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These 5 Clergywomen Found Each Other 12 Years Ago. They Still Text Every Day.

Kristin Adkins Whitesides, from left, Leah Davis, Theresa Thames, Jenny Cannon and Kate Payton pose together. Courtesy photo

(RNS) — Twelve years ago a group of young church leaders flew to Florida to observe ministry at a church there. Five women from the larger group arrived early at the Fort Lauderdale airport. They rented a car, drove to Miami for dinner and began to talk.

They haven’t stopped since.

The five, two Baptists and three Methodists, didn’t plan on forming a clergy circle. They were all Lewis Fellows at Wesley Theological Seminary, eager to develop their leadership skills and ready to break the proverbial glass ceiling at their respective congregations.

As women in a male-dominated profession, they recognized the need to find support — and sisterhood — if they were going to make it in ministry.

“I have friends from a lot of different areas of my life,” said the Rev. Kristin Adkins Whitesides, one of the women, now pastor of First Baptist Church in Winchester, Virginia. “But few of them understand what it means to be a pastor. This group is so important because they get it. We don’t have to explain the challenges of this calling.”

The others who came together that day in Florida are the Rev. Theresa Thames, now associate dean of religious life at Princeton University and its chapel; the Revs. Kate Payton and Jenny Cannon, both United Methodist pastors in Minnesota; and the Rev. Leah Davis, pastor of a Virginia church affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the American Baptist Churches USA.

At a time when reports of clergy burnout and clergy misconduct are soaring, the five women have been able to forge a tight collegial bond to help them navigate challenges, avoid pitfalls and find joy and fulfillment in their calling.

They meet less frequently in person than they used to, and for the past two pandemic years have gathered monthly for a Zoom chat. But they communicate daily through a shared group text. Messages might be as weighty as insights about a Lenten sermon or as light as what top best accommodates a clip-on microphone.

Over the years, they have stood side by side at each others’ highs and lows. They’ve preached and served Communion at each other’s installation services, celebrated weddings, learned how to juggle motherhood and ministry and grieved a divorce.

“Each of us has experienced personal and vocational change,” said Cannon, pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Rochester, Minnesota. “Having people really good at listening, and being heard and understood, is a wonderful thing. I haven’t felt isolated in ministry because I’ve had these folks in my life.”

Over the past month, their group text messages have ranged from sharing sermon ideas for Lent to heaping praise on a new book they were all reading (Cole Arthur Riley’s ”This Here Flesh”). In Zoom sessions and group texts, they’ve gone over scripts for how to let go of an office assistant who wasn’t working out and shared resources for explaining to a confirmation class the theological concept of “Imago Dei.”