Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli is a lifelong 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 the historic Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. Since Ginger’s appointment, Foundry has reenergized 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.
Pastor Ginger enjoys gardening, yoga, poetry, art, ice cream, travel, and hiking. She 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 NE Washington, D.C. with their clumber spaniels Harvey and Daisy, and cat Fiona.
Connect with Pastor Ginger
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.
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli with Foundry UMC November 28, 2021, Advent 1.
Text: Luke 21:25-36
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” // Perhaps it seems strange to begin an Advent series on “Good Tidings” with these apocalyptic words. Where is the good news here?
We will get to that. But first, I want to remind all of us that our text today is part of a longer passage in Luke 21 of apocalyptic writing. Apocalyptic is a specific genre within the Bible. The word “apocalypse” is derived from a Greek word meaning to “uncover, disclose, or reveal” something—an unveiling. Apocalyptic writing tends to focus on “end of the age” or “end times” and is often thought of as “doom and gloom”—understandable, I guess, based on what we receive in our text today… “distress…fear, and forboding.” At its most basic, however, apocalyptic is meant to wake us up, to remind us that things will change, that something is going to happen, that something—or someone—is drawing near.
And so it makes some sense that we’d be given a text like today’s at the beginning of the season of Advent, the annual time of preparation for the coming of Christ. The word “Advent” derives from the Latin adventus, which means “coming,” “arrival,” “approach,” or “appearance.” The emphasis at this time of year is often on what has already occurred, the coming of Christ in baby Jesus who grew up and showed us what God’s love and justice look like in human flesh. But on the first Sunday of Advent, we’re reminded that there is another promise yet to be fully realized: the coming of Christ into the world in a new way that embraces all peoples and all of creation, the fulfillment of our prayer that the Kin-dom appear in all the earth as in heaven.
In the years following Jesus’s death, some early Christian communities, living under tremendous persecution and the despair caused by events like the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, expected the world as they knew it to end at any moment, they expected Christ to come again with cataclysmic flashes of lightning and all the rest. Yet, as time passed and the injustice and oppression of the world continued, that expectation began to fade. Christians had to learn how to wait, how to not give up on the whole thing, how to remain a people of hopeful expectation in the tension between the historical events of Jesus’ life and the desire that God’s realm be fulfilled on earth.
This is the tension we find in our text today from Luke. We, like the earliest Christian communities live in the in-between time, wondering “How much longer, for crying out loud?!” But really the emphasis in our scripture is less about providing a timetable of events and more about what to do, how to be, every day. We are encouraged to practice an active waiting, to remain awake and alert to what is happening around us, to pay attention to what is happening in the created order, to pay attention to the fear and distress among the nations, and, as we do so, not to allow ourselves to get dragged down into the worries of this life (Lk 34) but to remember that in moments of turmoil, danger, and upheaval, God draws especially near. The implication of the text in its context is that we are to keep the faith in the midst of fear and exhaustion and worry and grief—and that means not just thinking faithy things, but concretely responding to what’s going on in and around us in ways that align with the Kin-dom of God, that embody the words of Jesus. You know, loving God and neighbor through doing justice, practicing hesed (lovingkindness or unearned love), and walking humbly with God…
The call of Jesus is for us to be a people of active faith and hopeful expectation in the time in between the reality of a difficult now and the hopeful vision of the promised Kin-dom come.
But sometimes life eats away at our ability to remain a people of hopeful expectation. Our Gospel today doesn’t pretend that human hearts are untouched by the worries of this life; and yet it still calls us to hope. And so, though we find ourselves often expecting the worst, we gather as a people, at the beginning of every new Christian year, to expect the best, to experience again the ancient tale of One who came into the world to save it, the one who came to show us that our hope is not in vain. Thousands of years have passed and still we cry out, “Come, thou long-expected Jesus.” We gather this week and the next three weeks to find the courage to hope. We walk into, literally, the darkest days of the earth’s cycle, trying to have our eyes and hearts open to the light we believe is coming—not just looking back at what God has already done in Jesus, but looking at what God is doing and will yet do.
It’s curious to me that so much of our collective energy in response to apocalyptic revelation of what God will yet do has tended to be fearful. It makes sense that if we know we’ve fallen off the wagon of trying to love God and neighbor, the words we hear today can unsettle and nudge us to make some changes. I imagine that a lot of the fear is the result of bad theology that characterizes God as a smiter rather than a savior. If you think that the character of God is that of a bully or someone who delights in punishing you for any failure then standing before that God in the future is fearful indeed.
But think for just a moment about being in an airport to pick up a loved one…you check the arrival monitor, you figure out what baggage carousel is the place to wait, and then you watch, aware of all the other persons streaming by, but anxiously anticipating the familiar gait, the familiar face of your beloved. What we’re told today is that the one who is coming into the world then, now, and in the future is a familiar face, the face of the One who loves you most of all, the face of the One who is always working for your good and for good in the whole world.
Here is the good news today: “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” The one who is coming is not some avenging stranger, it is Jesus, the Christ who’s been with you all along, who knows you and loves you and wants nothing more than your highest good. We need not fear or hide our faces in shame or insecurity, but rather we are told to raise our heads because God’s redeeming love and presence is drawing near. The loving, redemptive presence of Christ gives us grace to persevere in hope, to remain aware, to keep from falling into despair in the face of our own struggles and failures or in the wake of COVID mutation after mutation and midst fears and injustices of every kind. Our text brings us good tidings that our redeeming God is near.
The story we tell isn’t that Jesus came once upon a time, gave us a great annual holiday, dropped some wisdom, left the building, and abandoned us until some future pyrotechnic event. Christ is adventus, *NOW ARRIVING*, every day.
And that means that while we have to wait for the fullness of God’s Kin-dom to come on earth as in heaven, it is already among us because Christ is among us. Perhaps when Jesus says “when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near” it means that in every moment of distress in our lives, a way is opened for us to embody the way of Jesus such that the Kin-dom is manifest… Imagine a portal—like those you may have seen in the movies or TV— that is always there, but hidden, and all it takes for the portal to be unveiled is for us to stay awake and alert to Christ’s presence and receive the grace we’re given to respond with love, care, and justice. The portal is always there, but won’t show itself if we choose to snooze and miss it or respond to situations as impatient, distracted, selfish, fearful jerks. You know the Kin-dom is near when you’re given an opportunity to reach out to hurting ones, to be a companion with those who are nurturing new life or grieving in the face of death, to celebrate with siblings when justice has been done and to mourn at the pain of justice denied. You know the Kin-dom is near when the oceans roar and signs in the earth show distress, and you can do something to participate in God’s work of mending the earth. And let me be clear, it’s not just in the big events of the world that the Kin-dom “portal”—the Kin-dom opportunity—is near. It is there at the kitchen table, as you tuck the kids in to bed, on your daily commute, all along the path of your daily rounds. In this in-between time, today and every day, Christ is arriving through the presence of Holy Spirit to inspire, agitate, and encourage us, and to help us live and love and choose and give as citizens of the Kin-dom of God.
So be alert. Pay attention. Raise your head. Look for the familiar, loving face of Jesus Christ. Look for the ways that God is at work—even in small ways—providing what you need to keep faith, hope, and love, to do what is needed, what is just, what is truly yours to do for the Kin-dom. Bask in the light that has already come and cling to the hope that someday—probably when you’re busy making other plans—the unfinished, unfilled promises and possibilities of your life, your relationships, your church, our world, will be fulfilled and redeemed…fully. And…finally! And those are some good tidings for sure.
Interfaith Conversation of Forgiveness moderated by David Gregory
Faith Leaders Hold DC Vigil to Call For Change
This Week on Day 1
"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.
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.
Beth Bingham began to see Hagar of the Old Testament in a new way after studying The
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.
"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.”
“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.
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.