How does a pastor in a large urban church in the center of a city that is at the center of world power set priorities for the work of the congregation?
“I came to the church two months before Ferguson exploded. We realized that we would have to intentionally engage in racial reconciliation and justice more than we had done lately,” said the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, senior pastor of Foundry United Methodist in Washington, D.C.
Gaines-Cirelli will be the chaplain-in-residence for Week Five. This will be her first time in Chautauqua Institution.
“It is a big honor and responsibility to be asked to preach at Chautauqua,” she said.
She will preach at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title will be “In ——— We Trust.” She will share her faith journey at the 5 p.m. Vespers in the Hall of Philosophy and preach at the 9:15 a.m. worship services Monday through Friday. Her sermon titles include “Hear and See,” “Stop Speaking Smooth Things,” “Disturbing the Peace,” “Does This Offend You?” and “In Quietness and Trust.” Her primary Scripture text for the week will be Isaiah 30:8-18.
“It is clear that we have to take seriously the call to heal racism in this nation,” she said. “It is easy for a mostly Caucasian congregation to opt out, but we have to opt in.”
In the United Methodist denomination, Foundry has a long history of advocacy for LGBTQ equity and of addressing chronic homelessness. It has also been working on a curriculum for lay leadership to help them work in intercultural settings.
“One thing we teach is to be mindful of the dynamics that people bring to these situations,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “We tend to make assumptions about how people will act or react, and we need to be mindful to be truly inclusive and bring about equitable justice.”
It has been hard since the 2016 election, she said, to not just move from crisis to crisis and to not bury her head in one form or fashion. In being strategic and discerning, the congregation has been relying on people who know most about the subject to organize and guide the work.
“We rely on the people with their finger on the pulse of the problem to tell us what is most critical, what action is needed,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “We are not making a commitment — say to health care — forever, but what is the thing that is coming up that we need to be aware of?”
Since the election in November, Foundry has more intentionally participated in acts of sacred resistance that discern the wisest course for civic action when principles of faith are being transgressed.
“We feel pretty good about our responses, but it is still overwhelming,” Gaines-Cirelli said.
Gaines-Cirelli is the first woman to serve as senior pastor of Foundry, a position she’s held since 2014. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, she has served a congregations of all sizes in the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, as well as congregations in uptown Manhattan and the New York Annual Conference. She is a contributor on the Women’s Bible editorial board for the Common English Bible and is an editor of the newly released CEB Women’s Bible.