The Role of Online Community in Alleviating Isolation
A Pastoral Study Project
How do clergy find community while working in the church? Some are blessed to live near other pastors in their denominations, or to benefit from existing ecumenical groups. Clergywomen, however, may find those networks to be less than welcoming, particularly in areas of the country where faith traditions that do not ordain women dominate local culture. Seeking to overcome that isolation, in 2005, two dozen women pastors who connected via blogging formed an online community, RevGalBlogPals. Over the past 12 years they have grown an ecumenical ministry devoted to creating community for clergywomen through their website, social media ministry, and continuing education events. While the online community has over 5000 members now, the problem of isolation still exists.
Women offer God-given leadership abilities to the church; I believe it is important to find ways to nurture and support them in their work and retain gifted pastors. Through interviews, focus groups, and online surveys, I am studying how clergywomen find community that sustains them for ministry; examining how race, age, geography, disability, relationship status, orientation and other intersecting identities may worsen feelings of isolation; determining how and whether RevGalBlogPals’ ministry has been effective at building relationships that alleviate isolation; and discerning where the ministry might best expand its programs in the future. Interviews, focus groups, and survey participants will include clergywomen in the parish and beyond, whether or not they have previously been participants in RevGalBlogPals’ programs. It is my hope that results of the study will be of interest not only to the leadership of RevGalBlogPals but also to judicatory bodies, seminaries, and other settings concerned with seeing clergy thrive.