Describing the Work
The heart of my ministry and personhood is just, I’m a person of curiosity. I’m a person who asks a lot of questions. I have increasingly found that when I look back on my life, there’s been this thread and pattern of someone who’s never satisfied. Someone who always has to know why. Someone who always has to kind of push the limit of things and challenge what’s been handed to me. I think that I’m just someone who’s always been a seeker, always been curious, so I think that has lent itself to ministry because I just have felt very equipped to do things that are different and to push back on traditional ideas and to really dig deep into identity and movements and really connecting that to faith, some of the biggest questions that I think people ask.
Journey To This Work
I’ve always wanted to help people, and I think part of that is because of trauma, but when I was a child, I also was always just drawn to other people’s problems, often people who were older than me, just kind of taking it on and finding it very easy to empathize with others. So, I always knew that I would do something people oriented. I was actually pretty unchurched for the beginning of my childhood. I grew up in a family that was sort of ready to push back on their religious upbringing. They didn’t want to really keep it going. But again, as a child who always had a lot of questions, that never was enough for me. I wanted to know what was going on at church. I wanted to know what was happening when we went for special occasions. So, I made my parents take me to church early on, and it was there that I realized that a lot of the things came natural to me. The stories and just thinking theologically about things, being spiritually inclined, that was all kind of innate in me and that came out when I was about 12 or 13. So, I knew I would do ministry at that point, but I still was pretty much in fairly conservative communities until I realized that helping people could lead me to something like social work, and that’s when everything sort of collapsed and faith became open to more progressive ideas and took on a more justice-oriented lens, and it’s pretty much taken off since then.
And so, it wasn’t until I went there and started building relationships, and I really trusted people that I could actually start to accept some of the ideas that they had that were different.
The Process of Unlearning/Learning
At the time, it seemed like it was happening gradually, but I guess in the big scheme of things, it was not gradual at all. It was pretty fast, but I just think it was really relationships. I wanted to go to a Christian school because in high school, I was very evangelical and conservative, white church, Black church, but still really conservative. And because of that, I really wanted to go to a Christian school for college, but I didn’t really do research on the school for college. I just knew that they were Christian. My mom had gone there for a program, so I was just like, “let me just go with this.” And then the Christian school I ended up going to was on the more progressive side of things.
And so, it wasn’t until I went there and started building relationships, and I really trusted people that I could actually start to accept some of the ideas that they had that were different. I remember being really freaked out my first year of college. How are you Christian and you vote democrat? How are you Christian and you cuss? You listen to this music? And I think once I got to a place where I really trusted people, and I could see that they believed in the same Jesus that I did, it was pretty easy, just one-by-one, things just started to unravel, and I just started to be introduced to different writers and different kinds of ideas. You know, as long as I felt close to Christ, which I did, I felt pretty free to ask questions. So that’s how it started, and it has never stopped. Now, I’m like, I don’t even know if I want to be in the church, but once it got going, it just never ended…I think relationships really is the thing, like not in a cliché way, but it really is a thing that helps change our minds about a lot of things.
I think that I want people to hold on to hope. The spaces that I think you’re describing either are out there somewhere and it just takes connecting to life-giving and affirming and like-minded people. They’re there somewhere, and if they’re not, then you have the power to make it happen.
Overcoming Obstacles and Barriers
Ordination was one of the biggest hurdles. I thankfully got through it, and I’m Presbyterian so that’s a very, very arduous, complicated, and even expensive process, so getting through that was one big logistical challenge. A lot of my biggest challenges were actually in seminary. I went to Duke and really didn’t do any research about Duke either. I only knew the name and knew that I wanted to do a dual degree with social work, and so, I ended up there, and they ended up being a lot more conservative than I wanted them to be. I got a lot of push back from classmates. I was very dissatisfied with how the seminary responded to different issues, race, sexuality, gender…I came out in seminary as bi and pan, and it wasn’t a place where that felt embraced. It felt embraced by individuals but not really by the curriculum or by the theology that was valued, so that was when I really struggled. And I felt myself almost slip into despair when I was in seminary.
And my first call, I’ve been at my church right now for almost a year, was one of the first places where I felt like I could breathe. After having a pretty traumatic school experience, like I have a very tiny congregation that is white, but I think that they’re very open to me being a Black woman and a student of womanist theology, a student of queer theology, and they’re pretty unique in that I could pretty much do whatever and they just kind of go with it. A lot of them also have big questions and spiritual trauma, so it’s actually been very healing for me coming from that school. And the only other challenge with that is that we are in a non-affirming area, so that’s where that kind of news article came out. Someone was driving by and then we got all this hate because of the flags [Black Lives Matter and Pride flags] outside. We get a lot of push back from the community surrounding us, but I’ve also seen the flags that we have just bring people to tears because it takes miles and miles for people to find another one, because people need it. So, we’ve just kind of worked through it the best we can, making it up as we go and having hard conversations.
I do not have hope in the Church as an institution. I do have hope in people. I have hope in the Spirit of God.
On The Church
I do not have hope in the Church as an institution. I do have hope in people. I have hope in the Spirit of God. And I feel really inspired by what the Spirit of God is doing at this point in history, which in a lot of ways is taking people outside of the church. It’s doing a lot of things in churches, and I think my church is one of those places where people still really long for Christ, and they still really long for the stories of the Bible, but they’re willing to push back on tradition. They’re willing to push back on how it’s been done before. And what’s been written before, and they’re willing to just do something new. So, I see the Spirit doing things like that, and I also see the Spirit in places outside of church. I see the Spirit moving people back to their historical and cultural roots. I see people being moved by interfaith movements. I see God in community organizing and social justice movements. I see God in art forms and nature, all these things that I feel like collectively people are finding a lot of meaning and purpose in and a lot of community in. And people of color, especially, I see our ancestors calling us back to some of our earliest connections and that to me feels very sacred. So those are things that I feel hope in. The Church as an institution is going through, I think, a necessary death right now, and we see that in so many ways. It’s losing its significance. It’s losing its influence. People don’t care anymore. And that’s happening across the board. And there are going to be communities that withstand that if they are able to adapt to the times, but there’s also going to be a lot of them that don’t make it. I think that I’m ready for that to happen. I think that we’re moving into a new era. So, it’s not really the institution but the people who trust the Spirit in all the different expressions, whether it’s in a church or not. So that’s where I’m at with it.
Advice For Those Hoping to Do This Work
I think that I want people to hold on to hope. The spaces that I think you’re describing either are out there somewhere and it just takes connecting to life-giving and affirming and like-minded people. They’re there somewhere, and if they’re not, then you have the power to make it happen. That’s how so many communities are started, by filling in a gap. I was listening to a podcast earlier, and this filling in the gap thing is really significant right now. We don’t need any more of the same. We don’t need 5 Starbucks on one block, 5 McDonald’s on a block, 5 churches on the same block. We need people creating things that actually fills something that’s not there. I would say keep searching, keep looking, and if it’s not there, there are bound to be people who are asking the same questions. And don’t feel like you’re too much. I feel like there was a lot of insecurity I’ve been feeling where it’s like, I’ve been asking for too much. Like I’ve been looking for a church that is queer-affirming and also anti-racist and good on this and have this aspect…You’re not asking for too much. Be true to yourself. There’re too many pastors out there who are compromising or in situations that they really don’t want to be in, so stand your ground on the things you want and are looking for and it can happen.