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.
What Peace? What Love?
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli for Foundry UMC June 21, 2020, third Sunday after Pentecost. “Living As If…” series.
Text: Matthew 10:24-39
Last week Foundry received a powerful call from Rev. Kimberly Scott to live as if our loved ones are at risk, to recognize that God has placed us where we are today to be part of building up a new world. When Rev. Scott repeated the call to live as if our loved ones are at risk, I found myself thinking our loved ones ARE at risk. The question is: Who do we count as our loved ones? Who is our neighbor? Only our blood kin? Only those we know well? Only those with whom we agree?
Today, the lectionary gives us what folks in my Thursday night Bible Study widely agree is a not-so-favorite passage of scripture. And, I get it. It’s full of all sorts of confusing and triggery words and phrases. “Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” “Whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.” “Do not think I have come to bring peace, but a sword.” “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” And what’s all that business about finding and losing life? It’s a lot! But, honestly, the more I’ve read and prayed with our text this past week, the more I realize that these lines of scripture are the sermon Jesus might give if he were to show up at the podium at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Black Lives Matter Plaza today.
Matthew chapter 10 begins with Jesus calling together his disciples to give them authority over unclean spirits and power to cure disease (Mt 10:1) and to proclaim the good news of the Kin-dom (10:7). Jesus then sends them into the world and communicates clearly that some folks will not receive them, will not acknowledge their authority, will not welcome their message (10:14). And worse, they’ll likely get beaten up by those in power and “dragged before governors and kings” (10:17-18). We hear in verse 25 “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!” In other words, the disciples who do what Jesus does in the world, aren’t going to get better treatment than Jesus himself. And, remember, Jesus wasn’t out of the manger before the agents of empire were trying to kill him. He hadn’t started to walk, much less talk, before his parents were forced to seek asylum to save his life (Mt 2:13 ff.). And we know that trend continued throughout his life. Even still, Jesus didn’t back down or pipe down but simply continued doing what he had been sent to do. And he was firmly in the prophetic flow of his ancestors like Auntie Esther whose story we heard last week.
Following Jesus, being called to do and to speak and to love as he does, is risky. It is costly. If your Christian faith isn’t making you shift in your seat, re-examine your priorities regularly, sacrifice some time, energy, or money, try something that feels uncomfortable, make space literally or figuratively for people who make you twitchy, and risk losing something for the greater good, then, well, something is missing.
Let me interject here—as I know we are all weary and in various stages of grief for so many reasons right now—our faith—of course!—is a source of comfort and encouragement. God’s grace and peace is always available for us.
But any kind of “peace” that is pretending there is nothing wrong is not peace. “Peace” achieved by proffering a bland niceness wrapped around simmering resentment, aggravation, dismissiveness, and hatred is not peace. Any “peace” that avoids difficult conversations or avoids naming or changing things so as not to make people angry or uncomfortable is not peace. These and other things are not peace, they are denial, avoidance, and lies. Jesus taught in the beatitudes that peacemakers are blessed. I don’t think he was talking about denial, avoidance, and lies. It’s a different kind of peace that Jesus reveals to us. The next beatitude is instructive: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 5:10) You see without righteousness, right relationship—justice—there is no peace. No justice. No peace. “Peace” without justice isn’t peace, it’s pretending. // And understand: the point is not to seek persecution or to stir the pot just to stir the pot.
Jesus wasn’t persecuted because he disturbed the peace in an already peaceful world; Jesus was persecuted because he disturbed the injustice of an unjust world. And he did that in order to make real peace. Jesus comes to disturb anything in the world that keeps people from knowing the fullness of their dignity, value, power, and belovedness. This means—for just one example—that sometimes a gay child will have to challenge the teaching and beliefs of his father and mother in order to live in freedom and in love. Jesus comes to disturb any system or mindset or attitude or practice that would systematically deny anyone their freedom, safety, and daily bread. Sadly, I’ll bet you can come up with myriad examples of that in our world.
All of this leads me to imagine Jesus marching down 16th Street, NW in Washington, DC, stepping up to the podium—after spending some time with the folk who are sleeping on the steps of St. John’s Church—and then stepping into a certain kind of prophetic speech, a cadence meant to unsettle and to make a point. Strong language, hyperbolic utterance, hard words tumble forth such that we are left with little doubt that they’ve landed and done their disturbing work. What is getting shaken loose in these words? What is Jesus trying to get through to us?
That there are more important things in life than our own comfort or ease. That we are made for more than looking out for #1. That going along to get along may have its place in small matters, but doing so when some lives are treated as they don’t matter may cost you your soul.
The Greek word translated “soul” in verse 28, psuché, is the same word translated “life” in verse 39: “Those who find their life (psuché) will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Psuché can also be translated as “breath.” Our soul, our life, is breathed into us by God. And Jesus teaches our life is precious, valued—every hair of every head is counted!—and meant and sent to do healing and life-giving things. We were made to love—to love God and to love neighbor. That is the life purpose breathed into everyone. But, this life can be diminished, denied, even lost.
Think of how much true life is lost by those who think they’ve “got the life” and have it all figured out: those who focus only on their own advancement and comfort and are willing to do anything to get it, those whose “smarts” fuel a cynicism that blocks any vision of a new world, much less motivation to work for it, those unwilling to take attention away from managing their own stuff long enough to realize the folks they’re saying should pull themselves up by their bootstraps don’t have boots, folk who don’t bat an eye at the thought of thousands of lives lost to COVID-19 if it means boosting an economy that already benefits those who can comfortably avoid infection as they enjoy the pool at their second or third home.
God breathes life into us and sets us in creation and in community to live with and for one another. We have been given a Kin-dom vision for life together that breaks down walls of hatred, tribalism, prejudice, selfishness, and greed. We are given authority and power and grace from Jesus the Christ to live and to share that vision and that life with love, with boldness, with compassion, with courage. Jesus isn’t preaching that we shouldn’t love our parents or that if we mess up we get a star taken off our “worthy” chart. One of the ten commandments is to honor father and mother—and there are plenty of ready examples of God’s unfailing compassion and mercy and love in scripture as well. What Jesus is preaching is that the love and the way of life to which we are called requires something of us that may lead to conflict even within the communities that have raised and formed us: our families, our church, our circle of friends, our nation.
Jesus is preaching that we can live a thin peace that doesn’t “rock the boat” and in the process lose the life we were created to live, the life that is willing to sacrifice something in order to participate in the work of love, compassion, and justice. Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor who initially supported, then opposed the Nazi regime in Germany was imprisoned for 7 years in concentration camps. He wrote the following—with some additions to fit our moment: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.” [Then they came for the immigrants, and I did not speak out—because I was not an immigrant. Then they came for the unhoused, and I did not speak out—because I was not unhoused. Then they came for LGBTQ people, and I did not speak out—because I was not LGBT or Q. Then they came for black people, indigenous people, and people of color, and I did not speak out because I was not a person of color.] Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me. Beloved, our loved ones ARE at risk and we are receiving message after message to do something about it.
We are being called to rise up in this moment of Spirit-breathed, Spirit-ignited revolution in our city and our nation and in our world—the Pentecost revolution that ignites God’s dream. Today we are given authority and power by the grace of Christ to let go of our fear and find ourselves as agents in the revolutionary dream of God’s all-embracing love unleashed in the world. That will take many forms and each of us will need to discern our particular role.
What are you willing to risk for the sake of the dream? What kind of peace will you pursue? What love will you share and with whom? What are you willing to risk for the sake of others? What are you willing to lose in order to live the life you’re made for? Are you willing to live as if more than your life is at stake?
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.