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.
What Sparks Joy?
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC October 27, 2019, the 20th Sunday after Pentecost. “Fearless Generosity: Deepening Faith” series. Consecration Sunday.
Text: 2 Timothy 4:6-8
Some of you may know the KonMari method of organizing and managing possessions. Some years ago it was quite the craze, based on a book entitled, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” When everyone was talking about it, I wasn’t in a space to pay that much attention, though I picked up the gist through cultural osmosis. But several months ago as I was planning this Fearless Generosity: Deepening Faith series, I was struck by a line from the assigned scripture for today: “I have kept the faith.”. Two questions came to mind: 1. What do we keep? 2. What do we give away?
These questions triggered my mentally stored KonMari folder. So I looked up more about the method—the brainchild of a young Japanese woman named Marie Kondo—that consists of gathering together all of one’s belongings, one category at a time, keeping only those things that “spark joy,” and giving away everything else.
Quite by accident, this past week I discovered the television series featuring Marie Kondo in action, working with American families to declutter and bring order and peace to their homes. I had every intention of getting my peace on that Sabbath day by lying on the sofa all afternoon. But after several episodes, I found myself in my closet dumping drawers of socks, rifling through my closet, picking up items and asking myself, “Does this spark joy?” The result? [bring out bags]
There was a lot of stuff I had been holding onto that needed to go. It didn’t need to go because it is junk (except maybe for the several pair of shoes that puppy Daisy had chewed up that were still taunting me from the bottom of the closet) No, most of the items are really nice and will serve and perhaps even spark joy in someone else. What do we keep and what do we give away?
We began this sermon series in the first chapter of 2 Timothy. Today we read a few short verses from the last chapter of that eponymous letter written in the form of a “final testament” from a dying parent to a faithful child with encouragement to endure in faith through difficulties in life. Today we hear that Paul’s life is “poured out”—given away in service to the message of new life, liberation, and grace in Jesus Christ. Throughout Paul’s letters is an insistence on Jesus’ teaching to “lose our lives” that we might truly find our lives. This doesn’t mean we seek to become martyrs with a reward only in heaven, but rather that we follow in the way of humble service, brave and risky solidarity, and self-giving love modeled by Jesus in this life—and, in doing that, discover what it means to experience true life. One might say that in this context not only what we keep but what we lose—“losing our lives,” “pouring out our lives” in service to God—can “spark joy.”
In just the few episodes I saw of Marie Kondo’s T.V. show, joy seemed to be a result of the whole process. When the people admitted their mess, accepted help, did their part of the work in partnership with a family member, and then gave away those items that would serve others, the results were a sense of personal agency, freedom, and peace. //
Paul has given away his life…and he has “kept the faith.” What does that mean? Well, in part, keeping faith means giving away your life in love and service to God and others. It means trusting Jesus to help you find new and true life. It means holding fast to the promise of God’s love and mercy for you even when you’re a mess. It means trusting that God isn’t put off by your doubts and questions but encourages you to think deeply and wrestle with God, like Jacob at the Jabbok, until you receive a blessing. It means having assurance that as you practice with intention, as you do what you can do, God will do what only God can do—will work in and through you for good. To keep the faith is to serve as you are called, to give as response and gratitude for God’s generosity, and to love as you have been loved. Paul kept this faith.
In the KonMari method, you keep only what “sparks joy.” I imagine Paul would agree that even though he suffered for his faith, even still, his faith was a source of joy. When I think of faith sparking joy I think of a little parable Jesus taught, that “The kin-dom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” (Mt 13:44) An encounter with life in community the way God intends, an experience of life set free and embraced by God’s love—that sparks joy! And as a result, you do whatever you can do, spend as much as necessary, to hold onto that amazing grace and gift.
Over the years I have witnessed what this can look like in practice. My clergy colleague shares the story of a woman who owned a DC rowhouse that included an English basement apartment. When she first bought the house, she used the apartment as a source of rental income. But, in the midst of discerning what she could give financially to support the growing ministry at her church, she realized that she could make a lot more money—and hence give away more money—if she rented the main house and used the apartment for herself. So that is what she did.
And early on in my ministry at Foundry, I learned that a young couple who were members here, had made a decision to rent out a room in their home—which wasn’t a huge home—in order to be able to make a larger gift to Foundry. Their commitment to the life and future of Foundry was so great that they gave away privacy (!) in order to be able to give more.
Kathleen Walton, member of my former congregation and recently deceased, once said this to me about her significant giving: “I’m just so grateful that I can give! I believe in what we’re doing and it gives me great JOY to be a part of it. I know there are others who aren’t able to contribute as I do, so I want to do as much as I can to support this community for us all.” Her face radiated joy as she spoke.
These examples model for me—and for us all—how to keep the faith through fearless generosity…and all in a way that sparks joy!
It is common in churches to expend a lot of energy worrying about the folks who will be “turned off” by any teaching about money and possessions. As another dearly departed used to say to me on occasion, “Today you stopped preachin’ and started meddlin’!” But it’s kinda Spirit’s job to “meddle” in a way that will push us to go deeper in our faith, hope, and love. So if I have any part in that, I’m good with it. And I’m convinced that giving to faithful, alive, impactful churches like Foundry can be a profound source of joy. I also understand the very tender place that our relationship with money and possessions can hold in our lives, due to personal and family history. If that is true for you, then part of your practice might include grappling with that history—holding it and honoring it in a sacred kind of way and letting go of what no longer truly serves you, in order to be able to give with less fear and more joy. For some, we may not have given much thought to how we actually spend our money. In that case, perhaps a little time reviewing where your resources really go would be enlightening. Does your spending align with your values? With what truly “sparks joy?”
Over the past year there have been some high profile announcements of major gifts that make a major difference—like billionaire Robert Smith’s gift to pay off debt for Morehouse graduates. Huge gifts like that will always have an amazing impact—how I would love to be able to give millions to endow one of our ministry areas at Foundry! But here’s the thing. What you might consider a small gift will have a big impact. We don’t have the large endowments of colleges and universities. We rely on contributions for 98% of everything we do. Your gift to Foundry, no matter how big or small, will make a BIG difference!
Today we consecrate the one million, two hundred and sixty three thousand dollars ($1.263) in gifts that have already been promised to support our 2020 budget along with those estimates of giving and prayers that will be added today. The goal we simply must meet is $1.9 million in estimates. I have been deeply moved by the response so far. Most of the gifts already promised have been increased for next year. It is only through such fearless generosity that we will be able to sustain the life that we currently share together as Foundry Church. Last week, I spoke with you about my vision and prayer for Foundry to be a community of deep integrity, a wellspring of spiritual nourishment for those who need church to be real and to be there for you wherever you are on the journey. Over these weeks, we’ve been asking that each one of us stretch to give what we can, to increase our gifts if we can, to make that vision possible. I want you to know that I don’t ask you to do anything that I’m not willing to do myself. My continued goal is to tithe my income. Currently, I give more than 10% of my net salary, but it will take some more time to get to a tithe of the gross. Some might say I have to do this since I’m the pastor, but I want to let you in on a secret. I could easily get away with not giving proportionally to Foundry. There could be all sorts of rationalizations and support for that. I give because it is a significant part of my spiritual practice and it sparks joy for me to know that I am supporting the life-changing, justice-making, spirit-moving, work we share.
All that we share together as Foundry Church, all that we mean to churches and persons across the United Methodist connection and throughout our city, all the lives that are strengthened through our advocacy, direct service, and commitment to radical hospitality and inclusive love, children who are taught, mentored, and loved just as they are, music that soars, minds that are stretched and awakened, leadership developed, and heavy hearts lifted, all of this and more happens because we—you—keep the faith…and give away what is needed with joy!
Invitation to give…. Instructions for participation… Prayer or estimate… ONLINE! If you’re a guest or visitor and have filled out a card to share with us, please bring that…
Now come with joy at the leading of our ushers…
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.
"I don’t recognize my church." That’s what I said to myself while serving as a delegate of the 2016 General Conference in Portland, Oregon.
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.