If you’re looking for a book that can not only teach you something but also give you hope in and for humanity, look no further than The Gathering: A Womanist Church by Irie Lynne Session, Kamilah Hall Sharp, and Jann Aldredge-Clanton. The book begins with an introduction to womanist methodology, specifically related to theology (study of God) and ecclesiology (church organization). Womanism seeks to dismantle all forms of oppression including sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, and the like. The Gathering creators frequently mention eradicating PMS: patriarchy, misogyny, and sexism.
Creating a womanist church, the authors convey, meant creating a faith community that was truly inclusive. Rather than a church seeking to include others at the will of the dominant group, there is no dominant group at The Gathering because it is organized as a womanist congregation, combatting all forms of oppression. Members are called ministry partners, and the staff collaborate equitably. Every worship service includes “Talk Back to the Text,” engaging the congregation in proclamation and exegesis and affirming the value of each voice.
The Gathering’s mission is “to welcome people into community to follow Jesus, partner in ministry to transform our lives together, and to go create an equitable world.” (p.7) Worship is trauma-informed, welcomes artistic expression, and takes root in womanist focus on justice. Its co-pastors and ministry partners might be found at a Black Lives Matter event, a pride parade, advocating for voting rights, or celebrating children preparing for the school year. The Gathering community is fully accessible online, and was so long before the pandemic.
Building on this foundation, the book offers a multitude of womanist sermons, giving readers a strong understanding of how womanist worship is fundamentally different from anything else and demonstrating womanist engagement with the text. Next, the book includes a variety of womanist liturgy, modeling justice-centric worship and inclusive language.
The Gathering: A Womanist Church will inspire you to visit the congregation in person or online. It should also inspire you to financially support this ministry. For too long, even progressive spaces have affirmed the work of Black women without compensating or resourcing them. That’s PMS (see above), and it’s incompatible with womanism. Like what you’re reading? Buy the book. Better yet, buy the book from a bookstore owned by a Black woman! Already own the book? Buy a copy for a friend, relative, seminarian, or minister. Want to do more? Make a financial contribution to The Gathering here.
Want to do even more? Educate yourself about systemic oppression, how you may be complicit, and what you can do to oppose systemic oppression where you are. Reading The Gathering: A Womanist Congregation is a great place to start!
Respond to the original post on the Equity for Women in the Church blog with proof of a donation to The Gathering for a chance to win a free copy of The Gathering: A Womanist Church by Rev. Dr. Irie Lynne Session, Rev. Kamilah Hall Sharp, and Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton! Offer open through Saturday at midnight!
Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace is the Prathia Hall Scholar-in-Residence for Equity for Women in the Church. She is author of Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall (University of Georgia, 2019) and Beyond Eden: Sermons and Essays of Prathia Hall (University of Georgia, 2022), as well as numerous journal and encyclopedia articles, book reviews, and peer-reviewed book chapters. She lives in Memphis, TN with her husband and children.