A mid an isolating, wearying, and grief-heavy pandemic, a small group of women found support through a weekly online space. They also found comfort and hope.
The group began meeting via Zoom teleconferencing in late March when many cities and states/provinces across North America were in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. The group was gathered virtually by Women’s Transformation and Leadership—an initiative of Transformed & Transforming, the 15-year ministry vision of the Reformed Church in America—which provided a number of virtual offerings at the onset of the pandemic for people in the denomination to gather, find community, and get support.
“We learned that there was a need for a space that would allow women and men to come together and share about what’s happening in their lives,” says Lesley Mazzotta, who facilitates the group and serves as Women’s Transformation and Leadership specialist.
Women and men across the denomination were invited to share their laments and hopes each Monday evening in this virtual space. About a dozen people joined that first week, and many attendees—primarily women—have consistently stayed part of the group, forming a core group.
“There’s no agenda or teaching. We share both hopes and laments of [our] current situation. We check in with one another, take turns sharing what’s going on in our lives, ask for prayer, and support one another,” says Mazzotta. “The fact that this group has continued, with a core group of women, is the Holy Spirit at work and has transcended the pandemic and our initial needs.”
From strangers to a faithful group of friends
Bringing together a group of strangers into an online space to share so personally and openly didn’t daunt Mazzotta—or anyone else in the group, for that matter.
“Initially, we were all new to each other,” says Patricia Johnson, a social service supervisor in New York who has been part of the core group since its origin in March. “At first, we were learning about each other and learning about what was going on in our churches. When churches closed, the focus got more internalized as to how people were feeling, how that affected us, our concern for constituents and congregants, and our limitations. It just felt natural … a camaraderie, a womanhood, a sisterhood.”
Just like that, as women came back week after week to share about life experiences, strangers became supporters and encouragers. Occasionally, new attendees joined the Zoom call, and they were warmly welcomed for however long they chose to participate.
Cassie Lokker, worship leader for First Reformed in Baldwin, Wisconsin, was a new attendee in June, joining the Zoom call after chancing upon the opportunity while registering for another event with the Reformed Church in America.
“I came upon the group almost by accident, but I know God doesn’t make mistakes,” she says. “About a week and a half [after I first joined], I lost my grandma and I went into full lament. To have a group that was built around lament and reaching into hope—maybe God led me there.”
Other group members agree that God’s hand is evident in orchestrating this group.
“It’s been a God-send to have this group,” says Johnson. “It’s one of the constants I have in life right now. … It’s just been a comfort for me to come together with this group and be able to speak about my everyday life, to vent, to lament. I have people that listen, pray, and understand me.”
Spiritual direction and support for ministry
Spiritual encouragement and support has been a key element of this group, as many of the women are leaders in their churches, navigating how to do ministry well during a pandemic and caring for those in need while taking care of themselves, too.
“It’s honestly been my spiritual group that has really strengthened and encouraged me and literally kept me going throughout this whole thing,” says Susan Davis, who became associate pastor of Lincoln Avenue Community Church in Pomona, California, in July. “I find myself going down way too many rabbit trails when I try to listen to the Holy Spirit. This group has really helped me focus on that, listening to great examples of how they glean from the Holy Spirit and listen to him with that quieter brain and spirit.”
Not only do group members consider Monday night as a highlight of their week, but they also see their time together as a good thing that has come out of this pandemic, a means of blessing through a trying season.
“We’ve seen God work in our lives through this unfortunate situation. There have been good things that come out of the bad as well,” says Johnson. “[This group has] helped us to see where God is working in our lives, what God has done that has been beneficial and good.”
“[This group has] really caused a lot more growth and assuredness in God and his sovereignty,” says Davis. “I can do what he’s called me to do because he’s called all these people to come alongside me—people I never would have met otherwise.”
“We’re all there for each other,” adds Lokker, who has become part of the core group. “I’ve learned to be a better listener, to pay attention and hear people. … It’s encouraging to hear some of the good things, sort of moving out of lament and into hope, seeing these stories come full circle and people find hope. I know that God’s working in their lives and in mine.”
Editor’s note: At the time of this writing, the group has plans to continue through at least the end of 2020. Mazzotta says, “We’ll continue as long as there’s energy and need. We’ll see where the next year brings us, but we’re alive in the moment.”