Me and My Friend Renee Mikell

Renee and me

Graduation day!

Renee and I met while we were in the Doctorate of Ministry program at Wesley Theological Seminary, Cohort H. I love her call story. Renee had a high power executive job in Atlanta working in the Time-Warner building. Every day she went to the park for lunch where she caught up on her reading for the Disciple 1 Bible class. She started to notice that there were people in the park who seemed to have no place to go. She realized that they were part of the unhoused community in the city. Slowly, over time she earned their trust, and she ultimately had a full fledged Bible study in the park during her lunch break, everyday with unhoused citizens. As they studied together and prayed together, she learned more about them and the social climate of their culture. Renee eventually helped some of them gain access to the personal documents necessary to get identification, apply for jobs and locate social services. Witnessing the fruit of some of this work with them facilitated Renee’s call to ministry,

I met her after she had served for awhile in the Western part of Pennsylvania. For a three year period we would see each other twice a year for two weeks of class. We formed a friendship, and after graduation, Renee and I continued our friendship.

Renee is a deep seated person of prayer. She discovered how seamlessly God allowed her leadership skills to translate from nearly two decades of secular work to leading and nurturing a congregation, even as her preaching and teaching skills were being developed. After we received our doctorate degrees we continued to be in touch monthly to exchange spiritual direction. We were intentional about scheduling time to regularly talk and pray with each other sometimes for two hours (after our church committee meetings) late into the late night. It was a time that I deeply cherished. Something happened during those times of prayer that was sacred and holy. When you pray with someone you are not only sharing your soul, but you are also inviting God in the center of the relationship. They are deeply sacred times.

We always shared from our hearts before praying. We shared of ministry and family, joys and trials. The problem was, much of what I shared were ordinary issues and problems of ministry. Renee had a difficult ministry setting. She confided in me, and was comfortable sharing the trials she had faced while pastoring in a cross-racial appointment. Many members of the congregation were extremely unkind to her. She also used some of those challenges to shape the writing of her dissertation.

In the United Methodist system a pastor is appointed to a congregation by the resident Bishop. This beautiful woman of color was appointed to an all white congregation, and they wanted nothing to do with her. There were a few kind souls, but there was a larger group that was not only mean and nasty to her, but clearly told her, in their meetings that they did not want her to be their pastor. They would even talk about her in the third person while she was with them in the meetings. This was not just once or twice, but rather it was an ongoing, never-ending, situation. It was painful for me to listen to. I am not sure how she survived being there, but she constantly responded with grace and a charitable heart. I often asked her how she continued, and she said it was through much prayer and looking at them with the eyes of Jesus. These were CHURCH people who were unkind!

Three years ago their new Bishop appointed her to extension ministry as assistant to the Bishop. She is healing from the experience in her previous appointment while  adapting to her new role in ministry. She is doing a phenomenal job, and enjoying her new role.

I would not have been able to survive the things that Renee had to endure, all because she was African American, and a woman. To say that Renee has gifts and grace for the job of being a pastor would be an understatement. The prejudice and hurt that she had to endure was inhumane. Yet, she loved the congregation she served just the same. 

Renee and I are still good friends, but we do not have opportunities to exchange spiritual direction as much anymore because of her crazy, busy position as assistant to the Bishop, which she loves, and for which I am thrilled for her.

This is printed with her permission. 

So what can you do? We can stand up against racism! If you observe patterns of behavior that are out of line, speak up. Could there not have been one person in her previous parish to speak out against what was overtly being said and done to her? Would you have supported this gifted woman in ministry if this had been your church? The time is now, this has to change.

As in a previous story, here are some things you can do:

  • Do not allow racist jokes, or remarks in your presence or from your children or their children. They are really not funny. Stop it!
  • Teach your children well, that all people are made in the image of God and each and every person has unique stories. 
  • Read stories about the African American culture that highlight some differences that you might not be aware of.
  • Ask forgiveness when you did not notice an unjust situation taking place. I was shocked to learn the kind of treatment that was being given to Renee, and she was an ordained pastor, with a Doctorate of Ministry degree in church Leadership!
  • Pay attention to a neighbor who is different than you. Start a relationship with them.
  • Stand up for justice when you see injustice happening. 
  • Write a story, like this one. Share a story on your social media. 
  • Use your vote for change.
  • March for justice.
  • Write to your elected officials.
  • Write a nice note to someone who is different than you. Ask them how they are doing in these turbulent times. 
  • Watch movies based on real life to include “Just Mercy,” “42,” the story of Jackie Robinson, and “Green Book.”

Each of us can do something. The time is now, choose something today!

My Friend William Chaney and Me

william and me disney

I first heard him speak as a guest lecturer when I was in seminary. I loved his passion, energy, and message so much that I was compelled to run out of the class to catch up with him even before my regular professor was finished teaching.

I ran to introduce myself to The Rev. William Chaney. We chatted, I learned he lived in my same county, and at the end of our short conversation I asked, if it was ok to give him a hug. See, I knew then and there that William and I were soul mates—not the kind of soul mates for marriage, he already had a beautiful, intelligent, wife and they have a lovely daughter, but soul mates in that we both had an inner need to reach people for Jesus. We both have a deep desire to make disciples for Jesus, and we both know that the process requires new ways of thinking. That kind of soul mate—the kind that has a heart for Jesus and the people Jesus wants to reach. 

Over the next year William and I became fast friends. We shared time together with our respective families, we encouraged each other with new ideas for ministry, and we listened to each other’s stories. William had always loved the Exponential Conference held in Florida every year, and in the spring of 2010 I decided to accept his invitation to attend. We independently booked flights on the same Southwest flight. We were bound for Florida!

As it happened Ron, my brother-in-law who has since gone onto glory, had just retired and had managed to get a free condo that had three separate bedrooms, with separate bathrooms. Ron wanted to golf, and William and I could each have a separate room. Free is always good. It saved our respective churches some money, so we decided to stay there together.  William and I even arrived a half a day early. We had each procured tickets for Disney, and we spent that half day before the conference riding roller coasters. 

The conference was good, even if it was oriented to male pastors. (That is a story for another day, I personally know how to filter that prejudice out.)  William and I had dinner with several colleagues that we knew who were also attending. We arrived back at the condo late. We each said goodnight and went to our respective rooms, closing our doors behind us. 

The next morning I had not yet seen William and we were five minutes away from our appointed time of departure. I banged on his room door and asked if he was ready. He said he needed about ten more minutes.

When William came out of his room I said, “You don’t look good, are you ok?”

William: “I did not get much sleep last night.”

Me: “Why not, are you worried about something?”

William: “No, but I slept in the gym last night, until the security guard got me up, and then I moved to the pool.”

Me (very confused): “What, what happened?”

William: “I went out to take a short walk last night before bed. When I came back the door was locked with the chain, and I could not get back in.”

Me: “Why didn’t you call.”

William: “I did not take my phone, it was just going for a short walk.”

Me: “Why didn’t you knock on the door.”

William: “I did but no one heard me.”

Me: “Why didn’t you bang on the patio door until we heard you?”

William: “A black man banging on a patio door in the middle of the night?”

That is when it struck me full force. My friend William cannot do things that I can do. Some call it white privilege, others call it oppression. Whatever you want to name it, William cannot react in ways that I would react out of fear of being perceived as a threat to others. If he had banged on the door, surely someone would have called the police. So William, who did have his key card, slept in the little workout room on the mat.

Understand, my brother-in-law had retired from the CIA. He had locked the door with the chain assuming everyone was inside behind their closed doors. He ALWAYS locked doors well, and checked them a second time. There was no malice involved, just a series of unfortunate events. The next morning the chain came off when Ron went to get the free paper in front of the condo. With that, William came inside, and since we all had our own rooms, none of us knew William had been missing all night. 

William never said a word about the incident again. He handled it all with grace. But the incident has remained with me. As I continue to socialize and work with my African American friends, I realize they have to do things differently than I. They have to think twice about doing things that I would just do. They have to ensure that their actions are not perceived as a threat to others. They have to constantly be thinking, is this going to be taken the wrong way. 

William and I are still good friends and communicate regularly. It was about six months ago that his wife became outraged, over another unjust incident. She posted about the event, which William never mentioned. He and an African American District Superintendent had been working late in a church in an unnamed state in the south.  On the way home their car was stopped by the police. They had done nothing wrong. Not only did the police check their licenses, but he made them both get out of the car and searched them, for no reason! This is unacceptable behavior, and it has to stop. 

We cannot remain silent. We who do not have to suffer this kind of injustice need to speak up. It’s time we who do not have to think about our every action and how it will be perceived in the world need to take a stand for justice. Systemic racism has deep roots in our land. It is time we all repent. It is time to speak up, and it is time to ensure real change will happen. 

Each of us can do something. What can you do? Here are some ideas:

  • Ask forgiveness for times when you did not notice how you might have contributed to an injustice.
  • Ask forgiveness when you did not notice an unjust situation taking place. This is a place where I had to start after William asked me the question, “A black man banging on a door late at night?” That was ten years ago!
  • Pay attention to a neighbor who is different than you. Start a relationship with them. Listen to their stories.
  • Stand up for justice when you see injustice happening. 
  • Write a story, like this one.
  • Use your vote for change.
  • March for in peace for justice.
  • Write to your elected officials.
  • Write a nice note to someone who is different than you. Ask them how they are doing in these turbulent times. 
  • Read material that helps you understand the world from a different perspective.
  • Watch movies based on real life. “Just Mercy” is a good place to begin. 

Each of us can do something. The time is now, choose something today!

(This article was written at my initiative with permission from William Chaney and his wife, Michelle.)