Rev. Jen Bailey -

Oct 26, 2022

Through the Prism with Reverend Jen Bailey

Rev. Jen Bailey

Rev. Jen Bailey is the Founder and Executive Director of Faith Matters Network where she helps equip community organizers, faith leaders, and activists with resources for connection, spiritual sustainability, and accompaniment.

What is one of your earliest memories of the power of human connection?

Probably unsurprisingly, one of my earliest memories of human connection was in my church. I have visceral vivid memories of the after Sunday school breakfast, between Sunday school and church service starting at Bethel AME Church in Quincy, IL. I remember the conversations happening cross-generationally and the interactions I had with my friends, sneaking into the kitchen to grab another sweet roll. That was one of the first times that I recognized myself as part of a community, one that would journey with me throughout the course of my life, and the powerful role of food as both convener and memory keeper. When we would have big church dinners for celebration days, we’d experience the richness of Southern food that was a big part of the community’s migration story to that place.

What values guide your work?

I’m guided both by my personal values and the organizational values of Faith Matters Network, which are deeply aligned. In terms of my core animation, I’m most motivated by the desire for communities of belonging, based on my history of being made to feel other because of the racism in my hometown. My belief is that we can and should have spaces where we belong.

Faith Matters Network is rooted in connection, accompaniment, and spiritual sustainability, recognizing that, in the work of social change, one of the most dangerous risks is social isolation. Many people in helping professions are pouring themselves into others and rarely get the chance to get poured into themselves.

Accompaniment acknowledges that we all deserve people walking with us on our personal and collective journeys towards justice. There’s something sacred about walking with people in the highs and lows of their lives, and we’re there to support and anchor each other.

Spiritual sustainability recognizes that spaces that are replenishing are really important to social change. This work is long and hard, and we acknowledge that it takes a great deal of commitment and endurance to stay in it over the course of a lifetime. There’s a physical part of the work, but a spiritual piece, too. We all need and deserve soul nourishment to keep us going.

What are you working on right now?

Faith Matters Network is reaching a beautiful stage of maturity and internal reflection. We have been in startup mode for the past five years and haven’t had a chance to take stock of our programs. We received grant support to specifically look at where we’re meeting the needs of the field and where we’re replicating past work simply out of habit. We’re considering where we need to listen more deeply to how the spirit is moving in what we can do going forward.

We’re also at a beautiful stage of institutional development. We were previously fiscally sponsored and have just incorporated as a non-profit and received 501(c)3 status. It’s been a beautiful moment of learning about how our internal values can be reflected externally. This season of work has been a really generative pause, letting the fields lay fallow in order to prepare for what’s emerging next.

Which doesn’t mean we’re doing nothing! This spring we trained 120 students in our movement chaplaincy course and ran virtual series on mental health and womanist wisdom. In Arkansas, we’ve been working with faith leaders statewide and recently worked with the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and Methodist Foundation of Arkansas to distribute over $80,000 to local communities working on economic justice issues. There’s always something cooking, even as we take time to pause and reflect.

How has the experience of the pandemic affected you and your work?

In some ways, I think the work of Faith Matters Network was already well-positioned to respond to the needs that emerged through the pandemic. We were already a fully remote organization, though we did have to pause our in-person convenings. As people who are accustomed to walking with people in the highs and lows of their lives, being present to both moments of birth and death, that empowered us to be creative in how to tend to people in these moments of uncertainty and create space that allows for the grieving of so many things in the aftermath of COVID.

In 2020, we launched a few initiatives that were really generative. For the first six months of lockdown and quarantine, we hosted Midweek Motivational Moments with Auburn Seminary which gave people the chance to hear from an inspirational speaker and break the silos of isolation so many people felt at the beginning of the pandemic. We also offered access to free chaplaincy support for first responders who were bearing the brunt of the public health response. Afterward, we realized we might have extended ourselves a little bit too far and so we put a pause on new programming in order to regroup and refuel.

We’ve done a lot of work reflecting on how we can more fully live into our core values, supporting people in these tender times when it can be difficult to show up as our best selves.

What's giving you joy right now? What are you hopeful about?

My two-year-old drives me up a wall and is the joy and light of my life. Our bedtime routine is so joyful. He’s a big fan of storytime. There’s something so magical about watching his imagination come alive looking through the pages of his books. There’s something so sweet about accompanying him in his becoming and watching his personality begin to form. He has such a sense of humor!

On the professional side, this spring we launched a new fellows program built off work we started in 2017 called Rooted in Resilience. We have eight fellows from across the country, half of whom are in more political and movement organizing spaces and half of whom are in spiritually grounded or religious spaces, who are thinking about the role that healing and spiritual practices can play in the sustainability of social movements. This group is so unbelievably rad, and I’m so excited to witness their generative potential together. They are each healers in their own respect and also have an ecosystem mindset about how healing can transform our society and systems. They give me so much hope about what is possible.

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