Content note: the following is my own opinion and reflection and is not written on behalf of the Board of this organization.
At our very last group gathering for this organization, in January 2020, we were facing some big changes. Our Executive Director was moving to the next stage in her life and this group, RevGalBlogPals, Inc, was also facing the need to move to the next stage as well. The Board at the time, as well as many supporters, knew this would be very difficult work. I was asked, in my capacity as then Board President, if I understood that the organization would need to be taken all the way down to the ground in order to change. I nodded, understanding those words and that it would be a lot of work, but having no idea what was coming.
The founding history of RGBP is intertwined with the early days of blogging, the potential of internet anonymity, the struggle of being pastors who identify as female, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. When I look at posts from 2005, which is before I was even in this group, I’m amused to see a post about the impossibility of getting to all seventy blogs in the web ring. (Some of the vocabulary from then doesn’t even exist now.) No one in those early days could have imagined a 7000+ international Facebook group (what’s a Facebook?), continuing education trips on cruise ships or in Scotland, or even how the realities of white supremacy and cis-het patriarchy were going to explode and more clearly affect everyone, not only racial and gender minorities.
Therein lies to difficulty in taking a 16-year-old organization down to its DNA. This international, inter-denominational, multi-religious sprawling organization began around the ideas of friend support and t-shirts. Conversations were not had about intersectionality in selecting board members, how to recruit writers for a website that didn’t yet exist, or how to restructure when the group membership passed 150 people (much less 7000). And now, as in so many situations, we are called to think about how we came to be where we are and if it is truly where we want to be.
As it turns out, February, March, and April 2020 were not conducive to re-thinking an organization. The Board at the time wasn’t even able to process its own grief, reflections, and trauma because we were trying to sort out, along with our volunteer writers and Facebook administrators, how to provide space and support to people in a global pandemic. We were not surprised by the violence of the summer 2020 for it only exposed more of the truth of racialized violence and oppression that have always been part of how the United States functions. This truth, however, convicted us all over again about the homogeneity of our Board and the assumptions that were frequently made in our spaces.
Even as we remain committed to our guiding values and have tried to make changes, the truth is the same as it was nearly two years ago. In order to make the necessary changes to this organization, we must go all the way down to the ground to rebuild. This is nearly impossible to do while maintaining the community and resource sharing to which we have been committed for the past several years.
Thus, we enter the Sacred Pause. By stopping content creation, as well as slowing the expectations of our large Facebook group, we are making space for the current Board to have time to discern, discuss, and determine the future of this organization. This Pause has raised questions for all of us. What is the mission of our group? How do we become more intentional in what we do? How can we honor our volunteers and create a robust system to discourage overfunctioning and burn out? How can we break free of Facebook and should we? The questions go on and on. They may not even be able to fully answered in the next three months, but we know that if we keep going as we have- they will never be answered.
The critical reality here, though, is that while we make the road by walking, it is still possible to walk to a place you didn’t intend to be. No one in the original blogging community would have ever selected a map that said “This way to a space full of white privilege, burnout, and US-centric expectations”. No one would have chosen that map. And, to be clear, there have been many times when the Board and the larger community have intentionally steered away from that. Yet, due to the realities of how and when we came to be and what we didn’t know that we didn’t know at the time, here we are. Much of it came about because it was the water in which we were swimming. We can no longer “just keeping swimming”, but must be intentional in getting to the shore, figuring out what’s next, and then going in the new direction.
This is a lot of words to explain the Sacred Pause, a little history, and the truth that change is hard. It is also a reminder that not all organizations can pause their work, but many are called to this same kind of change. It is too easy to know that things need to be different, but to feel stymied because the day-to-day keeps unspooling in front of you. If it is true, as Emma Lazarus said, that “until we are all free, none of us are free”, then we have to be willing to set down the habits and the ways of doing and being that imprison and cause harm, even unintentionally.
The Sacred Pause will not be a magic fix for this organization, more than it could be for any other. It will neither mystically repair where we have been wrong. It will also not undo where we have been right, good, or helpful. It is simply a necessary action on the way to becoming better (we hope and pray). Please continue to pray for the Board during this time. Be alert and awake to the realities of this community (international, intersectional, anti-racist, inclusive). Consider what it might mean to strip your own expectations of our spaces down to the their foundations and to rebuild them. Together.
The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Big Timber Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Big Timber, MT. She blogs sometimes at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She serves on the board of RevGalBlogPals, Inc. and is working on a book about the fruits of the Spirit.
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