Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli is a life-long United Methodist who is passionate about sharing the good news of God’s liberating love in Jesus Christ.
In 2014, she became the first woman to serve as Senior Pastor of historic Foundry UMC in Washington, DC. Since Ginger’s appointment, Foundry has re-energized its work for racial justice, become a founding member of the Sanctuary DMV movement, and created a Sacred Resistance Ministry Team to mobilize consistent action in response to troubling current events.
A graduate of Yale Divinity School, Ginger has served a variety of congregations: small and large, urban and suburban in the Baltimore Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, in addition to an uptown Manhattan and two-point charge in the New York Annual Conference. Ginger has served the Baltimore Washington Conference as Chair of the Board of Discipleship and currently serves on the Board of Ordained Ministry. In addition, she has served as an elected delegate to the 2016 General Conference and the 2019 Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church.
For over 20 years as a pastor-theologian, her ministry has encouraged spiritual growth and engaged discipleship—emphasizing radical hospitality, shared ministry, spiritual practices, and solidarity with the poor and oppressed. With this focus, she has brought depth, health, and growth to every community she has served. Ginger contributed to and served as a general editor for The CEB Women’s Bible (Abingdon, October 2016). Her book, Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent, was released in May 2018. Ginger is a sought-after preacher, teacher, and facilitator at local, regional, and international events.
She enjoys gardening, yoga, poetry, art, ice cream, travel, hiking, and is married to Dr. Anthony T. Gaines Cirelli, a Catholic theologian, currently serving the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as a Director in their Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs office. The Gaines-Cirellis live in Washington, DC with their Persian cat Annie Rose & Clumber Spaniels Harvey and Daisy.
How should persons of faith respond when government officials and political leaders behave in ways that contradict values long espoused by Christian tradition? How should churches respond? Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent provides thoughtful guidance for those pondering their answers to those questions.
Whom Do You Serve?
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC February 16, 2020, the sixth Sunday after the Epiphany. “Life Together” series.
Text: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Who among us is familiar with the Jello mold? I grew up in Oklahoma with various versions of Jello as a primary food group. My mom didn’t so much do the “molds” but, oh my goodness, some of the folks at 1st UMC, Sapulpa had this thing down to an art form. The first parish I served in Rockville also had some strong contenders in the Jello mold category. Evidently, my mother in law was known in days past as the Jello mold queen. Now, why—you may ask—am I rattling on about Jello molds this morning?
I’m thinking about the process of being formed into a particular shape or image and, as you may know, to make a Jello mold you mix the flavored gelatin powder with hot water to dissolve it and then pour the liquid into the mold. You refrigerate it until it gels and then “turn it out” from the mold with the gelatin having taken the shape of the mold. Pretty basic concept—and the one that popped into my head as I pondered my point for today…
Over the past several weeks we have been exploring the apostle Paul’s first letter to the 1st century church in Corinth and what it teaches us about our life together. The cross is at the center of Paul’s message and is lifted up again and again as the lens through which to understand how to be in community. Practically, Jesus shows us on the cross the way of sacrificial love and solidarity and models how we are to live with and for others. Our focus is to be on loving service, not social climbing or political posturing or forming up teams of “us” versus “them.” We have learned that we don’t have to have fancy degrees, or know all the “right words” or do things in a certain way to receive the gifts of grace, forgiveness, and new life that flow from Christ’s sacrifice of love. We have considered the difference between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God and learned that our call is to be willing to proclaim in word and deed the unpopular wisdom of Jesus Christ and him crucified. All of this helps provide a frame for how to live as people of Christian faith.
One of my theological mentors, Rev. Dr. Serene Jones, taught me that the shape of any given church forms disciples according to that shape. The worship, language, theology, practices, systems for ministry, and stance with and toward others form certain kinds of Christians. Paul teaches that a faithful church will be cross-shaped. This means in part that the things we see at the cross—surrender, sacrifice, salvation, humility, righteousness, faithfulness, grace, forgiveness, love—are what a faithful congregation will strive to deepen and grow in the lives of its people and as a community. Some of you will know that many church buildings are built in the shape of a cross so that when the congregation gathers they are literally cross-shaped as a community. The cross is the “mold” in both literal and figurative ways—the form within which we take shape as Jesus-followers and disciples.
Today’s installment from Paul’s letter gives us a very concrete measure by which we can see how much we’ve “gelled” as a cross-shaped community. Paul asks, “As long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations?” This is a particularly poignant question in our current context as a denomination, nation, and world. And honestly, we don’t have to go far to see that the question may aggravate a tender place in our own personal lives.
It was personal for Paul, too. Apollos was evidently seen as an opposing team captain—a popular leader in the early church and well-known in Corinth. But Paul makes it clear that he and Apollos are both servants of God, both sent to serve in distinct ways, and both equally valued. In teaching and modeling this, Paul shows how we are called to serve together and to honor the gifts and contributions of one another—even when others do things differently than we’d prefer or when they aggravate or challenge us. It’s a lesson in valuing our own as well as others’ gifts—so that we don’t get caught in jealous competition or soul-sucking comparison games. Paul also makes a very clear point against setting any human leader up as the one to whom we “belong”—we don’t belong to a pastor or teacher. I, as a pastor among you, am responsible for ordering and supporting our life together in community—and sometimes I do talk about how much I love “my Foundry peeps”—but you don’t belong to me. Paul makes it plain a little later in his letter when he says to the church: “you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
So in these first several chapters of 1 Corinthians we are given a vision and framework for how to live together. We know that cross-shaped lives entail challenge and forgiveness and patience and sacrifice. Cross-shaped disciples are called to see beyond any present pain or injustice to the healing, love, peace, and justice that is the fulfillment of God’s Kin-dom vision…. Wow, that seems like a lot of work. It might seem like too much to do with everything else on your plate.
I’m aware of the weariness and weight that many of us are carrying in our bodies and souls in these days. The past number of years is taking a toll. Our daily lives and responsibilities—caring for children, parents, friends, work, our own health, etc… may feel increasingly exhausting. And the enormity of the brokenness in our world, the daily, constant stream of deeply concerning news can tempt us to despair or to completely “check out.” I want to gently remind us that the powers of worldly wisdom, the powers of empire, want us to do just that, to check out and give up. The wisdom of empire delights when we become distracted and dissolve into factions, quarrel, tear each other down. Imperial powers rejoice when we become overwhelmed and decide there’s nothing we can do. Worldly powers want us to despair, want us to abandon those with and for whom we are called to stand, want us to lose perspective and to forget who is holding us and all things.
As those formed by the cross of Christ, we know that we can call on the power of God to resist the idolatries of the world, the death-dealing ways of empire, the hope- and joy-sucking droning on of bad news and seemingly insurmountable brokenness. In a cross-shaped community, we will be reminded when we gather in worship that we serve a God who has shown us through cross and resurrection that even when we feel weak and appear defeated according to the ways of the world, we are strong because of God’s steadfast love and presence with us. In this Black History Month I’m reminded of countless examples of black siblings who, strengthened by their faith, stood up, spoke up, sat down, marched, and did not—and do not!—give up even the face of deep hatred and systemic oppression—from Rosa Parks to Shirley Chisholm to Dorothy Height to RuPaul, from MLK to Jesse Jackson to John Lewis to William Barber. Cross-shaped community forms and strengthens us to keep stepping, reminds us we are not powerless, that we are not alone. Cross-shaped community allows us to try to practice humility, mutuality, grace, courage, reconciliation—in short, to lessen the jealousy and quarreling that fracture our relationships and lives. When we are living our call in this way we work together, honor the gifts of each, and bring our collective power to bear on the challenges facing us. When we are living our call we hold on to each other and support one another when any one of us is struggling to keep going on the journey. When we are striving to live as cross-shaped community, we remind one another that there is new life on the other side of wilderness wandering and crucifixion, that the cross of Jesus has shown us that the worst the world could do is no match for God’s life-giving and liberating love.
Cross-shaped community forms disciples who are servants—not of empire and worldly wisdom and all the shiny idols that so easily lure and distract us—but rather servants of God’s way of mercy and love and justice. We don’t have to fix all the jealousy and quarreling in the world, the deep divisions both petty and profound, the brokenness all over. Christ is the savior of the world, not you or me. We are simply called to do what we can do, to choose clearly and intentionally whom and how we will serve, and to serve alongside others to change the world as part of God’s larger work of mending. We do our part, we may design or plant or water or prune but it is God who brings the growth and new life.
I will close with these words from Sacred Resistance:
“As followers of Jesus and as communities of the cross, our call and identity is love, mercy, solidarity, and justice. We can turn away from this call out of fear or selfishness, we can live smaller lives than we’re made for, we can reject the love that forms and fuels a life that is truly human. That is our prerogative.
But thanks be that it’s God’s prerogative to have mercy on us. Thanks be that in Jesus we meet our God who is radically free and will not be compromised or silenced or coopted to serve selfish, oppressive, violent human desires. Thanks be that our God hangs in there with us even when we want to trade God in for another model. Thanks be that our God is love and compassion. Thanks be that, even with so much evidence to the contrary, humankind is created in the image of that God. Thanks be that Jesus took the form of a humble, human servant so that we might take the form of a loving, merciful God.”
This list is offered to help engage our experience and perspectives around race. It is shared as a resource and encouragement to raise consciousness and broaden understanding. The list is not exhaustive, though there are a variety of genres represented—fiction, non-fiction, history, memoir, and theology.
Foundry members are invited to read a book each month—or at least six of the twelve books numbered on the list before the end of February 2020. Read these on your own, with a friend, in your small group, or with your Sunday School class. Look for information on classes or book groups forming around these titles through the year and avail yourself of the opportunity to participate.
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In her new book, “Sacred Resistance,” the senior pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C., articulates how Christians can engage in the work of mending the world.
The language of “resistance” has a long history. For many it will call to mind those who’ve marched, stood on picket lines, participated in sit-ins, and put their bodies between trucks, tanks, and other people or cherished land. Used as a political term, resistance is generally understood as a kind of collective civil disobedience, focused on justice and human rights, and embodied in public actions like those just mentioned.
Growing up in a small town, Ginger Gaines-Cirelli ’96 M.Div. saw the wounds caused by poverty and segregation. Growing up United Methodist, she saw the urgency of connecting personal piety and social action.
When so many causes, crises, and critical needs demand our attention, how can a congregation decide where to engage? Pastor and author Ginger Gaines-Cirelli outlines key questions and concerns in discerning a faithful and sustainable response to public issues.
While it is still dark, Easter happens. Because if the message is that Easter only happens in the light, when we feel strong and certain, when suffering and death hasn’t touched our lives, when the powers of empire have been defeated and justice is consistently done — if that’s the only context where Easter happens, then our celebration of Easter would be a farce.
“It’s poor religion that can’t provide a sufficient curse when needed.” Wendell Berry said that.
Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, author of Sacred Resistance, says it’s up to preachers to address the pain, injustice, confusion, and chaos in our days even when it is risky, and she offers guidance on approaching controversial issues in meaningful and responsible ways.
Nearly ten years ago at a dinner in New York City, I was stunned when someone at my table declared clearly that there is really no point in dialogue or relationship with those whose beliefs will not be conformed to your own.
"I’m not sure how I feel about living in this city,” said a theologically trained young adult with a passion for social justice. As a relative newcomer to Washington, DC, he shared, “It seems that Washington attracts folks who care a lot about power and what it takes to get it.”
Beth Bingham began to see Hagar of the Old Testament in a new way after studying The CEB Women’s Bible.
Suddenly she wasn’t just the servant who bore Abraham a child when his wife Sarah couldn’t. She was, essentially, the Bible’s first single mom — one who had to leave the house because tensions were so high.
Bingham, a student at Virginia Theological Seminary, couldn’t wait to bring The CEB (Common English Bible) Women’s Bible and share her Hagar insight with the female inmates she studies Scripture with twice a month.
“Why should I add another Bible to my shelf?” This good-natured question has emerged often these past months as folks have learned that I served as an editor for the new CEB Women’s Bible.
It’s clear almost instantly that Abingdon Press’s newest Bible isn’t the kind of Christian women’s fare that focuses heavily on Proverbs 31 and lightly on indignities around gender.
The CEB Women’s Bible is a specialty edition of the Common English Bible, sold and distributed by Abingdon Press, part of United Methodist Publishing House. As a contributing editor, Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli shares, “I think the vast, inclusive number of women’s voices that we have represented in the writings is beautiful and wonderful.” All five editors are women, as are all 80 of the commentary contributors. The team includes mainly seminary professors and pastors, but also Christian novelists and a rabbi.