NEPTUNE – Homemade salsa, the Word of God, and a creative spark brought a group of GNJ clergywomen together to write a year-long devotional. The women: Gabrielle Martone, Frances Noll, Vicki Brendler, Francie Preston, Diane Dyson, June Tamburro, Lynn Mears, Jean Arlea Eriksen, Jana Purkis-Brash, and Gina Yeske, call themselves the Salsa Sisters.
“One of the women, Vicki talked about the homemade salsa she made and that it reminded her of us. We were in different stages of life and different types of pastors,” Noll mentioned. “You put all of these wonderful ingredients together and boom, you get salsa. So that could be us: Sisters Alive in Leadership, Spirituality and the Arts. That covered it. We could be the Salsa Sisters!”
The Salsa Sisters met as a PaCE group, meeting every month for prayer, communion, and creativity. A peer learning resource for developing turn-around spiritual leaders, PaCE (which stands for Pursuing Clergy Excellence) is an initiative to facilitate peer learning groups that help shape pastoral identity, imagination and develop leadership excellence. The program supports clergy excellence by building trust, reducing isolation, exploring ideas through shared experiences, providing multiple viewpoints, engaging in deep conversation, and in the case of the Salsa Sisters, unlocking creativity.
“We didn’t know each other well when we started, but we became very close as we worked on this project together,” explained Mears. “It has been a very uplifting journey for me and I think for us all. God has blessed us as we have become connected through the love of Christ in this devotional.”
Mears also shared that the women encouraged each other and discovered their creativity along the way. They had fun cooking together, eating, taking creative classes and supporting each other through personal life experiences.
“During our first meeting, Lynn received news that her mother-in-law had passed away. We surrounded her with a prayer circle,” Noll elaborated. “We were there for one another’s life experiences. Jean had her first child during that time period. We were at her baby shower cheering her on in this new adventure. Three of us retired during that time and we went to each other’s celebrations. We were there for one another in prayer, support and encouragement.”
The devotion writing project, funded by a PaCE grant, took about two years to complete and was inspired by the lives and faith journeys of the Sisters. The devotional follows the church year and the lectionary. Each week features a different theme and includes daily devotions, recipes, hymns, reflections and photos.
“One week was about weddings. I said, ‘I love to preside at weddings so let me do that week.’ Another would say, ‘I have a picture of me doing a wedding, let’s put that in,’” said Noll. “So we all knew the themes and submitted our stories, pictures, recipes and prayers. Gabby and Gina put all the pieces together.”
When asked what their hopes were for those reading the devotional, the Salsa Sisters had a variety of answers centered on inspiration, connection and joy.
Eriksen hoped the devotional would help people have a deeper relationship with God, while Purkis-Brash wanted to inspire those who read it to a sense of creativity in their spiritual lives.
“My hope is that people see God in our stories and our experiences,” said Martone. “I hope that those that read it can deepen their relationship with God and with the women in their lives.”
Mears added that she hoped “that people will find joy, encouragement and Jesus within the pages of this devotional as we found Jesus within each other.”
In celebration of the devotional’s completion and release, the Salsa Sisters held a launch party with family and friends on August 9 at the Mission and Resource Center in Neptune.
“We each read our favorite story that we had written. We shared food, fun and fellowship. The room was filled with people, and of course Vicki brought us homemade salsa and chips,” Noll shared. “How could you have a launch party with the Salsa Sisters without eating salsa! We were so happy that all of our hard work had finally come together.”
Salsa Sister’s One Year Devotional: Sister’s Alive in Leadership, Spirituality, and the Arts can be purchased on ibooks and Amazon.
Register now for PaCE groups starting this fall. Registration is open until September 15. To find out more and register online at www.gnjumc.org/pace