Pastors, lay leaders, chaplains participate in ABHMS’ first virtual conference

VALLEY FORGE, PA (7/2/20)—More than 600 clergy, lay leaders, chaplains and spiritual caregivers participated in the first online conference presented by American Baptist Home Mission Societies (ABHMS) on its social networking platform, ministrElife on June 16, 23 and 30. Titled “You Are Not Alone: A Space for Grace Retreat,” the three-afternoon event addressed the grief that caregivers are experiencing themselves, as they minister to others during this uncertain time of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest.

Participants joined from the comfort of their own homes and chose how many afternoons to participate.

On the first day, homilist the Rev. Jamie Washam, ABHMS board president and pastor of First Baptist Church in America, Providence, Rhode Island, spoke about the grief and challenges that U.S. residents have faced recently.

“I don’t need to tell you in these past months our rituals and patterns of grief have been utterly rearranged with the spread of the pandemic,” she said. “Today I want to take us through personal grief, public lament. With the grief and outreach of this moment, we know that we can’t go back to our pre-pandemic way of life and years of racism.”

Presenter the Rev. Dr. Yvonne Martinez Thorne, founder and CEO of Cultivating Wholeness Counseling Associates in Pennsylvania and Florida, covered the stages of grief and loss: denial, anger, bargaining and depression.

Suggesting that participants seek the holy spirit’s presence and power, she said, “The multiple losses of these pandemics have ushered us into a journey of grief that is personal and collective. It has led us into uncharted waters that we are expected to navigate without a compass in a new normal. There seems to be no end in sight.”

On Day Two, homilist the Rev. Dr. Zina Jacque, lead pastor of Community Church, Barrington Ill., referenced the 19th chapter of 1 Kings, while assuring participants that they are not alone. She prompted participants to write the names of 2, 3, 20 or 50 individuals that they could contact for prayer.

Presenter the Rev. Dr. Amy Greene, who heads a team of chaplains as director of Spiritual Care for the Cleveland Clinic Health System, examined Psalm 139 and asked participants to journal their feelings.

“God knows my thoughts from afar off,” she said. “That’s pretty scary—sometimes I have thoughts I wish I didn’t have.”

She noted that COVID-19 has brought publicity to chaplaincy, which otherwise would not have received it.

On the final afternoon, homilist the Rev. Dr. Gary V. Simpson, lead pastor of Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Brooklyn, N.Y., and a member of ABHMS’ board of directors, showed how Psalm 121 reflects the idea that today’s ministers are as weary as those whom they serve. While stressing that the Lord preserves your going out and coming in, he said, “If you’re like me, you’re tired, fatigued and weary. You are walking in the same spaces of the people you are expected to look out for.”

The transforming power of acceptance was discussed by presenter the Rev. Dr. Naomi Kohatsu Paget, a chaplain and crisis interventionist for the FBI and for disaster-relief organizations—such as the Red Cross and Salvation Army—as well as a Judson Press author.

Acceptance, or surrender, is a choice, she noted.

“Emotional surrender is about ceasing our resistance against the reality that we don’t want and the pain that we have to live,” she said. “It’s allowing the one who is greater than us to take control. We know we can’t figure it out. Sometimes we want to just sit and cry. Surrender may not be about failure or defeat.”

In addition, worship leaders were peppered throughout all three afternoons.

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

American Baptist Home Mission Societies partners with American Baptists to promote Christian faith, cultivate Christ-centered leaders and disciples, and bring healing and transformation to communities across the United States and Puerto Rico.

American Baptist Churches USA is one of the most diverse Christian denominations today, with approximately 5,000 congregations comprised of 1.3 million members, across the United States and Puerto Rico, all engaged in God’s mission around the world.