By Glenda Cadogan
As we slowly inch our way out of this COVID-19 pandemic, people are looking for ways to adjust to new norms. One way is to reflect on what it took to get through a year of social isolation, sickness, death, and grief. Braced against the winds of March and International Women’s History Month, we spoke with three First Ladies who have been doing extra duty, not just for their minister husbands, but their families, congregations, and communities. In candid conversation, they spoke of the ups and downs they navigate having to be the hand rocking the cradle while wading through uncharted waters of a pandemic plagued world. Their coping methods varied from buying shoes to watching HGTV with family, couples’ time, and family dinners. The commonality among them revealed one truth—they all grew closer to their husbands in ways that augur well for how they will handle whatever comes next. In saluting them we embrace all of the wives and mothers who are not just the clichéd “good woman behind the good man,” but the unheralded frontline worker for their families and the defensive line for their congregants. They are the First Ladies!
Take It to The Lord in Prayer
Wife of Rev. Dr. Ronald Slaughter
During the months of May and June, the pandemic took its harshest toll on Mrs. Kyla Slaughter, wife of Pastor Ronald Slaughter and First Lady of St. James AME Church in Newark, NJ. “The pandemic has been a very challenging time for me,” she told The Positive Community. Three months into the stay-at-home mandate Mrs. Slaughter was still getting used to helping her three teenaged children acclimate to the new normal of home schooling. A Georgia native, every summer she would take the children to visit her parents who still live there; that didn’t happen last summer. And though the church was shut, its ministries were still open for business and the First Lady was supporting the congregation in new ways. Last but certainly not least, she was the first and last line of support for her husband of 18 years. “The simple truth is that I was overwhelmed,” she said candidly. “I felt like I was in a deep hole. Though my husband had slowed down, it was never a full stop since he still had duties with the State. To hold it all together, I desperately needed to find some coping mechanism.” One place of personal solace for Mrs. Slaughter was in the words of her favorite hymn: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” “My favorite part is ‘take it to the Lord in prayer.’ And that’s what I did like I never had before,” she said. Daily journaling, exercise, and mediation completed her self-care package. According to Mrs. Slaughter, sometimes people forget that pastors are people too. But as a wife she could see how it was affecting her husband. Luckily, in his one “breakdown moment” to date, First Lady Slaughater was present to comfort him. “Recently, two of his minister colleagues passed away and their homegoing services were on the same day. It took a toll on him. At that moment all I could think to say to him was, ‘Let’s just stop!’”
According to Mrs. Slaughter, the pandemic has certainly brought them closer together as a couple and as a family. The fun part has been using retail therapy to their benefit. “We both love shopping so some days the best escape was to go buy a pair of shoes together. The children are also happy to have him around more than usual and are enjoying playtime with him. However, this is not unique to our family. I think that though we have had a lot of deaths, the pandemic brought families closer together; so those of us who are alive should be grateful. We are going to get through this and in the meantime my best advice is: don’t hold on to that stuff that’s burdening you. Take it to the Lord in prayer.”
STRENGTH IN FAMILY TRADITIONS
MRS. DIANNE MONROSE
WIFE OF PASTOR GILMAN T. MONROSE
For Mrs. Dianne Monrose, first lady of the Zion Church of God 7th Day, in East Flatbush Brooklyn, at first the hardest part of the pandemic was dealing with the unknown. “Initially I felt it was something serious but I did not know to what extent,” she said. “I felt like a deer caught in headlights.” When the reality of the global situation became clearer, Mrs. Monrose—who has been married to Pastor Gilman Monrose for the past 21 years—shifted her focus to safety for her family and congregation. Questions occupied her mind: “What would happen with our children’s school? What would it look like for the church? How do we not let the fear paralyze us?” To combat these racing thoughts, she turned to positive affirmations and grounding in her faith. “For me it was about balance. It was important to find that balance between the combinations of uncertainty and fear and faith and positive action.” In his capacity as president of the 67th Precinct Clergy Council, Pastor Monrose was out on the frontline every day, manning a PPE distribution site and food pantry. “I fully accept that this is his calling and he does it with passion. So, I had to soothe my fear for his safety with supportive caution by reminding him to follow all the protocols, etc. In the meantime, I felt like I needed—and wanted—to do more in helping him with the church. It was challenging because I still had my 9-5 job and no experience whatsoever in working remotely,” she explained. “So, I did my best; and that included simple things like making sure he had a healthy meal every day. Moreover, I was deliberate in providing a safe haven when he came home so he could debrief but also have conversations about things other than the pandemic.” In holding the family together and providing the grounding for her husband, Mrs. Monrose ensured they held onto their tradition of family dinners with their two children as much as possible. “HGTV was also a go-to that the entire family could watch together,” she said with a chuckle. She has served the congregation doing outreach with positive words of affirmation every day via her social media platforms. “This pandemic has held a mirror up to our faces and taught us what’s important. And that is our health, family, community, and connections,” she said. “To get through this we must stay connected to each other. We must pray not just for each other, but with each other. By praying together, we can hear our supplications on behalf of the other and that helps bring us closer.”
A HUNGER AND THIRST FOR SERVICE
MRS. MARY JOHNSON CLEMMONS
WIFE OF REV. DR. JOSEPH CLEMMONS, JR.
As a pastor’s wife, Mrs. Mary Johnson Clemmons, first lady of the Historic First Church of God in Christ, Brooklyn, said she has done more praying than ever before. “I have also come to God in a much more reverent way,” she added. “I put everything to God because we have certainly never experienced a time like this.” The first challenge for the Clemmonses, who have been married since 2014, was figuring out ways to reach their congregation and keep them connected. “We tried to come up with ways in which we can stay in communion, be safe, and observe public health guidelines. The thing is, we did not have a whole lot of time to do so. We made some drastic changes quickly. The first thing we did even before we went to live-streaming our church services was have a conference call with our membership.” Though according to Mrs. Clemmons the direct impact of COVID on their congregation has been minimal (they lost two members), the effect on their lives due to distance and isolation is undeniable. “This pandemic changed our whole perspective on love and service for the community,” she said. “Although these have always been my hallmarks, their importance took on new meaning. As a pastor’s wife I talk to more people than I ever have before. I am a working wife so in order to stay connected with our church community, I’ve also done more texting than ever. I try to talk to at least three people in the congregation every day and beyond that I text people so they know we love and care about them.” Like the other first ladies, Mrs. Clemmons, too, has experienced a renewed closeness with her husband, Pastor Joseph Clemmons, Jr. “Oh yes, the pandemic has certainly brought us closer together as a couple,” she offered. “We talk more, we share with each other, and this has extended into doing more Bible study together. We are working together in uplifting our congregation and community. As things open up, my husband and I are eager to plan ways in which we can be more outward rather than inward in our service. How can we take the gifts we have and get out and serve our community? That’s the question on our minds. It is what we are examining as a couple and as minister and wife. This pandemic has changed our hearts,” she said. “It has made us more aware. So now there is a hunger and thirst to be a resource for and serve our community more than we ever have before.” Her message of hope for this time is simple: “Love! Service! Community!”