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.
The Greatest of These
A homily preached by Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC February 23, 2020, Transfiguration Sunday. “Life Together” series.
Texts: 1 Corinthians 13, Matthew 17:1-9
Jesus had a habit of climbing mountains. And it makes sense that this is so since, as I learned on my first trip to the Holy Land last month, Nazareth—the place we are told Jesus was raised—is a hill town overlooking the Jezreel valley, a broad, beautiful, and agriculturally rich valley in the Lower Galilee. The valley is ringed with hills and mountains and, adjacent to Nazareth, is Mount Tabor, generally believed to be the mountain where “Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (Mt. 17:1-2)
I don’t think Jesus climbed Mount Tabor with the goal to show off how shiny he could be. His practice was to climb mountains to draw near to God in prayer—he was just doing what he always did. And he was at the point in his journey that he knew full well what he was facing as he traveled toward Jerusalem. So he climbed the mountain to pray. The implication is that while Jesus was praying Peter, James, and John were granted this vision—what we call the “transfiguration.” In this moment, it wasn’t that something about Jesus was changed, but rather that something was revealed. For a bright, shining moment, these close friends of Jesus didn’t see as in a mirror, dimly, didn’t perceive in part, but were shown fully what was always true—that the light of God’s perfect love filled and spilled out of Jesus. The love described in 1 Corinthians—patient, kind, not envious, boastful, or arrogant, or rude, not controlling or resentful, not rejoicing in wrongdoing, but in the truth; the love that holds the fullness of persons and realities, believes and hopes in others, and endures hardship for others’ sake; this perfect love fueled and formed Jesus throughout his life and it is this love that radiates from him. The disciples—at least for this moment—perceived this truth clearly. They also perceived Jesus’ close relationship with both the law (personified in Moses) and the work of prophecy (Elijah). And then we get a replay of God’s affirmation of Jesus at his Baptism: “This is Jesus Beloved.” And the added word from the overshadowing Presence (I imagine the voice of the Mother) saying: “Listen to your brother!” // Jesus does have much to teach us if we’ll pay attention.
Last week, I had one of our folks raise a tension point in the teachings we’ve been considering these past weeks asking, “When can we have a Bible Study on how to be a Christian and be a lawyer?” It’s not a question lost on me. We’ve focused much recently on the call to break down the “us versus them” dynamics so prevalent today. But the truth is that so much of our work is adversarial—in a variety of vocations, the goal is to win—elections, debates, market shares, contracts, court cases, and on it goes. I believe we are in a real struggle for both the soul of our nation and the soul of our church in these days—and that’s adversarial. And let’s be clear, Jesus was crucified because he threatened the powerful and the status quo and refused to stop advocating for justice for the “little people,” the marginalized, the suffering. Jesus knew that compassion and justice required some confrontation. But here’s the thing about Jesus, everything he did was fueled by love—a love that didn’t see others in part, but knew their stories, their contexts, their struggles. This was true for the poor and the rich, the powerful and the downtrodden, the kind and the unkind. In relationship with all he encountered, Jesus was driven by love.
Jesus was the fulfillment of the law—those things that guide and guard our relationships in community and of the prophetic work that reforms and renews us in community when we get things twisted and start doing harm. He fulfilled these things by having love at the center—as the motivation and the goal. This is part of the wisdom of 1 Corinthians 13. You can have amazing gifts and great power, but without love those things will be diminished at best and destructive at worst. You can be a brilliant lawyer but if you are driven only by a desire to win or to destroy your opponent then you may accomplish some good end for another but what is happening to your own heart and soul? You can be a powerful prophetic advocate for justice, but if you are driven by hatred of those whom you oppose or by self-righteousness, you may inspire some in a moment but will ultimately only add fuel to an already raging fire of hurt and distrust.
The alternative is to “listen to Jesus” and keep love front and center as your motivation and your goal. This doesn’t mean that you will never be angry or confrontational in the face of injustice or bad behavior. It means that your anger will measure your love for victims of injustice and for God’s vision of a world where all have what they need. For love to be front and center doesn’t mean that you don’t seek to prevail in your contest—whatever that may be. It means that you choose carefully about where you use your gifts in the first place and then remember that those on “the other side” are fellow humans with families, histories, and hearts who are trying to find their way. When we keep love at the center as our motivation and goal, we will have a better chance of keeping envy and hatred far enough from us so that we don’t turn into the very thing we hate.
It’s not hyperbole to affirm with Paul that the greatest of the spiritual virtues is love. Because it is only love that has the power to transfigure—to live and grow in us so that we shine and serve like Jesus. And—as members of the Beloved Clan— it is the love of God for us that gives us the freedom and courage to make love more than something we talk about—to put love into action even when it’s difficult. It is the love of God for us that sets us free to care, to give, to challenge the status quo, to keep on keeping on even in the face of certain danger. This freedom and courage is what we see in Jesus who, upon seeing the fear of his friends reaches out to touch them and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.” (Mt. 17.7) He says this knowing full well that he is headed into Jerusalem to face his own death. Don’t be afraid.
Jesus did spend lots of time on mountains…he seemed to know that being willing to climb a mountain would bring some blessing. And as we turn with Jesus toward Jerusalem we know, as he does, that there is at least one more mountain to climb: in our tradition that hill is known as Calvary. Jesus never put himself forward as the greatest, he just embodies the greatest of all God’s gifts, the gift of love. And, because of that, Jesus goes all the way, one step at a time, up the highest mountain, into the deepest darkness, so that the light of God might shine even more brightly—for us, in us, and through us. Forever. Because Love never ends. And that is a blessing, indeed.
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.