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Faith Leader Networking Lunches

FAITH LEADER NETWORKING LUNCHES: Quarterly faith leader gatherings funded by a grant from the Foundation for the Carolinas for the purpose of building deeper community between and greater well-being within the clergy community. These sessions will include wellness practices, exploration of what's working well in congregations, and LOTS of networking. 


April 18: 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM | Union Seminary (5141 Sharon Rd, Charlotte, NC 28210) Register HERE
September 24
November 12

We have a GREAT SPEAKER lined up who will be a perfect follow-up to Dr. Thumma's February presentation. Dr. Thumma's research indicated that congregational resistance to change is one of the key factors in clergy discontent.  Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls, Founder and Executive Director of the Freedom Center for Social Justice and Pastor Emeritus of Sacred Souls UCC, will speak on HOW faith leaders can encourage and build openness to needed change. 


MOVING MOUNTAINS IN A POST-PANDEMIC WORLD: Lessons in Demolition and Construction for Faith Leaders


In this season of change and uncertainty, communities of faith are facing unprecedented challenges.  The call to question, reimagine and shift things long-believed to be foundational can be difficult.  Bishop Rawls' work over the past 25 years has centered culture shifts in communities of faith and the broader community.  She will be sharing some case studies and tools that can be considered when taking your work to the next level.


Ayya Sudhamma of the Charlotte Buddhist Vihara will lead the wellness moment. A delicious lunch will be served by Dahlia Grove Catering.  Dahlia Grove is a nonprofit social enterprise seeking to empower and employ women survivors of human trafficking, domestic violence and sexual exploitation.


We all enjoyed SO MUCH the opportunity to come together in February - so this will be another great opportunity to gather together and to learn. 


These gatherings are made possible by a generous grant from the Foundation for the Carolinas. If you are able to make a donation toward the costs of the lunch, it will help us to make these events more widely available

and perhaps more frequent.

Thursday, February 22 | 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM | Park Rd Baptist Church

Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls

                    Founder/Executive Director of the Freedom Center for Social Justice




Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls is a national faith leader and social justice activist who has focused most of her work on culture shifts in the Southeastern United States, fighting oppression and discrimination.  Bishop Rawls established the first Unity Fellowship Church Movement congregation in the Bible Belt of the US by founding Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte in 2000.  In 2008, she was consecrated as one of the first women Bishops in the Los Angeles-based Unity Fellowship Church Movement’s history.  In 2014 she founded Sacred Souls United Church of Christ, a diverse congregation of progressive Christians in Charlotte and serves now as Pastor Emeritus after her 2022 retirement.  Her work beyond the walls of the church is also extensive. 


She is the Founder and Executive Director of The Freedom Center for Social Justice (FCSJ).  Founded in 2009, they work intersectionally through their programs that support the trans community, people of color, people of low wealth, youth and sexual minorities.  Bishop Rawls is the architect of the FCSJ Do No Harm Campaign, which provided safe space for faith leaders in North Carolina, to discuss challenging justice issues like religious exceptionalism, equal protection for marginalized residents, and other current issues impacting communities of color, immigrant communities and the poor.  This work led to the 2018 establishment of their Liberating Theologies Speaker Series which brings some of the leading theologians and socio-political change agents to NC to address the role biblical interpretation plays in the oppression of the marginalized as well as expansion of participant’s understanding of original text and support for making theological shifts when necessary.  Past presenters include Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey, and Rev. Dr. Kwok Pui Lan.  Her team also created the “Yes, You Can Go” campaign which provides trans-welcoming restroom signage in NC along with educational materials about trans discrimination. 


The Freedom Center has also launched other programs Transgender Faith and Action Network hosts an annual retreat for trans people of faith, their families and allies throughout the nation.  It also provides critical information that ranges from healthcare and employment opportunities, to research and affirming community for those who are often left isolated and at risk. Bishop Rawls is cofounder of the Charlotte Clergy Coalition for Justice and the National Trans Religious Cohort.  The Cohort was established in 2012 and provides training and support to trans and gender non-conforming seminary and religious studies students throughout the nation.  This program is done in partnership with the Pacific School of Religion in Berkley, CA and The National LGBT Task Force in Washington, DC.


She was an active leader in the NC Moral Monday Movement, which was established by Rev. Dr. William Barber, to combat injustice and inequality in the State of NC, and was appointed the Inaugural Chair of the NC NAACP’s Executive Board LGBTQ Committee.    


Bishop Rawls has been a reviewer for the Journal of African-American Studies and is published in Black Sexualities:  Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies (Released 2010), as well as Sojourners, SAGE and other print and electronic publications.  She has been a guest speaker at Duke University School of Divinity, Union Theological Seminary, Rochester/Colgate Divinity School and in other academic and community settings.  Bishop Rawls is a graduate of Duke University in Durham, NC and attended Episcopal Divinity School in Boston, MA.  She received a Certificate in Non-Profit Management and an Executive Certificate in Non-Profit Leadership, both from Duke University.  She is a two-term member of the Governing Board of the North Carolina Council of Churches and was selected as one of Charlotte’s 50 most influential women by Charlotte Woman Magazine and one the “Great 28” for 2024 which celebrated Black Charlotteans who are shaping the city.  She is the recipient of several additional honors and awards and was included in the June 2017 inaugural issue of Essence Magazine’s Woke 100 list which recognized women like former First Lady Michelle Obama and others throughout the nation who are serving as successful agents for.

Bishop Rawls_Non Clergy Attire.jpg
February 22, 2024 - 1st Faith Leader Lunch

The February 22 featured speaker will be Dr. Scott Thumma, Professor of Sociology of Religion and Director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research. Dr. Thumma is the principal investigator of Exploring the Pandemic Impact on Congregations: Innovation Amidst and Beyond COVID-19 and the Co-organizer of the Faith Communities Today Project. He will be joining us via Zoom to talk about his current research on the very real challenges of post-pandemic congregational life AND the factors that impact clergy job satisfaction and well-being. Calling himself an "optimistic realist," Dr. Thumma will highlight both the circumstances that create clergy discontent and the things that faith leaders and congregations can do to address them. 
The wonderful Sherry Waters, Community Chaplain, Stewardship Practitioner, Life Coach, and owner-operator of The Pauline Tea-Bar Apothecary will lead the wellness practice. 

Ammalu Saleh, Executive Chef and Owner of Serengeti Kitchen, will provide an amazing Tanzanian meal for us. She has catered for us several times, and her food is INCREDIBLE.
These gatherings are made possible by a generous grant from the Foundation for the Carolinas. If you are able to make a donation toward the costs of the lunch, it will help us to make these events more widely available and perhaps more frequent.​

Scott Thumma


  • Ph.D. (Emory University)

  • M.Div. (Candler School of Theology)

  • B.A. (Southwestern University)

Areas of Study

  • Megachurch characteristics and dynamics

  • The increase in nondenominational churches

  • The impact of the Internet on congregational dynamics

  • Congregational studies of healthy growth and member engagement

  • Congregational/Denominational trends of Religion in America

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