On June 10, I celebrated five years of ordained ministry—pretty cool, huh? I can’t believe that I’ve been administering the Sacraments for five whole years already! When I think about how many hands have glanced against mine when I distribute Christ’s body, or the foreheads I’ve bathed in baptismal waters, I get shivers. I can remember, more clearly than any other aspect of my ministry, the moments when children articulate ultimately and clearly that “God loves everybody!” I laugh when I think about the honesty and curiosity middle school students bring to the table in Confirmation, and I become overwhelmed when I think about the selflessness and compassion that high school students bring to ministry. My heart warms when I think about the hospitality that adult members extend to new pastors, like me.
But, for all of these pleasant memories of my first five years of ordained ministry, there are equally challenging and heart-wrenching memories to balance them. In grief and death, I have walked with God’s children in the most difficult parts of their lives. People have welcomed me into the most delicate and vulnerable places of their lived-experiences—I hold these invitations in my heart and call them holy. It is a difficult privilege to walk with God’s children in this way.
In our current reality, even in the face of the Covid pandemic, the most visible pain for me is the racial injustices that persist, seemingly unimpeded. Exactly one week after my ordination service in 2015—wherein I promised to diligently study God’s scriptures, administer the Sacraments without prejudice, be generous with God’s grace, and work for justice and peace—a fellow ELCA member walked into Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC and killed nine children of God. Exactly one week into my ordained ministry, I was horrifically reminded of the mountains of racism that close us off from God’s vision for our world.
This is a failure I share with my colleagues and peers, but also I share this with my fellow Christian worshippers in ELCA and outside the ELCA. What has changed in these five years of my ordained ministry? Sometimes, I’m not sure my ministry has made any difference at all.
Of course, I know in my brain [and at least sometimes in my heart] that God refuses to leave us alone, that I have been privy to some momentous events of the Holy Spirit. Of course, God has accompanied us in serving others and comforting other. Of course God smiles with me when I place the Holy Meal in the hands of children. Of course, ministry has indeed happened.
But, at the same time, people of Trinity, people of the Lutheran Church of Mahomet (my previous call), people of the SWMN Synod of the ELCA, people of the ELCA, Christians everywhere: we have failed in our call to be God’s hands and feet. Racial injustice and violence separates us from God and God’s children. We must be better. We cannot claim to be Christ’s presence on earth if we do not weep at the sin of racism and rage against the machines that keep it going. Do not let it be lost on you that I was surrounded by white clergy only at my ordination.
It is my hope and prayer that, in five years when I celebrate 10 years of ordination, I can look back at my time in ministry with joy and celebration, that I have served a church that is working to dismantle racism. I know that 10 years is a pittance when compared to the centuries of violence against communities of color, and I weep when I consider how petty my feelings of failure are compared to the grief and fear that my failure inflicts on siblings of color.
I speak especially to the predominantly white ranks of the ELCA: if you, too, look back on your ministry (lay or ordained), if you too look back on your professional and personal lives and see the stagnant persistence of racism, then I ask you to commit yourself to this difficult work with me. Together with God’s call to justice and peace, we can pivot the world away from racism and towards wholeness.
What i'm doing to be better
I know that a lot of well-intending white folks, like me, do just as much harm or more by going with the flow and responding in ways that might feel uncomfortable but are altogether safe and protected in our privilege. If you're at a loss for how to confront your own biases, blindspots, and privilege, there are LOTS of wonderful resources out there. I myself have only become aware of and have only recently made use of some of these.
The last path I'll mention--though it by no means completes the list--is that of advocacy. When was the last time you voted in full awareness of your white privilege? When was the last time you learned about how current legislations perpetuate racist systems? When was the last time you called your representative to talk about race and justice? These are all things you can do from the comfort of your own home (which is somewhere we find ourselves stuck in more often than not nowadays). "Countable" is a great app if you're new to this arena. Another great resource is the ELCA--that's right, your very own denomination! We have advocacy offices all across the United States that keep an eye on everything legislative from immigration reform to racial justice, from voter rights to caring for creation. You can find more information about subscribing to these emails by clicking here. ISAIAH is an inter-faith, inter-political group in Minnesota that does amazing work here, too. Click on their logo for more information.