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Boss Ladies of CLE: Rev. Courtney Clayton Jenkins on navigating uncertainty during the pandemic

This Boss Lady is relying on God for strength, while also empowering her congregation as it grows.

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio — This Christmas season looks a bit different, as we’ve seen for years, but The Reverend Courtney Clayton Jenkins isn’t slowing down. And you don't have to be in the pews to find her.

"We are no longer limited by physical time and space," Rev. Jenkins said. "And so it has been awesome to literally do what the gospel says, which is turn the world upside down. And the internet lets us do that."

The South Euclid United Church of Christ rose from literal ashes in 2014. Now, its digital campus is allowing Rev. Jenkins to expand her reach right when it was most needed.

"We know that there are kind of mass Exodus from the church in general and then a pandemic hits and everybody looks to the church and so it's like, 'okay, well what do we do now?'" she said. "And I think that our congregation, to the best of our ability, we just rose to the occasion, in the midst of all we were going through."

With members now in 15 states and two countries, it's the multicultural, multiracial and LGBTQA+ affirming worship they find and stay for. 

"Sometimes that's exactly what people are looking for, a really diverse place to call home. It just so happens, home is not necessarily in Cleveland," Rev. Jenkins said.

The congregation has returned to registration and a full COVID protocol for in-person services the first and third Sunday of every month. The rest is all online.

She leads with transparency to prove the church's value, and of late, that's meant giving. SEUCC offered small business grants, feeds 300 families a month at its food pantry and senior meals, and over Lent, gave away more than $35,000 in housing and property tax assistance.

"We are a place where the people give and we give back, but we help our folks who call this place home to understand, and that we have an obligation to you. You have an obligation to us, and this church has an obligation, uh, to greater Cleveland," Rev. Jenkins said.

A Cleveland native, Rev. Jenkins was celebrated for her leadership beginning at a young age. She said responsibility has weighed on her heavily during the pandemic.

"I'm tired. Um, and so what I've had to learn to do is to be gracious with myself, to be patient with myself," she said. "Sometimes I think we put more pressure on ourselves than even God does. What does it mean to be patient with myself? It's to look at what my realistic capacity is prior to the pandemic. My schedule was 14 hour days back to back to back running here, running there, trying to take care of him, phone, take care of work. And now I've just come to a point that I ask myself, what is my capacity and to be okay with that, because better, I do a few things well than do a lot of things mediocre."

Her seven-year-old son Caleb and his care has been so important, along with a 1,000 member congregation.

"I'm a firm believer. We didn't know the pandemic was coming, but I believe God did," Rev. Jenkins said. "But the bravest thing you can do is face the storm, head on. It tells you what you're made of. And that's what these last couple years have been telling me."

With a grant through the Lilly Foundation, Jenkins will take a sabbatical next May to travel and bring a global perspective back to her ministry.

"I'm committed to pastor this church," she said. "I'm not going anywhere, but I am so thankful that the church would see the value and say, pastor, you go breathe. You go step away. And it just so happens to be over my 40th birthday. And I am looking forward to utilizing this kind of midlife adulthood, mark, as an opportunity to see what the future holds."

Her advice to aspiring Boss Ladies is not to worry about the career projections.

"So there's some young woman who may be watching this and is wondering, but what about, but what about," Rev. Jenkins said. "Do your best and your best is enough. And when you submit and you surrender to that, you can't lose."

For the rest of us entering 2022 with uncertainty, Rev. Jenkins shares a Christmas message.

"I preached this sermon last week," she said. "You know, Jesus was born into really difficult at times and in a barn surrounded by manure. I mean, , you know, it was, it was tough times. It was tough politically. It was tough socially. It was tough financially. But what it says to me, as a person of faith, is no place is too low for God to show up.

"I hope that in each tradition, people will pause and realize that things are tough, but hope, hope is still alive and well."

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