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.
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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 Gaines-Cirelli for Foundry UMC May 24, 2020, the seventh Sunday of Easter. “Life Interrupted” series.
Texts: Acts 1:1-14, 1 Peter 5:6-11
Months ago, as I developed plans for this Life Interrupted series, I imagined that by today we’d be preparing to begin some kind of re-entry to in-person worship at 16th and P Street, NW. And I was struck by the fact that the word “restore” appeared in two of the assigned readings for today. “That’s a good word as we contemplate a return to some familiar practices,” she thought. As the reality of a much longer period of physical distancing began to sink in, my focus in our texts shifted.
“Wait for the promise…” (Acts 1:4) “It is not for you to know the times… (Acts 1:7) “…in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6) “After you have suffered for a little while…” (1Pet 5:10)
These words land like a thud. Weeks ago during my Wednesday FaceBook message I talked about how disorienting it is to not know how long this is going to last. Even then, I was already crying out with the Psalmist, “How long, O Lord?!” The fact that we don’t know the answer is among the most distressing and disorienting of the unknowns we’ve been dealing with. We’re such a time-driven culture, marking time with clocks and calendars and watches, with alerts to keep us tracking time and keep us on time.
When Bill Smith and I were working closely to mobilize strategy and witness at General Conference 2019, we would joke with one another that we could do anything for six months, four months, three weeks… We knew the journey wouldn’t end at the close of General Conference, but at least we knew how long that painful and difficult stretch of the journey was going to last. It makes a profound difference in the way we inhabit time right now to not know the time that is set for the end of this painful and difficult experience in our world. The lack of time-boundedness makes it easy to lose focus, to lack motivation, to lose track of things; the lack of time boundary means that things can easily spill out all over, become diffuse, fuzzy, foggy…what day is it today?
All this makes me more compassionate with the disciples’ question: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Now keep in mind that Jesus has suffered, died, rose on the third day, appeared to his disciples over 40 days teaching them more about the Kin-dom of God—topped off with the promise that they can expect to be baptized with the Holy Spirit at some point in the future. If we think we’ve got a lot to process, just think about that community of women and men who were the first disciples of Jesus. They were dealing with a lot of stuff. And in the midst of all the possible questions they could ask, their question is about the time. Is it time for Israel to finally get our power back, to get out from under the oppressive occupation of Rome? Is it time to finally get back to the way things were?
Jesus could have expressed frustration that, after everything, the disciples are still focused there, but instead he simply responds to their question by providing a new frame. It is not a timeframe, so much as a framework. Jesus speaks not of a “when” but of a “what” and a “how.”
The “what” is to be witnesses—to testify to the love and power of Jesus, to tell the story of God’s love, mercy, and liberation extended to all nations, to live as citizens of the Kin-dom even when the empires of this world are still acting as though they are stronger than God. And the “how” is by the power of Holy Spirit at work in and through them. (Acts1:8)
After this reframing, Jesus leaves them to it. “A cloud”—a common image to evoke the presence, guidance, protection, and glory of God in the Bible—appears and takes Jesus up. I tend to think of this moment as a thin place where heaven and earth touch. Here, the Kin-dom of heaven—always near, always “at hand,” but not always visible—opens a door, a cloudy, misty, mysterious door, and welcomes Jesus home. (This past week, I’ve heard some suggest that this story tells of the time when Jesus started working from home.)
So Jesus provides a new framework—not a “when” but a “what” and “how”—and then he makes his exit. The disciples are left there looking up like, “Wait, you’re leaving us again??” Or perhaps, for some, the reaction in the moment was “OK, that was neat, but what NOW??” And two men in white—perhaps the same ones who greeted the grieving women at the empty tomb in Luke 24—emerge to nudge the disciples to grieve as they have need and to begin to adjust their focus: You’ve been given a framework and focus. He will come again just as unexpectedly as he left—you won’t know when. All you need to do now is go to Jerusalem and wait.
I think it’s fair to say that most people don’t like to wait. Perhaps we don’t mind waiting for a while. But when the waiting seems to go past what seems the reasonable amount of time for whatever it is I’m waiting for, I START TO LOSE MY PATIENCE. You? The disciples were given this extraordinary new framework and vision for their lives: they’re going to receive power through the Holy Spirit and will be witnesses in ways and in places they’ve never imagined! And then: wait…
This past Thursday, our Bible study group zeroed in on this. What if the waiting is an important piece of the journey? What if the waiting allows for the disciples to sit with what Jesus has been teaching them all along? What if, in the waiting, they will finally begin to understand that the transformation of which they will be a part is about more than their own lives, their own histories, their own nation? // As difficult as it is to be told to wait, some part of us knows that waiting, being still, allowing space for things to simmer or to settle, is part of what it takes to deepen understanding or gain insight or listen more carefully to what we have already received. The waiting is preparation for what comes next. It may be the case that if we rush forward before waiting for discernment, cultivation of spiritual and emotional resources, and wisdom, we could do damage to ourselves and to others. We might undermine a good idea or project if we try to push it forward before it becomes clear that the time is ripe.
Much of that, however, may seem more applicable to times when we choose to wait. But where we are right now is a forced waiting, at least for those of us paying attention to the science and guidance of public health experts. And it may be that the fact of waiting, of not knowing the timeframe for when we will move from one phase to another in this time of pandemic, is its own spiritual practice. We want to come up with an action plan, to know how to adjust our budgets, to strategize for what’s next. We want to fix a new date for the wedding, the Memorial or Celebration of Life service, the retirement or graduation party, and on it goes. And there is only so much of that we can do. Over these months information has trickled out and changed often, messages have been less than clear and the reality has been emerging and evolving. Without information and a firm end-date, planning simply can’t happen. We are clearly not in control. Many of us struggle mightily in this reality. The invitation is to release constant control, planning, and production mode and just be. WAIT.
The guidance given in our texts today is first to pray—the women and men who waited in Jerusalem prayed, they drew near to God to speak and to listen. And 1 Peter reminds us to humble ourselves, acknowledging our dependence upon God; to let God hold our anxiety, because God cares and wants to help us; to be disciplined and alert—that is, to pay attention, to stay awake and open to God’s presence; to resist the devilish (literally from the Greek “slanderous”) voice that will want to distract you and fill your head with lies and destructive thoughts; to remember our solidarity with others all over the world who are suffering, too. On this last point, I hope that in our waiting we recognize what I’ve been saying for months: we are all in the same storm, but we are not in the same boat. Some of us are in secure situations that will weather the storm. Others are in situational “boats” that have been waiting for generations to receive the resources they need to mend and become more safe and sound. //
Perhaps, in our waiting, we might ponder what it means to be “restored.” This word that initially drew my attention, the word translated in the NRSV as “restore” in both Acts 1 and 1 Peter 5, is not actually the same word. What I discovered is that the Greek word used in the disciples’ question, apokathistémi, means “to re-establish, give back, set up again.” It’s a word that looks backward—not necessarily in a bad way—but in a way that longs for a good parts of the past to be restored, perhaps in a way that is more just than before. The word in 1 Peter, katartizó, means “to prepare, to perfect for its full destination or use.” This word leans into the future and tends to evoke a sense of equipping for a whole new reality.
As we grapple with this time of waiting, it is OK to long for good parts of our lives to be restored—singing together, dinner parties, being able to be present with loved ones who are celebrating or suffering, giving and receiving care and service, the list could stretch on. And it is also important to pay attention to the ways God is at work preparing and perfecting us for completely new ways of living together, the ways God is restoring us in ways that will enable us to flourish in a new reality.
Perhaps the message is that we are called to be restored not after the waiting, but in it. God is at work to prepare and perfect our hearts, our minds, our priorities, our awareness, our faith, hope, and love. And for what? To be open to the power of Spirit who comforts us in our pain and struggle, nudges our conscience, stirs our dreaming, touches our hearts and inspires new vision and new life. And through the power of Spirit, to emerge from this time of waiting, isolation, and struggle ready to live more gently and justly, more aware and awake, more committed to addressing the gross inequities and injustices so starkly revealed in this time, and perhaps with a more perfect appreciation for the little things that are so easy to take for granted when time seems more in our control.
Can you actively wait, open to God’s restorative power in the midst of frustration, boredom, anxiety, and grief? The promise is that fresh power, a big vision, and new life will come not just for you, but for all. In due time…
Faith Leaders Hold DC Vigil to Call For Change
"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.