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.
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.
Lament as Prophecy
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli with Foundry UMC, March 21, 2021, Lent 5, “Learning to Sing the Blues” series.
Text: Psalm 10
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off, allowing the proliferation of hate, hate speech, hate crimes, champions of hate spouting hate and violence, spewing bigotry and hatred through airwaves that flow into living rooms, limousines and dive bars, the hateful rhetoric seeping into minds that move bodies to do more violence?
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off, allowing the proliferation of legislation and legislators that do harm, that redline and manipulate, that pander to profit margins and power brokers, that ignore what makes for peace and instead rally around the worship of weapons, that make it possible to buy a gun and use it for murder that same day, but impossible to register and vote on the same day?
Why, O Lord, do you stand far off, allowing your beloved, vulnerable children to be objectified, fetishized, terrorized, marginalized, demonized, stalked, targeted, assaulted, and killed?
Why, O LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
In arrogance the wicked persecute the poor—…
Their mouths are filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;
under their tongues are mischief and iniquity.
They sit in ambush in the villages;
in hiding places they murder the innocent.
Their eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;
they lurk in secret like a lion in its covert;
they lurk that they may seize the poor;
they seize the poor and drag them off in their net. (Ps 10: 1-2a, 7-9)
Our human capacity for oppression and violence knows no boundaries; it exists in multiple forms and falls upon persons of every kind and color. Each country, culture, or community will have its own flavor or nuance of oppression based on all sorts of factors—from Myanmar to Israel to Zimbabwe to the U.S.—from kitchen table to board room table. But some common threads, clearly identified in our scriptures, appear wherever humans are found: those upon whom violence falls are consistently the vulnerable, those on the margins of mainstream, white-bread, fit-in-a-box society, the poor, the immigrant, the person who looks, sounds, or acts outside of any culturally, socially constructed “norm.” Oh—and also women and children. Basic rule of thumb for oppression: if the person can be used, abused, or taken advantage of, they’re fair game.
Our own country and culture continues to be exposed for the tapestry of human cruelty, neglect, and injustice that mark both our history and our present moment. This past week we’ve been reminded, through deadly attack, of the anti-Asian bigotry that is part of that tapestry. The ongoing push in so many states across the country for legislation that suppresses voter access is part of that tapestry. The litany of strands that make up the blanket of injustices covering our land could stretch from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, white with foam.
Injustice is not all of who we are, but it is part of who we are. Denial of this doesn’t make anything better. It makes things worse. And so prophets through the ages cry out in lament, naming the pain and injustice in their context in order to wake people up. And we need prophets because from age to age those crying out from the margins or gasping for breath under the boot of the oppressor are ignored, devalued, or dismissed as the noises of ingrates, traitors, whiners, weaklings, slackers, or criminals.
We know how easy it is to ignore or make up excuses to dismiss injustice when we’re not directly taking the blows. And the whole system in which we live is designed to help us do just that. Walter Brueggemann’s scripture-based definition of empire describes our context in the U.S.: “rule by a few, economic exploitation, and religious legitimation.” This reality leads to a “numbed consciousness of denial.” Even if we don’t mean to, everything around us trains us to ignore the cries of the oppressed and focus only on our own, daily rounds. Brueggemann says, “Imperial economics is designed to keep people satiated so that they do not notice. Its politics is intended to block out the cries of the denied ones. Its religion is to be an opiate so that no one discerns misery alive in the heart of God.” In other words, the imperial reality distracts, rationalizes, and drugs the populace so that the awareness of suffering and human pain won’t get in the way of business as usual and a healthy bottom line for those in the top 1%. //
We have explored lament as naming our own pain, suffering, and guilt. Today, Psalm 10 provides an example of a lament that names the pain of injustice against the poor and vulnerable. The complaint and charge is hurled against God, “Why do you stand far off when wickedness, deceit, oppression, and iniquity run roughshod over your children?” In verse 11, the Psalmist says of the wicked, “They think in their heart, “God has forgotten, / he has hidden his face, he will never see it.” Then, as in other lament prayers, there is a turn beginning in verse 14:
But you do see! Indeed you note trouble and grief,
that you may take it into your hands;
the helpless commit themselves to you;
you have been the helper of the orphan…
O LORD, you will hear the desire of the meek;
you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear
to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed,
so that those from earth may strike terror no more. (Ps 10:14, 17-18)
The prophetic voice cries out in lament not only to name the pain and wake people up, but also to shake loose memory of God’s liberating, new-life giving presence and power. Again, Brueggemann writes, “Newness comes precisely from expressed pain. Suffering made audible and visible produces hope, articulated grief is the gate of newness, and the history of Jesus is the history of entering into the pain and giving it voice.”
Prophet Howard Thurman calls out the perversion of Christianity of empire, that perversion of our faith by the powerful and dominant who make it an “instrument of oppression.” Thurman clarifies “that Christianity as it was born in the mind of the Jewish teacher and thinker [Jesus] appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed…Wherever [Jesus’] spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for he announced the good news that fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over them.”
Prophetic lament is a way people of faith follow Jesus, enter into pain, and cry out against the injustice in our lives, communities, church, nation, and world. We lament not because we are seeking attention, self-righteous, enjoy complaining, or seek anyone’s destruction—but rather because members of our human family are hurting and, instead of allowing ourselves and others to remain in a “numbed consciousness of denial,” we are determined to wake up and do something about it. Perhaps in our lament we’ll begin to hear God turning our question back upon us: “Why do you stand so far off?”
We lament not to stay in sorrow or bitterness, but to claim the good news of Jesus, to hold fast to hope, to remember the liberating power of God’s steadfast love, to participate in the new thing that God is always doing, to live our lives committed to a future where no more backs are against the wall.
Let us pray:
Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
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.