations for the Black Joy Soul Care event were sent out to women who were in the MyUMW database. Flyers announcing the event were shared with United Methodist Women conference presidents to share in their areas. Thirty-four women from around the country responded to participate in the Feb. 26-28 event held remotely because of the COVID pandemic, which in many ways also made the retreat’s activities more needed.

The first session set the tone for the event. The Rev. Dionne Boissiere, chaplain of United Methodist Women’s Church Center for the United Nations, gave a centering message based on Song of Solomon 1:5-6 that helped participants claim permission to take care of themselves. She closed with a ritual in which participants wrote down concerns blocking them from joy on sheets of dissolvable paper provided in the swag bag they received prior to the event. Then they placed them into a bowl of water while proclaiming, “This will not stop me from finding joy.

“Ridding ourselves of the things that hinder us is not easy, but we are not alone on the journey,” Boissiere said.

That spiritual release cleared the way for a weekend of fun and relaxation in interactive workshops. Materials for the workshop were included in the bags mailed to participants. Workshops included: Aromatherapy, led by Valencia McClure of Artistry of Essential Oils, in which participants de-stressed by making fragrant mixtures using Frankincense, myrrh and other essential oils; healthy cooking led by Vie Wilson, in which participants made a West African/Caribbean recipe of sauteed kale with a plantain Mofongo or Fufu, with a list of ingredients sent ahead of time so participants could cook along with this workshop host; and painting, led by Karen Piner of Wonderfully Made for You, in which participants painted their own versions of a painting called “Natural Woman.”

General sessions included a dramatic reading by the Rev. Lyvonne Proverbs-Briggs from Toni Morrison’s epic novel Beloved, urging the women to love and care for themselves and honor God’s presence within and among them. Soul Care even included a session led by Tricia Hersey and The Sleep Ministry heralding the sacred blessings of a good nap and times for stretching kinks out of the body and mind led by Ghylian Bell of Urban Yoga.

Participants also gathered in small breakout rooms to discuss what joy meant to them and to create a collage or other expressions to share promises they’d made with themselves about what they will do going forward to live in joy.

Throughout the event, live music by Shannon Johnson, Donte Johnson and Corie Strand kept participant energy high and positive with joy and thankful worship.

The Soul Care retreat ended with a video that shared more about United Methodist Women to highlight ways the women can continue to stay connected through Facebook and attending a Mission u event in their region.

“It was an amazing weekend,” Shaw said. “We were all moved by the bonds we created. We trust Soul Care will give participants a glimpse of United Methodist Women, what we do, so they see there’s a place here for them.”

Yvette Moore is director of public relations and marketing for United Methodist Women.

Posted or updated: 7/2/2021 12:00:00 AM

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