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!