More than 600 participate in ABHMS’ first virtual conference

More than 600 clergy, lay leaders, chaplains and spiritual caregivers recently participated in the first “You Are Not Alone: A Space for Grace Retreat,” a three-afternoon online retreat presented by American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) on its social networking platform, ministrElife. The purpose of the retreat was to provide respite to those who are ministering to others yet need healing themselves in these uncertain times marked by two pandemics: COVID-19 and racial unrest.

“Too often we have a temptation to want to get through the messiness of grief. We don’t know how to sit with it,” said homilist the Rev. Jamie Washam, ABHMS board president and pastor of First Baptist Church in America, Providence, Rhode Island, warning against premature consolation. “We need to be Job’s helpers on their best days—when they just showed up and listened.”

Presenter the Rev. Dr. Yvonne Martinez Thorne, founder and CEO of Cultivating Wholeness Counseling Associates in Pennsylvania and Florida, explained the traditionally taught five-step process of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

In addition, she led participants through two exercises: one in which they wrote a lament of their own personal grief, pain and loss caused by the pandemics, then had the opportunity to share a word or short phrase in the chat box that distilled their writing.

Responses included “weariness,” “divisiveness,” “the fog of not seeing the next step,” “anxiety,” “how long?”, “tired,” “tension,” “extreme fatigue,” “insecurity,” “how to serve,” “impatience,” “retraumatization,” “heavy yolk,” “bombarded,” “rage,” “pain,” “loneliness,” “exhaustion” and “desolation.”

In the second exercise, participants were asked to share a lament for those whom they serve. Responses included “leaving my children,” “disconnected,” “separation,” “loneliness,” “mourning over the deaths of close friends,” “loss of agency,” “I have been hiding,” “struggling with today’s reality,” “lack of hugs” and “confusion.”

Said Thorne: “We say in psychology, an important process of healing is that you make conscious the unconscious.”

Music was provided by the Willie Sordillo Ensemble of Old South Church, Boston.

The virtual conference will continue 1-3 p.m. June 23 and 30. Register online.

To receive continuing education credits for attending this conference, chaplains, pastoral counselors and specialized ministers should contact ABHMS’ Patricia Murphy at, while clergy and other ministry professionals should contact ABHMS’ Salvador Orellana at