Sunday Morning Confession

Special thanks to Jessica Davenport, a 26 year old recent graduate of Emory University Divinity School in Atlanta, for stepping in and contributing this special guest column today here on Something Within.
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It’s Sunday and the clock on my nightstand reads 11am. Typical church hour. I swiftly divert my eyes away from the clock and back at the novel I’m reading, pretending not to notice. “You ain’t missing nothin,” I grumble out of the side of mouth as I turn the page.

And there you have it: my Sunday morning ritual. Instead of squeezing myself into pantyhose and my “Sunday best” and rushing out the door like I once did, I spend the morning trying not to think too hard about where my relationship with the church went wrong.

But given that most 18-35 year olds are missing from Black churches across the nation, my absence isn’t really all that significant. Except that I’m a licensed minister.

I’m a minister who just spent 3 years in seminary writing papers attesting to the prophetic tradition of the black church, but who can’t seem to will herself to step foot in one these days.

And no, the reason I’m not in church is not because seminary, or rather the academic study of religion, somehow “took my Jesus away.” Actually it was the other way around. I gave up Jesus (or rather, my traditional, Baptist-bred beliefs about him) before I went off to seminary. It was seminary that kept me from giving him up altogether.

The major reason I’ve gone AWOL from pursuing ministry is because I’ve become ambivalent—wait, “ambivalent” is an understatement—I’ve become downright disgruntled with what it means to be a black woman in ministry these days. So, I’ve decided to take my work with young people, particularly black teenage girls, elsewhere.

Truth is, my frustration has been mounting for sometime. Perhaps the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back occurred at women’s conference I attended a year ago. This particular conference, organized by some senior women in ministry, was held on the heels of the Juanita Bynum beating and the torture of Meghan Williams. To my horror, there was no organized, intentional response at this conference to the rampant violence against black women that pervades this nation. In fact, not a word was spoken about either of the two cases, save a couple of panelists who had no other choice but to respond to a question about the incidents that was posed during an open Q&A session. That was enough to make a black woman in the church like myself snap her neck and wonder, “What gives?!” Have we really become so beholden to the same recycled conference topics that we can’t organize and speak out about urgent, relevant issues that are literally killing black women in mass numbers?

This is not to wholly dismiss the importance and impact of the topics that are typically talked about at these conferences, like our personal relationships with God and how to build wealth. But, honestly, how can we talk about such topics in isolation of the larger social and political issues of our day and still claim to be prophetic?

But let me be clear: This is not a rant against my immediate foremothers in ministry. At least not entirely. They have followed in the historic tradition of Julia Foote, Ida B. Robinson, Pauli Murray, Prathia Hall Wynn and other “Daughters of Thunder.” It is because of them that there is not only a gaping hole in the proverbial stained-glass window, but we are able to have annual meetings called “women’s conferences” because of their vision.  In many ways, they were first to bring issues concerning women to a national platform within the black church. And for this, we should all be eternally grateful.

So, perhaps this confession is less about what my foremothers in ministry are (or aren’t) doing. This is more about how their legacy is being carried forward by those in my generation. I’m talking about those of us who find it relatively easy to navigate through the rough gendered terrain of ministry. And when it hasn’t been so easy, there have been enough women in ministry with us to have a strong support system to lean on. We have reaped the benefits of our foremothers’ struggle, but we have been slow on the uptake when it comes to making our presence in the pulpit a collective benefit for the women we minister to. Instead of making sure that social issues that impact black women and girls are central to conference agendas, we simply put a new twist on the same topics that have been talked about for the past 20 years. We allow men to continue to set the larger agenda for the black church while we act as if we are mute, content to just have a seat at the table. Instead of prophetically preaching against the systemic oppression of women in our communities and the silence that surrounds it, we preach prosperity gospel-laden sermons, afraid to jeopardize our growing celebrity on the preaching circuit.

women in worship

It’s important to acknowledge that there are many older and younger black women in ministry who have been breaking with this mold. These are women in ministry who have chosen to walk off the beaten path and courageously cut themselves a new one by boldly tackling issues like HIV/AIDS, violence against women, and the sex trafficking of girls. But these women often do ministry in isolation and without the camaraderie and collective backing of other black women in ministry.

This morning I woke up wondering when the “Deborahs” among black women in ministry will come forward. Those observant, perceptive women who know instinctively what to do when there is an attack against their people. Women who know that these types of attacks require more than a workshop or a plenary session; they require sustained, organized, collective action and their willing to put their heads together with women community leaders and activists to come up with offensive tactics. I’m also wondering where the “Esthers” are. The women who have power, influence and a seat at the negotiating table. Women who are willing to speak up and use their influence to lay out a new agenda that includes issues that threaten the lives of black women. And as a young’un in ministry, I’m searching for the “Ella Bakers” (not a woman in the Bible, I know, but a fierce woman all the same). I’m looking for women who take seriously the voices and ideas of younger women in ministry and who are committed to helping us strategically channel our energy (albeit youthful angst) in constructive, empowering ways.

This wouldn’t be a full confession if I didn’t admit to being part of the problem. Instead of hanging in there, I’ve chosen to pick up my equipment and leave the field too soon. It’s hard to make a difference when you’re shouting from the sidelines. Not to mention, my critique sounds like a temper-tantrum when there are so many trailblazing black women in ministry who are faithfully remaining true to their prophetic work without collective support. Their witness compels me to prepare to gird my breasts, sharpen my game and get back out on the field.

But in the meantime, I’m offering these confessions. And for now going back to reading my novel.

66 Responses to “Sunday Morning Confession”

  1. Ruby Sales Says:

    Good morning Jessica,

    Thanks for having a righteous outpouring. Not temper tantrum, but a profound and courageous critique, call and affirmation. Thank you. I am waiting, too!

    Ruby Sales

  2. MBW Says:

    Reading beyond the words, the passiona nd the love that Minister Jessica Davenport has for God and for God’s church is evident. I was reminded of lines from Langston Hughes poem “Mother to Son” when it says “now don’t you stop becuase you find it’s kinda hard, I’m still climbin and life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” so right now might be a place where you need to stop step away and catch your breathe….but I will be praying that a season will come when you return ..for the passion that’s in you is needed for the very change that you are calling for
    MBW

  3. talentedtenth Says:

    thank you jessica for sharing. although not in a ministry role, i definitely understand the place from which you are speaking. at one time, i tried to express these same thoughts and feelings to others, and the most common response i received was a blank stare as if what i was saying was absolutely foreign. i no longer make a huge effort to try and explain.

    i have begun to extremely dislike something that i can never walk away from — church. i’m tired and not qutie sure what to do; i just keep pressing the best way i know how. i just wish other “saints” understood that versus trying to put me in hell for what they believe are my heathen ways.

  4. Sis. K Says:

    You have a witness here! I also feel the pull to leave the pew because there is such a peculiar silence that seems to pervade even the most progressive ministries. I have had the benefit of healing wounds and finding renewed hope in my life. Yet there are times when I sit in Sunday morning worship and I think have these folks heard the same news stories and tragedies that I listened to this week. I am piqued by the words offered in corporate prayer, especially when there are no words to recognize the ongoing war and the related crises in our nation, nor is there balm for so many who are grappling with chronic illness. When I listen to the sermon, I hear the prophetic voice and proclamation, yet when I make the commitment to work in the ministries of the church – a battle of other sorts prevails where folks seem self-serving and to be seeking the favor of others. And it is absolutely the history and faith of the cloud of sister witnesses, who have come my way preaching, teaching and standing strong, who have helped me remain in church and holding on to God’s unchanging hand.

  5. revmamaafrika Says:

    Sis. Jessica, AMEN! (And, A-WOMAN!) :) :)

    I have felt the same way about women’s church conferences as well; topics such as “saving for the Kingdom” (your money or your spirit?), “how to be a ‘holy wife’”, topics that implied, “how to find AND keep a husband”, but not how to love and be loved; how to raise “spirit-filled children”, a few health topics, etc. You have and will continue to set an example, that is the best way to reach AND teach people, especially other sisters.

    I have felt and still feel a bit like what you have described. Six years ago at my then church’s annual women’s conference, I facilitated a workshop, “The Church and Domestic Violence: Who Can Be Saved?” It went very well, better than I expected. What really told me I was on the right path, across the hall, the then wife of a still-famous preacher and gospel singer also attended; she gave a tearful testimony, “sometimes I wish the service would never end, ’cause I know what will happen to me when I get home!”

    God knows the burdens we sometimes have trying to do His/Her Will, but please know, whatever you and God/Goddess decide, it’ll be alright! Thank you for your hard work, it is appreciated! :) :)

  6. deborah Says:

    A powerfully honest commentary on the condition of so many (thankfully, not all) ministries. Thank you.

    The Deborahs and Esthers are out there: creating, healing, serving, sustaining, uplifting, ministering. You don’t always need a title to do these things. You need a place and a purpose. Many are “un-known and un-famous”, but are changing their corners of the world and witnessing to the truth and power of the gospel.

  7. Wanda Says:

    I must say, as I was reading I felt I was doing the writing. After 21 years in ministry (10 as founding pastor of a church and 4 as associate at a church), I stepped away in January 2008. My Sunday ritual is very much akin to the writer’s but I will add on playing video games.

    I am amazed many of us feel this way and I look forward to the day that we do have the “Deborahs” and “Esthers” and yes, the “Ellas” out in the forefront. As for me, I am tired of waiting for “permission” from the “good ole boys” network to do what I feel God has called me to do. Therefore, I have delivered a Sunday morning ritual that does not include church but, perhaps, one day, it will once again.

    Thanks for putting voice to so many other’s thoughts and feelings.

  8. Marcie L. Thomas Says:

    Wow!! I thought that I was the only one feeling those sentiments. I too attended seminary and was an associate minister in my church before I walked away from it all a couple of years ago. Ever since then, I have found it hard to get back in the same old groove of “church as usual”. However, my faith always takes me back to the church house, so the next time, things will be different….

    I agree that much of the work is going to have to be done on a grass roots level because many of those who are in positions of “power” don’t want anyone to come in and rock the boat by telling the truth about what’s really happening in our communities. It is much easier to whitewash the issues by pretending that they don’t exist, rather than take the risk of getting of getting dirty hands by reaching out to the people who need the most help. How far some ministries and ministers have strayed from the walk that Christ and the apostles walked…

    Thank you for keeping it real, Sister Jessica!

    Marcie L. Thomas

  9. Pastor Irie Says:

    Thanks Deborah. I guess I’m one of those un-known and un-famous Black preaching, pastoring, prophetic women who is pushing past the pretense and attempting to follow the Lord to the margins. I’m a new church planter–going into our second year. Our congregation is radically inclusive and seeks the unchurched-dechurched-no-churched. We have as members former, drug dealers, addicts, prostitutes, as well as women and men living with HIV/AIDS, and women with a history of domestic violence and sexual abuse. We are as our minister of music says, “Church Unusual.” What I can say to by “disgruntled sister” is what my seminary professor said to me, “Be the Change You Seek.” You see, the kind of ministry you are speasking of will not garner large crowds, it will not pay for your mercedes, in fact, you may not even be able to pay your rent if that is oyur only source of income. Aaah, but to see lives changed and transformed, to hear a gay HIV/Aids activist from Kenya seeking asylum in the U.S who comes to your church and says, “This is the safest place I’ve ever been” is worth so much more the dollars and cents. This kind of ministry is not for cowards or those seeking fame and fortune, it’s for those of us who don’t mind getting our hands dirty with the messiness of ministry. It’s for those of us who can honestly say, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

    Peace,

  10. lj Says:

    “i see, said the blind man to his deaf wife.” that’s kind of how i feel about every attempt at conversing w/church folk (women & men) about the broader issues. you know that the man in question doesn’t really “see” b/c he’s blind. and, it wouldn’t really matter if he did b/c his deaf wife wouldn’t have heard his declaration of understanding.

    but, if at 26 you already get it then it’s been a worthwhile battle. if we keep talking the blind will see and the deaf will hear. your 26 year old insight is testament to that. and b/c of your insight you will return to the battle. in the meantime, rest is an essential component of strategic warfare.

  11. Yorri Says:

    WOW! Thank you for this note…this is an issues I am still attempting to reconcile :-/

    Shortly after entering seminary at Howard at 21, I found myself thinking “I was more saved before I got here!” For nearly 2 years, I too found myself spending many Sundays @ 11 unapologetically reading novels, cleaning, doing other things I deemed as being more productive than sitting through yet another “Sunday morning performance watching individuals walk over the community to go play church instead of being the church.” Ultimately I took a few steps back from the whole concept of religion and closer to God, reevaluating what the church would look like when I found her. Indeed, not one who refused to ordain women nor one who spoke against social justice having a true place in the church.

    I thought maybe I was too radical in expecting an end to going through the motions lacking purpose and relevancy, timeout for the “building fund” spending millions of dollars building structures that can perish when the next Katrina floods, while half our congregations are in an economic crisis, undereducated, and disenfranchised. I had an experience doing AIDS testing in DC where 100 women were tested and 30 came back positive! My reaction wasn’t “wow” or “why” rather “what can I do!” Knowing I couldn’t afford to complain without action and many of our churches couldn’t afford to do “business as usual” remain silent regarding taboo issues impacting women and our entire community.

  12. Afia Says:

    Rev. Davenport,
    You are not alone. I too am a recent seminary graduate (ITC); struggling with similar thoughts and concerns. I assumed my love for church would re-kindle after seminary, but I am even more disturbed with what Sunday worship has to offer. However, we can not abandon the masses, we as educated women of faith can not throw in the towel. God has directed us in such a path that yells “a change is coming”. However, it is up to us to pray harder and fight wiser.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Minister Carroll

  13. Kim Pearson Says:

    Renita will not remember this, I am sure, but nearly 25 years ago, she called me and told me that she was trying to put together a new kind of women’s ministry group. My child was very young then, I was working full-time (and unbeknownst to me, a chronic debilitating illness was beginning to make itself manifest) and it ached to have to tell her that I couldn’t participate. Not long after that, she moved on to do the great things that she has been doing.

    And still, 25 years later, it seems we are still struggling to do a new thing. One difference between then and now is the connections that can be made via cyberspace. Could we use it to have an “unconference” to talk about some of these issues?
    Could we perhaps become the change we want to see in the world?

  14. monique Says:

    jessica, i understand your pain. i am a minister in training depending on the Holy Spirit to train until i complete my current degree and start seminary. there is a fire within me that burns: i am a feminist/womanist; i am a teacher; i am a student. i am at a new place of worship so all the frustrations that i have, i voice my concerns to those around me who can comprehend and try to determine a way to teach those who just need to know how important it is. i have attended two conferences this year. a large conference wherein the issues that women faced were discussed in intimate workshops and a smaller conference wherein the women needed to wake up and remember that their is a God who hears and answers prayers. nevertheless, there still needs to be a movement. im not sure if it is to be called the disgruntled young women and ministry movement but it needs to start because the two national ministry organizations i have reviewed have to much ‘application drama’ or me asking what is the purpose besides collecting dues. for now, i have asked God to bless me with a circle of women in ministry who can pray with me and for me and discuss with my concerns that are important to me that i donot necessarily hear addressed in the pulpit. God has answered that prayer and continues to amaze me. for now, i am continuining to sit at God’s feet each day, lead the prayer ministry, and worship at church knowing that when a door opens to minister, i can be the voice in the wilderness, the valley and the world.

  15. Lyn Says:

    Sister thank you for saying what so many think, but lack courage to express! I am one of those women who came to realize that if I really wanted to see those issue addressed, I had to be the one make it happened. I tried for several years at several churches to get those very same issues introduced if not at conference but the monthly or quarterly fellowship. No, no the church is not the place for this I was told time and time again. I was even told that is not women ministry. After losing membership in one church, laughed at, talked about in the local black church community, I ended up at a cacausian non-denominational church healing my ministry wounds and a shepherd that said do what God called you to do. So 5-1/2 years later SLS Ministries meet monthly and our topics of discussion range from sexual abuse, adultery and your real feelings, domestic violence, etc. We have counselors available to help and community resources to refer those that need more help. No the meetings are not large by no means, but every 2nd Saturday we meet, teaching takes place, we fellowship over lunch. I preach when God sends me and usually its people that never heard of me. I have traveled over the country taking the gospel and the truth. Often I am not asked back because I don’t raise offerings after I preach for the prophetic message or deliverance that takes place. Integrity is hard to keep if you want to be popular. If you are walking like Jesus, expect to be unpopular and rejected. Look at how much ministry he did and model yourself after Him. Stop expecting the church (aka organization)to open this door, you my sister are the called vessel for whatever burden God places on your heart. Since you are a licensed, seminary trained minister, I expect to hear of the great conferences, seminars, biblestudies or church you have founded and organized. Rise to cause that’s been placed on your heart for the sake of the gospel. Remember our warfare is not carnal its evil powers in high places. When you look at it, Satan has won when it comes to you on the battlefield for Christ. I dare you to stand for what God has called you to do!

  16. Fal Says:

    @Jessica aka The Brain,

    This is why u are my best sistah friend! Lighting the fires . . . !

    @Kim Pearson,

    Thanks for telling the truth both about the need to organize and about how radical Dr. Weems was in her twenties . . . . perhaps we “kiddos” and “younguns” are own the right path after all . . .

  17. hagar's daughter Says:

    Jessica,
    I could have written this, especially the first 6 paragraphs. I am a 40 something and still find it hard to plop myself down in a pew on Sundays mornings.

    I feel that my calling has pushed me outside the walls. My priest often jokes that the youth department at the church is anyone under the age of 70. I don’t find this remotely amusing even in a rhetorical sense.

    Women’s Conferences - at least your church has them. I remember reading a wise woman’s blog where this woman wrote in order to do ministry one only has to find a need then fill it. And that’s what I’m planning on doing.

    Sister, keep the faith and enjoy your novel.

  18. Valencia Roner Says:

    Hi Jessica:

    You are not alone. (BTW, Jessica is the name of my 15-year old baby). I have been writing in relation to this issue for almost 18 months. So much so, I started another blog, http://churchgirlconfessions.blogspot.com in addition to my Diary of a Content Black Woman blog.

    Keep with the truth-telling. It is designed to set us all free.

    I have begun attending church again regularly. It is trans-denominational - celebrating the unifying principals of all the major religions. While I have come to like it, don’t expect me to join the usher board.

    Blessings to you on your continued journey and blessings to the keeper of this blogging flame - Ms. Rev. Renita.

    Peace.

  19. jessica Says:

    @Everyone: Wow…what a relief to find that I’m not the only one! Thank you for your wisdom, profound honesty and especially your work at the margins. I’m taking notes…

    And of course, thanks to the Radical-Blogging-Reverend who has loaned us this space to “tarry” together.

    @Kim Pearson: Your idea about using cyberspace to organize is a great one. It’s something women of color activists are already doing to create a community for themselves and to raise awareness about these very issues. There’s no reason why women in ministry can’t do the same.

  20. Susan Says:

    I love this, Jessica. You are on point. I too am in a place of wondering, “what?” What did God actually tell me to do? How did God say to do it? I read about how if any of us simply follow someone else’s path, we lead frustrating, unfulfilled lives. It is only when we step off that already trodden path and go, alone, on our own, that we find what God has in store for us. I have been fasting for a couple of weeks now, trying to hear God. Your piece was just another chunk of spiritual food God is feeding me during this time. I thank you.

  21. adomani Says:

    i am so glad you have honored your convicions and “walked away” from a situation you felt was not “enough” for you. my suggestion is this…. be the voice, be the prophet, continue to shout it out from the roof tops. God has given you a message, you have been chosen, you are the deborah and esther, and ella baker all rooled into one. continue to be passionate about your call and what you feel is mission. you are the chosen one.

    i happened to be ordained in another denomination so i am no expert and cannot say anything about your church structure. but i feel your voice will be an asset at denominational conferences/assemblies/gatherings. you will see that there are so many women who may still be in activ eministry but like you, still thirst.

    your honesty is a gift. don’t give up this fight, som many people out there, men and women, young and seniors, need you and your witness.

  22. Woman in Transition Says:

    Jessica, I really, really liked your confession. You speak for many seminarians, past and future. Many, many years ago I heard Chuck Swindoll say in a speech that it takes the average seminary student five years to “thaw out” from the experience. That’s an AVERAGE; some less, but most much more. Going behind that curtain can make even the most steadfast believer faint!

    You are in a very special place right now, and it’s ok to stay there. Only God knows how long that will be, so let yourself just be fully present in that place without any guilt or stress and enjoy your novel(s). I think it’s important to understand that when we say we are having issues with or don’t want to go/considering leaving the church, we are not saying that we are leaving God and our love for God, we are saying that we are leaving that building (or perhaps the institution). Once we are able to see church-the-building as a place of worship and see the WORLD as the church-of-God, then the God of scripture and faith that we are desperately holding on to via church-the-building will become really real. Those same sistahs who are the victims of violence and abuse who end up in hospitals, shelters or counseling centers - who don’t even get an honorable mention at church-the-building women’s conferences - need the same kind of help that they HOPE they would get if they wandered into some brick frame church. We ARE the church-of-God, Jessica, and we don’t need brick and mortar. Go and find those young girls you mentioned and show them God. They are waiting for you.

  23. Rev. LaVelle Says:

    Praise GOD !!!! Hallelujah!!! Jessica I want to commend you on your most truthful confession. We as women in ministry needed to hear this because I truly believe that we all at some point in our journey have felt what you are feeling. Today our churches are not focused enough on the lives of the people. We are living in perilous times and the church is bleeding all over, from the pulpit to the door. No one wants to take the time to help anyone else, we need to get back to basics. We need to get in tune with the HOLY SPIRIT, and preach, teach, and live our lives according to the WORD of GOD !!! We as women in ministry need to stick together and get rid of all of the pettiness.
    I think the idea of the cyberspace is wonderful, and I would definitely be interested. Jessica, GOD definitely has a special calling on your life to do women ministry. There is definitely a “ramah” WORD in your belly, you will be a great encouragement to young girls. GOD BLESS YOU !!!

  24. Ketty Says:

    Well Jessica as a teenager who has been part of the church for my entire life, I completely understand your frustration. There have been many times that I have wanted to forsake my membership and sit in my bed and commune with my God alone because of the foolishness occuring in our churches. Yes the same topics are preached year after year but they seem to grow more irrelevant as I grow older and wiser. But the God in me does not allow me to grow upset without at least aiming to prepare for action. Ghandi once said “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Make the attempt to change that which is most frustrating - don’t just stand at the sidelines hurdling crticisms coupled with inaction. If we are to call ourselves true disciples of the Most High God then we are obligated to take this most distressing concern to God in prayer. So I challenge everyone who has a crticism about black churches to honestly comune before God and listen to the plan of action HE would have us to take. Mere communication of the problem is inadequate. The one thing that made the women exhibited in the Bible so great was their willingness to take everything to God in prayer. Let us do the same and offer God our submission.

  25. Rev. LT Says:

    WOW Jessica! SAY So! SAY So! And Wanda, Marcie and Yorri. I thought I was the only one too. In fact, I started to question my anointing. I have recently stepped down a pulpit where I could no longer “play the game”. That’s not who I am but it would be who I’d have to become. It’s not just womens’ issues that are not addressed in authentic ways. . .it’s the favortism, the cliches, the masks and just the same ole’, same ole. There is not enough room to write all of them. We (ministers & churches) have members to the point where they can’t even call us by our birth names, respectively. It’s FIRST LADY & Bishop this or that. First Lady WHO? What happened to “sister” sometimes? All of these titles, positions and pontificating with little impact on healing. Sure, we guilt and shame our sisters, using the word of God to push and to be better and do more but it’s becoming a SHOW!! I didn’t plan on being in SHOW business. It hurts sometimes yet I press. I continue to answer my call to be an “interruption” reaching who I can. But, yes. . . .Jessica you’ve learned early with fresh eyes, as have I. What I won’t do is fade in - in order, to fit in.

  26. WhitneyB. Says:

    yes…yes…YES!!! Since returning home for the summer, I’ve found myself attending the same church I was born into over 22 years ago. However, I mainly don’t go to “get a word” or to better myself has a change agent. I, too, put on my Sunday’s best more so as a fashion statement (lashes are often included in my make-up routine). I go purely out of habit and not having to hear my Granny’s mouth about, “Why wasn’t (yes, wasn’t) you at church?” But it’s hard explaining to my beloved Grandmother that I’m tired of coming to church, shouting, tithing, but yet still walking away and basically feeling the same way. Then to make matters worse, the highest level a woman get to at my church is the Mother’s Board or Sunday School Superintendent. Not nan’a woman done stepped foot in the church’s pulpit (which is why I often pondered the idea of seminary…I would have more schooling than all of the “ministers” in that pulpit). Though I am not in ordained, pulpit ministry, I am in a form of ministry and have too seen the craziness of the church; which leads me to my love/hate relationship with the Black church.

    So JDub, sister/friend, I hear you, I support, and Sam Cooke’s prophetic message “A Change Gon’ Come” is on the horizon. I’m glad that we’ll be able to share in it together!!!

  27. TMW Says:

    I can recall my former pastor saying in 2000 that Rev. Vashti McKenzie should not be the pastor of a church or a Bishop. I was appalled that not one woman said a word or walked out of the sanctuary. I protested by writing an article about women preachers for our church newsletter. Of course it was kicked back, but I know my former pastor got the message. About a year later the first woman he ordained was his wife. At least my former pastor changed.
    As a choir director I am also tired of seeing a bunch of women in the choir, all male musicians, and the male choir director leading all the songs. It does not make sense to me.

  28. crt Says:

    I admit that the length of this response may get me the cyberspace crack across the nuckles but this has truly been rich and strengthening! This morning I picked up In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens and in it Alice Walker speaks of Toni Morrison’s commitment to writing the stories that she (Morrison) wants to read. I began to wonder, in light of this blog, if ministry involvement and/or ministry development does not follow a similar model. Are we drawn to the ministries that we want to create and do we create the ministries that we are drawn to? I guess in some ways the question circles around the nature vs. nurture issue.

    I have been out of seminary for seven years and have been active in a local church body throughout. I have found myself in many seasons of disappointment, discouragement, and dissatisfaction to say the least, but there have been times where I have experienced fulfillment and satisfaction as well. However, the last two years of concentrated and densely packed church turmoil has left me without that “loving feeling.” I have not left the church, although there are days when though in the service I have done anything but plug in. Those times I have written in my journal, jotted down to-do lists, fought off just walking out and sitting in the lounge until the people finish with whatever has caught their fancy for the morning, and tried to silence the fantasy of me standing on top of the communion table and screaming in the middle of the service “What in the world! Get yourself together!” But as much as I would like to make it the church’s fault alone, maturity requires me to accept my own part.

    Several years ago Dr. Weems facilitated a workshop dealing with “Creative Possibilities for Ministry” where she used the Beloved’s words in the Song of Solomon as the launching pad for the discussion: “…my mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards,; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.” v.6. She asked us in her “don’t make me come down there” sort of way how long we would continue to build everybody else’s vineyard, ministry, vision, etc. instead of working on the vision and dreams and gifts that God had given us. The issues centered in many ways around us dealing with our sense of value and self-worth. Several years after this workshop I have tried to do both. Work somebody else’s vineyard, tend to their vines, fight off their intruders and to make matters worse, in some instances I have even used their dull tools to do it when I had a set of ergonomic tools of my own and still try to muster up the faith and courage to tend to my own landscape that looked impossible to work to a fatigued and spent mind and spirit. So, as I reflect on this season of ministry and the words of this blog I am encouraged enough to act and walk in the truth that I really am the change that I have been waiting for.

  29. Renita Says:

    You are right, Jessica, that I’ve been quiet. I’m up against a deadline, it’s true. But I have also been unable to figure out just where to begin to respond. I tried twice yesterday only to hit delete.

    I meet lots of women in ministry in my travels who feel the way you do about church and the ministry which is why I was I was grateful for the chance to put your piece up on the blog.

    Here’s what I know for sure: In my 18 years of teaching at a seminary I had plenty of opportunity to see students graduate and soon become disaffected with the church, church folks, ministry, and, oh yeah, even God.

    It happens to everyone in every profession. Lawyers. Doctors. Writers. Bankers. Musicians. You train for a profession only to experience seasons when you’d rather be doing anything other than what you went to school to do.

    But, of course, ministry is supposed to be different. Zeal. Conviction. Anointing. Vision. Mission. And, oh yeah, God.

    It’s the church’s fault, of course. With all its darn warts. Who knew change would be so hard? Who knew working with people would be so difficult? Who knew sexism (and other -isms) would be so entrenched? Who knew?

    And then there’s those mothers in ministry we all look up to, the ones we had hoped…

    Once after a speech where I had included Mary McCloud Bethune in that great hall of fame of women achievers a old woman came up to me and said, “Hmmmph…you just didn’t know Mary like me and some others did. If you were on the Council like I was (NCNW), you’d know that Mary had her ways about her.” I smiled and learned from that, “Only history will be the judge of our life’s work and whether we made any difference because our contemporaries sure are not impressed.” I know. I know. I know, Jessica. That’s not what you’re saying.

    Vocation is such a hard thing. Trying to figure it out. Trying to get it right. Trying to find your place. Trying not to say to God, “You’re kidding right? You mean you want me to figure out how to do something with this mess?!”

  30. Monique Says:

    Sister Jessica, I feel you and all the other Women of God who have responded. Like you my MATS was conferred and now I am looking student loans that must be paid back. I have to ask God in the spirit of ambivalence, contradictory emotions was it worth the labor based on the passive, non-holy, behavior I am seeing in the ministry? Many are sold out and want to talk about issues that are affecting the Body of Christ, but does anyone want to really hear the TRUTH. No people and those professing leaders want this make me feel good, do as I please Gospel that is about things and not salvation. My words that I have chosen to use to encourage myself and maybe others is we must PREVAIL. Even if it means stepping back and allowing God to strengthen us in order to do the work that we were called to do even when the people may not want to hear it.

    Man

  31. MHS Says:

    I certainly relate to how you feel and I still say, hold on my sister, hold on!

    Your confession bleeds love and passion for the work to which you are called, and where you are called to work it–the church. In this season, take your break–read your novels–and stay focused. We are waiting on your return!

  32. LINDA MOOTRY DODD Says:

    Darling ,,,,Well said,,well identified,,Now what are you going to do about it? I hope you are not going to just whine about it,,and talk to you girlfriends about it,,and certainly not run from it,,,Staying home in bed makes you the cause of the continued problem,,When God shows you,,(and God showed you,,at that conference) something then you are to do something,,God has promised,”I will direct your path” so ,,,move closer to God,,(God has promised to move closer to you,,,pray-ask God for directions-get up, stand on the promises of God,,and MAKE SOME MOVES…write to the Pastor, the conference leaders,,call for a possee (those interested) and begin,,list out the subjects we need to be talking about-do a survey in your church and surrounding churhes-get excited about what God is getting ready to do-and entitle it “Behold God is Doing a New Thing”..thankful for the past but now,,a New Thang!1girl get out of the bed,,God was just letting you get some rest before God makes God’s Move using YOU..Back to church you Go..Fired Up,,with the Spirit of all the sisters whoses shoulders you now stand on AMEN

  33. Maisha Handy Says:

    Jessica,

    Thank you so much for sharing your righteous lament… not temper-tantrum. I feel ya, and I know that if it were not for the place I’m in now I would be reading a novel too, waiting for the next preaching engagement! But let me also say… we need sister like you on the front lines. Don’t give up on us yet. I know this sounds cliche’, but draw from the legacy of mothers who blazed trails before you. Sometimes sisters want to stand up, but just don’t have enough strength in their legs or power in their voice. They need educated, prophetic sisters like you to do the work of empowerment. Now where you will do this I don’t know. I am very clear that there are some places that you simply cannot take me again! I ain’t going back! But I do hope that you will emerge somewhere in the church and set it off!

  34. Msdisciple Says:

    Wow Jessica…I totally agree

    I have been working for a Christian ministry for women over the last decade. This is my first exposure to ministry and I have packed my bags several times due to major disappointments from the “elder women” in ministry. From the tolerance to sexism and classism I know that the holy spirit is the only one who has blocked my path from literally leaving the church in general. It’s been a long struggle and I have given up on the “elder women in christ”. I am entering school now and looking forward to a “sista” who does not claim Jesus but has more spirituality than these women I have seen over the last decade.

    With that said I am trusting God to do “a new thing”

  35. srbrown Says:

    I tried yesterday and today not to respond to this piece. As I am not a seminarian, I thought my perspective irrelevant. However, I have several friends who have attended and graduated from seminary all had the same advice, “Be sure you know Jesus before you go.” It seems that the more seminary graduates I’ve met, the less I am not interested in attending. Many of them seem to have a different perspective about God after the academic achievement. Some have new ideas and understanding that are beyond my ability and/or willingness to accept as the truth about God’s word. Honestly, it frightens me to recall some of the things I’ve heard. Then, too, I don’t see or hear of them doing anything, except mounting the platform on Sundays with the men. They are not leading anything. It could be because of the male leadership, but how long will we stay in relationships that are not healthy for us or the Kingdom? How long do we just submit to nothingness, unfriutfulness for hopes that the Bishop will take pity on us and give us a congregation of 20, jsut because we showed up when he was to worship with us? (That was a little bit of a rant.)
    Dr. Weems’ blog a while back was about what history would say about women in ministry, after it became more acceptable? Will they have made a difference in the kingdom of God? I attend conferences a couple of times a year and visit ministries and wonder what? often. I see women heading ministries who are as full of themselves as the men many of us have come out from under. Fortunately, my first experience was a positive model and I know that it can be balanced.
    I’ve told God, since accepting my call to ministry, that I could quit the church altogether. It could just be me and Him. But, I can’t. I’m not cut out that way. I did try, though.
    My point is that many of us, clergy and non-clergy women, are restless and fed up with church as usual and being ostracized because we know that there has to be more to this than what we are witnessing and experiencing. It’s not just clergy, Jessica. I believe that it is all of us who still have an ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
    Hang in there, I believe that this, too, will pass for you and on the other side will be the clarity, strength, and favor for you to make a difference in the lives of whosoever will hear you. Your change will come!

  36. David Says:

    As a man, you would think that the church, with it being so male centered would be ripe for a youngin, like myself. Well, it is just as hostile to courageous feminist thinking men as they are to most women. I left the Black Church in 1999, moved to a new city and never looked back. Sunday mornings, are now filled with NYtimes, Washington Post(home delivery), biking and relaxing by the pool.

    To be honest, I miss it, I do respect it, but I no longer believe in some of its theology and its culture of propaganda. However, I do go on you tube and check out Claudette, Jackie Mccullough and others’. So, perhaps there is hope but for now, I will still use it as a day of rest, real rest.

  37. jessica Says:

    “’Only history will be the judge of our life’s work and whether we made any difference because our contemporaries sure are not impressed.’ I know. I know. I know, Jessica. That’s not what you’re saying.”

    @Dr. Weems: Hmm…maybe that *is* what I’m saying after all. At least in part. In this piece I’m not just talking about my own personal struggle with my vocation. I’m also attempting to critically reflect on the larger landscape that is black women in ministry. Actually, one of things that prompted me to write this piece was my concern about a question you posed in a blog piece about women in ministry some time ago: What will the history books say about us? What will the historical entrée of mass numbers of women into ministry during this particular period mean…not only for the church, but for the larger society? And moreover, for the lives of other women? I think these questions are ones that should haunt us all. Or at least those of us who are intent on making a difference.

    So yes, I find myself looking at what we—myself included—do with close scrutiny. And while I’m not wholly unimpressed with what I see (‘cause I believe ours is a rich legacy), I am concerned. In the grand scheme though, I don’t think it’s really about being impressed or unimpressed with what we do. It’s about being earnest and vigilant in our attempts to get it right.

  38. wisdomteachesme Says:

    you know sister weems and sister jessica and all my other sisters here at this table–yall got me to thinking (& praising Jesus)as i see His Truth coming to pass from what i have been told would be coming.
    i read everything written here and kept the biggest smile on my face as i did.

    and what i see and hear as i read everything is a confirmation.
    that all of God’s chosen vessels are not to be inside of resistant male dominated buildings anymore. it seems that we have all been called to serve in a new army of Gods. Those who follow the Way made by Jesus in order to reach those that have been rejected and told lies about God’s love.

    how i see The Risen Army of God’s Women, are putting our pieces together as we are all introduced to one another in order to RIGHT what has been done wrong and kept wrong for far too many years.
    And that it seems to me after reading the comments and knowing that even more women probably read this but did not comment–that We have all been pushed out of ‘the church’ by God in order to create and bring to pass-His New Thing that He has done.

    i encourage ALL to keep facing and speaking the Truth in order to fuel the impetus of change so that what was meant for harm to us will be turned into the Glory for God through our lives! May we all continue to rely on The Strength of Jesus, being that He said He is not ashamed to call us His sisters! amen.
    2 Cor 4:7

  39. Renita Says:

    If that’s your assessment of the contribution of women in ministry who are your immediate predecessors, that they are a generation of underachievers when it comes to standing up for radical change, then, then, then…we couldn’t disagree more.

    Fortunately, history will judge them kinder than you, Jessica. Because history will see them in context, within their era, within the spectrum of time and eternity, and will conclude that the generation (as a whole) did what was possible and what was needed for the next generation to build upon.

    Word. You can bet that girls being born now who will be entering ministry within the next 25 years will roll their eyes at you and your generation and suck in their teeth as well, and wonder at your failure and that of your generation to do more with the talents God gave you.

    And now, I don’t think I’m backtracking from my previous post where I too wonder about how history will judge this generation. I’m just prepared to wait and see and not just yet completely dismiss a whole body of work as a waste.

  40. Fal Says:

    I am not a minister, once upon time thought about it (i.e. FTE undergraduate Fellow).

    I think Jess’ account is not only a “testimony” of why she left the church or why she struggles to recommit herself to the institutional structure of the church, but also a critique of the power dynamics of how some black female ministers who have struggled to have access reinscribe some of the same resonances of “business as usual” paradigm that black male ministers have wielded to control who has access and when they have access. And of course, many of you are probably wondering what I mean by access, the accessibility to set the agenda and have resources to carry out that agenda . . . the ability to gate keep and at times stifle or ignore some activities that have the potential to be transformative from occurring because we lack various “safe spaces” to have honest conversations about power and how black women irrespective of occupation/vocation use their power. Because both non-ministering and ministering black women do use their accesses and privileges to reinscribe male dominating ways of leading.

    The assumption would be that since these women who have struggled to get where they are they would understand the need to redefine power so that those once closed possibilities of gender equity would become the norm within the church.

    Perhaps, we are being too hard on out foremothers and their struggles . . .

    I fully agree with Sister Kim Pearson that perhaps cyberspace can be one space where an intergenerational dialogue can commence about redefining the concept of power and black women in ministry.

    All in all, this is the cycle of struggle of movement activity. The un-institutionalized struggle against the institutionalized forces to change and then once they overthrow the institution they have a choice, either to continue as “business as usual” or dismantle the foundation of the establishment (thank you Sis. Audre Lorde) and create something totally new . . . I think it is often easier to exist within the belief that “the reality we see cannot be changed, but that is “soul stopping lie” because the Creator(s) have given us vision and hands to do the work of challenging patriarchy in its many manifestations.

  41. Kesha Says:

    Sis. Jessica,

    It has already been said. Who is the church? We are. The church is not a building. We are the change that we have been looking for. Ministry does not have to happen only within church walls. Neither does preaching. Preach the Word that the Holy Spirit has placed within you in any open space and to any available ear. But at the same time, even if you are away at the moment, don’t stay away.

    If there is not a voice out there saying what you believe needs to be said inside the church walls, that is because YOU HAVEN’T SAID IT. And maybe they won’t hear it because they won’t hear you say it if you are at home..

    There is so much more I could say but at this moment I’m reminded of a sermon that my mother in ministry preached a few years ago. It’s not so much what happens on Sunday that we need to worry about. What happens..between Sundays?

    Change is birthed when we are uncomfortable. This season is probably designed for you to get so uncomfortable that you become the agent for the change that you want to see.

  42. Cynthia Says:

    Sister, My SISTER!!!! I hear your heart. I feel your discouragement. Experienced it in the “CHURCH” years ago. I am, always was OUTSPOKEN, and it some pentecostal circles, that is the sign of a BRASH and NOT BOLD woman.
    Remember the saying WWJD? Well, I looked deep into this AFTER Jesus spoke these words to me: “Henceforth I no longer call you a servant, but a SON.”
    You see, I didn’t FIT, I didn’t FIT in the CHURCH and I didn’t FIT in the world. And, I’d been telling Father this for years: “I don’t fit.” But, once Jesus spoke those words to my Spirit and explained to me the difference between SERVANTS and SONS, and there is a GREAT DIFFERENCE, it was OK that “I don’t FIT.”

    There are many OTHER and even GREATER ways to reach HIS people, ways far greater than the CHURCH,
    like your HOME. You’d be amazed at how many more young people will show up at your home, than meet you at your church. And, they come HUNGRY for God and eager to listen and learn the voice of the Spirit, true ‘WILLING WORKERS’.

    So, though you find yourself “disgruntled as a BLACK WOMAN in the ministry, you atill have MANY young women in your community, women eager to seek God, to have someone sit with them over a home cooked meal or potluck dinner, a cup of coffee, a glass of tea, and explain the things of God to them. They’re full of questions, they avoid churches like it’s a plague. BUT, “THE ARE OUT THERE!”
    Sister, God does EVERYTHING for a reason. Have you asked Him what is the reason? Have you asked Him WHERE does HE want you? He KNOWS you, and He KNOWS just what to allow in your life to get YOU where He NEEDS you MOST.

    Blessings,

    Cynt

  43. jessica Says:

    Dr. Weems,

    I’ve tried to make it clear that my immediate predecessors in ministry are not my primary target in this. I’m not interested in finger pointing. Not only did I acknowledge the historical context of their/your contributions in my original piece, but I also explained that my major concern is with those in my generation of ministers. Those who are reaping the benefits of the gains you have made.

    That said, it’s difficult for me to understand how we (my generation) are supposed to make our contributions when much of what we do is impacted by precedents set by those who came before us. Critically reflecting on what’s already been done by our predecessors doesn’t make you (your generation) underachievers. It makes us smart enough to understand that we aren’t starting from scratch. It makes us astute enough to assess what worked and what didn’t; what worked then, but won’t work now. Looking at the historical landscape with this type of scrutiny and dismissing a whole body of work as a waste are two different things. And believe it or not, there are a lot of young’uns who know the difference.

  44. wisdomteachesme Says:

    sister, if i may add a small change to one thing that i said.
    “to do Our part to RIGHT what has been done …”
    and what we do will be there to help our daughters and so on. we Are Standing on the plateaus that were leveled for our inclusion by those who were Called and Sent before we got here.

    it sure is nice sitting under this big shade tree ’somebody’ planted long ago.

  45. Renita Says:

    Let’s move from the general to the specific. Be specific. How have your (generations’) contributions been clipped or severely limited by your predecessors. For example?

  46. Fal Says:

    @ My last two cents,

    What I find interesting about the conversation is that many people are encouraging Jess to “be the change,” be the “Deborah” use your voice, work with the young women, and so forth.

    I fine these comments to be heartfelt and sincere. They show a collective recognition and empathy for Jessica’s story. But, on some level they can make her critique an individual account and not an account of a system that may need to be reconfigured or re-envisioned and that this reconfiguring or re-envisioning will require a substantial number of black women committed to being Deborah(s).

    I think it is important for jess to be “the Deborah” and work within the church or outside, but also think it is equally important that we always have an analysis of both individual change as well as system change.

  47. jessica Says:

    How do I put this…it’s about you, but it’s really not about you. I can see that I’m not making that clear b/c your question alone presumes that I am assessing what my predecessors have done in light of my own contributions because I’m convinced that I’ve been “limited” or “clipped” by them. Or even out of a belief that they’ve done me some huge disservice. But, that’s not my starting point.

    I talk about looking at the precedents you all have set b/c that’s what forms the foundation and context of our own work. You all are both our models and our frame of reference. Again, unlike many women in your generation, my generation isn’t starting from scratch. Perhaps that’s what legacy is all about. Much of what we are doing—regardless of whether we’re doing a “new” thing or not—is in response to (either building on it, continuing it, or taking some things and leaving others) what’s already there. That’s “generations” for you. Yes, you all blazed trails. And yes, we are grateful. But blazing trails also means that you are setting precedents that will have to be thought about (not dismissed, not ridiculed) by those coming after you. 25 years from now I hope to understand this.

    There may be other youngins on the porch who will respond to your question about what it is that you all have done that has adversely impacted us. But the days of moaning over not being represented at the conferences, not having a presence in the planning meetings and the “lack” of mentoring are over for me. Either you’re interested in hearing our voices or you aren’t. Either you invite us to be apart of the meeting or you don’t. Either you find a youngin to mentor or you don’t. But I’m taking my cues from other generations who built on those who came before them: I’ll honor and take very seriously your legacy and your wisdom, I’ll choose what I’ll take from your model of ministry and what I won’t, and I’ll (hopefully very soon) get to work.

  48. Renita Says:

    Welcome to all the new readers who’ve joined in and left comments on this topic. Put up your feet and stay awhile. There are always interesting topics being discussed here, and there’s never a shortage of opinions.

    @Kim
    Thanks for the memory of a former self, a young woman barely turned thirty who was audacious enough to belief that she could create the movement and sisterhood she was waiting for someone else to create.

    @Jessica
    You either take what’s been given you and build on it, or you don’t. I’ve got a bit to go in age before I reach the three score and ten the Bible promises the righteous, so I should still be around when you start looking back over your shoulders and wondering why it took so long to figure some things out and why are all those young folks looking contemptuously at you and complaining that you walk too slow.

  49. NDK Says:

    I’ve been reading and re-reading this discussion,trying to formulate my thoughts. My initial response went something like this, “Moving Jessica over on the sofa, flipping the page in my own novel…” In reality though, I haven’t altogether walked away. I’ve often compared my relationship to my local church like that of an abusive marriage. “I can’t live like this, but I love you. It’s not supposed to be like this, but I’m sure that things will change.” But how many times should you place your face beneath someone’s fist.

    While my church and its international affiliate body is blatantly patriarchal and oppressive, and its women are nothing more than accessories, and it lacks a national agenda that serves anyone other than itself. I’ve often wondered if its not more advantageous to fight familiar demons than to risk discerning and fighting against new ones. Yet a wise woman recently suggested, “Get out of that cocoon or clip your own wings.”

    Unlike some, I have found solace and guidance in my foremothers in ministry and am eternally grateful for the example that has been lived before me. The struggle comes when I return to my local sphere of influence and find that I am speaking another language. Would the text in Judges read differently if Barak did not heed Deborah’s counsel. So, then what? We can’t all abandon the parish for parachurch ministries. What would happen to the people in the pews.

    So call me a disenchanted thirty-something with gifts, tools and a voice. But these things look like puzzle pieces scattered on the floor and there’s no picture on the cover of the box. How am I to know how this all fits together.

  50. bishopdiva Says:

    Jessica,

    i feel you! i’m at a place after almost 10 yrs of pastoring (my entire prime - turning 40 in less than 60 days)where i’m ready to leave church all together. Yes, i too am fed up with CHURCH. Been thinkin’ about returning to my first profession (accounting)for a reprieve and a second stream of income. Nevertheless, i’m trusting God for a new beginning in a new place.

    Be mindful of the mothers and aunts who, yes have paved the way. Even as we critique them, be mindful that no one is perfect. And if it wasn’t for the publications by these mothers and aunts (including the author of this forum) we’d youngins would slit our wrists.

    Lastly, consider using your gifts for ministry in other areas. “Work on ya change, until ya change comes!”

    Consider

  51. LT Says:

    WOW Jessica touched a nerve, huh? That would be a good example of many of us youngins who stay silent because of the returned scripture quoting or blame game. I read (and shared) Jessica’s entry as one of those conversations that many of my reverend sisters have in private. Yet, we agree that we’d like for it to be a safe space to address it more openly. I applauded you Pastor Renita for allowing the post. However, I must ask, “Are you becoming defensive?”

    Thank you CRT and FAL for your sharing. Wish could have summed it so nicely.

  52. NDK Says:

    (Dr. Weems, I apologize in advance for the length of this post.)

    2 Ki 6:1-7

    And the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See now, the place where we dwell with you is too small for us…And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was cutting down a tree, the iron ax head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, “Alas, master! For it was borrowed.” So the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” And he showed him the place. So he cut off a stick, and threw it in there; and he made the iron float. Therefore he said, “Pick it up for yourself.” So he reached out his hand and took it.

    The daughters of the prophets grew discontent with their dwelling and they desired to build, build a kingdom, build a world, build a ministry. And the tools in their hands were borrowed, from their foremothers, from their forefathers, from their sister-prophets. But as they began to build, they lost their grip on the tools. The wise advisor standing by asked the daughters, “Where did you lose it?”

    I am afraid that we are beginning to lose some tools. I heard this text preached several years ago with emphasis placed on recovery, but today I want to place emphasis on the borrowed tool. The reason that we had the tool in the first place is that it was effective. We must be careful not to dismiss or devalue the things that have been handed to us that have proven effective, just because they have been borrowed. It’s a selfish, arrogant person or perhaps a spoiled child, who can not receive with dignity.

    So the wise one demonstrated recovery and said to the novice, “Pick it up!” What can the novice build if she dismisses the demonstration and opts for reaching into the river? I thank God daily for the Wise Women.

  53. crt Says:

    Well this discussion has taken an interesting turn. Several sister friends and I have been talking about this blog and reflecting on where we are in ministry as it relates to this topic. My reality is that as much as I want to holla’ at the people, walk out, and find some beach front property where the only word that goes forth is what I speak to the starfish, God has called me out of and through the church. If the witness of scripture is that Jesus has built the church and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it then even if I am fed up and done, I am convinced that God is not. So I pray through, read through, write through, scream through, and sometimes rant and rave through my stuff so I can live out God’s calling on and investment in my life. Many of us have already said that what we have seen of church does not seem to be what God intended. But that in no way gives me the option to vacate the premises; I have to do my part. Now this is not to say that ministries that meet the needs of the oppressed and the marginalized that occur outside of the fellowship is less significant, essential, or anointed than what is often seen as traditional church. But I do not believe, even as I am committed to these endeavors that it makes the importance of the church outdated.

    As far as the women in ministry that have gone before me…I have written about how traumatized and green I was when I was licensed. I had a male pastor who was supportive of women in ministry, but it was women like Rev. Cecilia Williams Bryant, Dr. Linda Hollies, Dr. JoAnn Browning, Rev. Pat Long, Dr. Claudette Copeland, Dr. Renita Weems, and a whole host of other women in ministry that changed my life and altered my view of ministry. God used them to instruct me, correct me, speak life over me, cast vision and much more. I did not know them personally, but it did not, nor has it changed the impact of their influence on my life. I understand critiquing and analyzing the journeys and contributions of other generations, but I have to say that the idea that this generation of big sisters or for some mothers in ministry is somehow marginal is more than disturbing. Regardless of our analysis, it is difficult to imagine that we would even have a platform from which we could assess things if the generations upon generations prior had not paved the way, cleared the path, cut the wood and built the stage from which we now stand. Maybe just maybe the work of this generation is to shake off the burnout or disgust, get help if we need it to work through what has to be worked through and build on what has been laid before us. If there is lack, it could be that this is the generation that God has expected to meet the need for this season. Maybe this is the time to not merely critique the way the baton is being held out, or to focus only on the way the race has been run, or dissect the time that it has taken for the baton to reach us. Maybe this is the time to take the baton and simply run on!

  54. jessica Says:

    Ohh-kay! I was totally prepared to throw in the towel and take the whippin’ like a woman after Dr. Weems’ last admonishment. But now I see that this conversation has gone smooth off into the place I always feared it would: finger pointing and intergenerational attacks. And apparently, somehow I started it (though I’m still not quite sure how).

    Like you, NDK, I have found solace and guidance in my foremothers in ministry. In fact, I was extremely hesitant about having this piece posted out of a fear that my mentors in ministry would read it and think me ungrateful. BishopDiva, this should not be read as a critique against them. I know they aren’t perfect and I’ve never expected them to be. I’m fully aware that the liberties I do have in ministry are because of them. And though I find it a little strange that it’s considered ungrateful to even examine their work as we consider our own, the fact remains that I’m really talking about us…and the extent to which we should be concerned about the historical contributions we make.

  55. wisdomteachesme Says:

    NDK said = “We can’t all abandon the parish for parachurch ministries. What would happen to the people in the pews.”
    —————-
    the first thing that i heard when i read this was; well, i guess the people in the pews will do as they did when Jesus came through–calling for the thirsty and hungry to Come To Him. Some got up and some didn’t. But those that stayed in the pews didn’t stop Him from His purposes of a tool in God’s hand.

    i like the analogy that you used NDK. very well put and very visual. it’s something how that is what i hear from the women i talk to who are in these abusive relationships. i ask the very same thing…how can you stay waiting for the next beat down knowing you need to leave?

    NDK said=”How am I to know how this all fits together.”

    SisterFriend, you know the answer=Ask The Holy Spirit to Give you God’s Wisdom-and He Will!
    Truth is Sweet Bread!

  56. Renita Says:

    @LT
    Defensive? Me?
    Here I thought my last comment was rather gracious and mature, especially when you consider that I let a guest columnist come on my blog and take a swipe at me by saying that I’m (part of) the problem she’s talking about.

  57. jessica Says:

    …and for the record, I would never try to take a swipe at you (especially in your own house). I’m critical, but I ain’t crazy.

  58. Connye Says:

    Dear Heart Jessica
    Thank you so much for your truthful revelations and willingness to share such a personal account of oneself. I share a few of your sentiments and as a hospice social worker/therapist I often get the question why and what resonant profoundly is the why not. As one of my clients shared with me regarding church membership and taking myself to task by not being on the rolls of a church (seminarian graduate as well) in my new home (City)having just moved and visiting churches and not being able to walk down the aisle to officially join I was feeling disconnected. I was waiting for the feeling of confirmation which seems to be the new lingo of the contemporary church of today, one has to confirm ones decision in the religious realm. This old saint (Mother of a church) responded “child you keep doing God’s work in the world known as the “Church”.”

    Now after having said all that, I attend at least one conference annually. My minister sister and I refer to our attendance as our vacation with “Jesus” and have always come away with a rejuvenated spirit. I have also given the gift of attendance to the conferences to other sisters’ in Christ who were unaware of such women of God and I can tell you their lives have been changed!

  59. Rev. Iona Smith Nze Says:

    Re: Sunday Morning Confession

    Dear Sister Rev. Jessica,

    I struggle with the waxing and waning of ministry some days. I wonder if I can make a difference in the lives of those I have come to love and for me, this is ultimately what the work of pastoral ministry is about. Can you love someone who falls terribly short of all that you expect church people to know and be - even the dastardly “ole boys” who seem to close the door before you can reach for the handle? Can you love them? Can you love them and believe that they too are on a journey. Can you love them the way 1 Corinthians 13 instructs us to, for surely someone has loved you that much? Have you considered that God may have called forward the folks who discourage you to help you to grow? Consider these things and keep praying. Take your break but try not to harbor the guilt respite sometimes conjures up. You deserve a place to rant and cry and not be judged and when you are all done - remember that the young girls you are mentoring need the same things you do. Instead of reading a good book on Sunday morning - gather up your girls and establish a home church experience every once in a while. On the first Sunday in July, I communed a member in a hospital setting; two young college freshwomen were in them room visiting and I asked if they would like to receive communion - one told me she had heard of it but never received it and the other told me she did not know what it was. I used this opportunity to tell them why we celebrate communion and invited them into this fellowship. It was a special gift for me and for all who were present that day to watch these girls cross over…I may never see them again but you may be just the one they are waiting for, so don’t give up on God, don’t give up on church folk and finally - don’t give up on yourself. Consider a new way of thinking about resting in peace. I love you.

  60. Vicky Isaac-Cook Says:

    I concur, no matter what is done the theme seems always to be the same…..control……I have also left the ministry, not proud of it though…..I still have fire shut up in my bones…..we have been choosen, not the other way around so in the fullness of time it will manifest….we have been empowered for such a time as this…this is still a great time and thanks…..you are blazing the trail for others…..don’t for get that you name will one day be on the list with the “Ella Bakers”…..

  61. Pastor Ruth Travis Says:

    My Sister Jessica:
    I feel your pain!! I have been a pastor for 22 years without any leadership in our conference. I am academically prepared, spiritually alert and certainly love Jesus with all my heart. I was diagnosed in November 2007 with breast cancer (I am breast cancer free now). This health challenge made me realize that I still have purpose in life even if my denomination does not recognize it. So I stopped blaming those in “high places’ and decided to retool my skills: I am a breast cancer advocate, serve on the advisory board of STAR (ministering to African American women suffering with HIV/AIDS. I recently took a job at Coppin State University where I serve as an Academic Advisor. I’m still pastoring the church but with much more excitement and vigor because I have these other ministries “outside the four walls” called church. I encourage you to retool your skills, find your purpose and begin the journey!!

  62. Saran Says:

    All I can say is wow! Until you started talking about divinty school I thought you were writing an entry into my diary.

    For a few years every Sunday I would roll over and look at the clock and say looks like I slept through both servies again… We ll you not missing anything Jesus was born, Jesus wept, Jesus died, then end.

    I also took my service “on the road” and I now run a teenage mentoring group, because I just didn’t feel like the church was really reaching the kids where they needed.

    Since then I have joined a new church and I am actually excited about serving on a ministry in the churh now.

    Thanks for writing this it is very insightful.

    Saran

  63. Bersetha Ranson Says:

    Renita, I was doing some Spring cleaning and ran across a flyer with your website and decided to look at it. I am an ordained elder in the AME church and too have taken my ministry outside the church. For so long I questioned my calling, but everytime it was reconfirmed on my job, in the neighborhood and even in the grocery store. God’s children need more than a sermon on Sunday. As Jesus took His show on the road, each of us need also to reach in and reach out to the God of our own understanding to do His will.

  64. Stacy Says:

    As a young woman in ministry I too am struggling with the contradictions I see or face. So often I have wanted to put ministry on hold and live the life of “other” 23 yr old’s, but I know that there is a blessing in pressing. As stated above, seminary has not made me want to leave Jesus, it has only opened up a view to a world outside of the black church. Seminary is teaching me what it means to be in relationship with God and not a religion. Seminary is teaching me what it means to be concerned about the whole world and not just America. Seminary is teaching me how to have compassion. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I am inspired to look at the whole picture and continue to press for the younger generation no matter the cost.

  65. Anointed on the side lines Says:

    Thank you for saying what many in the body of Christ have felt and wanted to say. I have left my church because of such a frustration. True ministry has been forsaken for the dollar and although I know how important finances are but I also know that we are losing too many people because the (hospital….aka church) does not have the cure for the diseases of the soul. The call of God on my life but no one to show me how to help my sisters in need suffering……how did we get so far off track? But now I experience the same thing Sunday mornings when I should be in Gods house. I love my Father truly but the agenda of man interferes with what God really wants to do and that is impact the lives of those suffering with aids or those going through abuse or even those that are suffering from depression or even the hoomeless. Thank you Jessica for reading my heart and for saying what my heart has felt!

  66. Pastor Monica Says:

    Profound Statement. Lets organize, strategize, and fight. I am with you young sister…..

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