Social justice ministry happens inside & outside the church
Dreams always look and feel different when they become reality. Countless unknowns wait — and have waited — tables, waiting for their Hollywood dreams to come true. Images flying through their minds, while heading to Table 2 with a medium rare steak, are probably completely different from the altered reality many former unknowns live today. Dreams and reality never completely add up.
Despite not being a wannabe Oscar winner, the differences between my dream and reality confronted me. God called this then-Black queer boy to the ministry age 6, while voguing to the altar at altar call. Alas, queerness and evangelical Christianity don’t mix. So, it became a deferred — even as I attempted compromising with God. Journalism would be my new ministry.
Journalism as ministry
Writing feature stories at various daily and weekly newspapers, which resonated with people, during a nearly 20-year career lulled me into thinking journalism would be my forever calling. Thinking one knows the Creator’s plan for your life is folly.
Prolonged unemployment, divorce, becoming a domestic violence victim, and homelessness forced me to walk through an unexpected open door. The day, Sept. 3, 2013, is among infamous days in my life. It was my first day as a Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) student. It was a place, which would teach me how to be a parish minister and send me to a church — based on my naivete.
Seminary lights social justice flame
CTS became the match and lighter fluid that ignited a social justice passion without an outlet. It also helped me to fully embrace my identity a Black queer Christian faith leader. Late queer theologian Theodore “Ted” W. Jennings, Jr. — who left us two weeks after having a stroke on 44th birthday (March 3) — gave me and all his queer students what trans theologian and faith leader River Needham calls a queer embrace. That queer embrace reminded us the Creator loves everyone.
Roaming those halls; sitting in certain classes; and enjoying Wednesday allowed me to embrace and live into chapel my Blackness. The Rev. Drs. JoAnne Marie Terrell and Lee H. Butler, Jr. provided the most academic impact. Deirdre Jackson Jones, a seminary sister from another mister, showed us all how to be truly authentic until her dying day. And, like Ted, she loved without judgement. Their affirmation, friendship, guidance, and support prepared me to get out of my comfort zone again.
Late University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign journalism professor Robert D. Reid, a woke (for the 1990s) seasoned reporter and editor from a small downstate Illinois, provided a similar embrace albeit with a gruff exterior in a smoke-filled office in Gregory Hall’s basement. Getting out of your comfort zone was Reid’s mantra. His voice echoed in my mind as pondering doing ministry in an unexpected place — the streets — full-time. What would that look like? How would I do it? God had an answer.
Fellowship keeps flame burning
Receiving an invitation to apply for United Church of Christ’s Justice & Witness Ministries’ Justice & Peace Policy Fellowship was her answer. Although the announcement arrived before applications were due, gathering every required document except one reference was achieved. So, within three weeks of my May 13 graduation at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, this newly minted faith-based policy advocate landed at Washington, D.C.’s National Airport. (FYI, I refuse to call the airport anything other than National or DCA. I said what I said.)
The two-year fellowship opened doors to amazing opportunities. They include standing with a diverse interfaith coalition known as the Washington Interreligious Staff Community (WISC) resisting unjust criminal justice, healthcare, immigration, safety net policies, taxes, among others. Protecting the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was one of my major focuses. That focus led to an arrest in the Senate Gallery and participating in multiple Capitol Hill actions as well as lobby visits. Those opportunities became possible because this faith leader accepted God’s editing of my call.
A new way of seeing
While advocating for those policies, a need to do so through an LGBTQ+ lens became apparent. As the fellowship’s end neared, a search for how to live into that commitment began. That search ended my founding the Bayard Rustin Liberation Initiative, a domestic and international policy advocacy organization focused on same-gender loving and LGBTQ+ people as well as people of color. Another search — for policy work to sustain me while building the organization — began. That search has yielded nothing. The message finally became clear: God is editing my call AGAIN.
A hybrid ministry
The Creator has called me to hybrid ministry. So, finding an opportunity to do parish and social justice ministry was my goal. God works in mysterious ways. An opportunity nearly dropped in my lap. So, positioning myself to be the most attractive candidate has begun in earnest.
Being called to ministry is, essentially, being called to follow Jesus — each in our own way. Faith leaders all follow their personal yellow brick road. We must be ready when God brings us to a fork in that road. And, we must recognize who’s the witch and who’s the lion, scarecrow, or tin man. And, no matter how long we’ve been in ministry, faith leaders must never confuse themselves with the wizard. But, I digress.
Editing is a part of life. Embrace that inevitable reality. If you’re called to one ministry, be ready and willing to add another facet to your faith work. With that said, life coaching has also become part of my ministry.