By Neichelle Guidry, PhD,
In 2012, I was a young Black woman working in a large Black church. Very quickly, I realized that some of the challenges I faced were unique to my gender, but ageism was becoming quite real to me. It forced me to think about the pervasiveness of intracommunal oppressions whenever difference is present. The Black Church is yet another iteration of the “Old Boy’s Club,” and young women endure a lot of nonsense as we attempt to do our soul’s work. God’s work. Later that year, I created shepreaches as an outlet for young Black women in ministry, who were trying to do various forms of ministry, while trying to prove and validate that we were actually called by God, just because we were young Black women.
My original intent was to create a personal blog, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that shepreaches was called to be a shared platform. So, it began as an online magazine that featured columns by five young Black women in ministry around the country. We discussed everything from mental health, family, sexuality, and personal development. It was an honor to provide a space for my sisters to shine, and for us to unite in solidarity, collegiality and even sisterhood. Locating our work on the Internet had several advantages. It allowed for expansiveness of thought and community, and for the digitization of resources for sharing.
When shepreaches became a professional development organization in 2014, our signature offering was the Good Friday service that featured seven millennial Black women preachers, an all-woman band and praise team, all women artists and performers. All of the sermons centralized Black women’s lived experiences, and clarified the continuity between today’s Black woman and women in the Bible who were also trying to thrive in patriarchal contexts. We didn’t shy away from difficult texts and topics, including domestic violence, sexual assault, infertility and reproductive rights. We curated worship experiences in which Black women could see themselves and hear their stories. The ultimate goal was to subvert traditional uses of the Black pulpit by transmitting womanist theology in an effort to empower Black women. To proclaim a God who loved Black women and was for our liberation.
We believed that we were doing something special. Over the years, we’d heard testimonies of how our work was impacting women in our community. This year, my teammate, Rev. Dr. Dawnn Brumfield and I created a toolkit for millennial women to recreate this Good Friday service in their cities. It was distributed to over fifty people who asked to receive it. It was time for us to expand our work because Chicago is not the only city in which young Black women are fighting for their callings in the Black Church, and beyond. In returning to the foundational goal to create a shared platform, we believed that this was a natural next step. I could not be more grateful for the powerful outcome. As a result of creating our toolkit, shepreaches worship took place in two different cities, thereby enabling fourteen Black millennial women to proclaim on Good Friday. These services also held deep personal significance. I was in the throes of completing my dissertation, “Towards a Womanist Homiletical Theology for Subverting Rape Culture,” and I didn’t have the bandwidth to plan a Chicago service. The services in Philadelphia and Winston-Salem quieted my grief by assuring me that the work would go on, and that it would go on without me. I thank Naomi and Kentina Washington Leapheart and Crystal Rook for answering this call.
However, during this time, I had an interesting experience that reminded me of my original impulse to foster sisterhood. Out of everyone who received the toolkit, only a small handful acknowledged it. Even fewer expressed thanks. I was hurt. I will never get used to the thanklessness of ministry. In this time, I turned to several of my girlfriends for support, all of whom reminded me that it’s not about the thanks. It’s not about me. It’s about the work. More importantly, it’s about the people.
Womanist theology continuously calls me back to the work. Emilie Townes’ notion of “is-ness” is foundational to my scholarship and vocation. Ensuring the is-ness of Black women motivates my work and inspires me to keep working. Delores Williams taught me that “Black common sense” dictates that Black people need more than eschatological salvation to get them into Heaven. Black people also need social salvation in the present, from the evils of this present age, particularly state-sanctioned antiblack violence. I see millennial womanists heeding these calls in our scholarship, ministries and activism. Based on my experience, we are committed to the work that our predecessors began. We are faithful in our critique and in our acquiescence to womanist theologies, methodologies, and ways of being.
However, I also see that we are committed to cultivating sisterhood as we work. At times, sisterhood is an afterthought, because we are all working so hard. As millennial Womanism flourishes, I believe that sisterhood must continue to be an urgent concern for two reasons. First, we cannot accomplish our work alone and in silos. Collaboration is key. However, collaboration for the sake of productivity is one thing; collaborating for sisterhood and relationship is different. I believe that we must challenge traditional models of “networking,” and articulate what healthy, fruitful, mutually challenging and sisterly relationships look and feel like.
The second reason is that millennial Womanism provides a unique opportunity for us to set new tables with seats for all of us. In other words, we must create our own spaces and opportunities in which Womanism is translated to Black women outside of the academy. To accomplish this, we must turn to each other, utilize our gifts, share our platforms, engage our brilliant ideas, and put each other on. There must be a seat for each of us at our new table, and when there isn’t, we have two options. We can elongate the table, or, continue creating spaces and opportunities. Or, we can move closer together and make room for more seats, recommending each other for potential opportunities, co-authoring or co-creating, and offering our platforms to expose our sisters’ voices. We must believe in the abundance that exists in God’s economy and open our hands to each other. Womanism gives me this energizing and redemptive vision. It’s what I’ve attempted to cultivate in my work, and it’s what I’m determined to continue manifesting.
Rev. Dr. Neichelle R. Guidry is a spiritual daughter of New Creation Christian Fellowship of San Antonio, Texas, where the Bishop David Michael Copeland and the Rev. Dr. Claudette Anderson Copeland are her pastors and where she was ordained to ministry in 2010. She is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University (2007, BA, Lambda Pi Eta) and Yale Divinity School (2010, M.Div.), where she was the 2010 recipient of the Walcott Prize for Clear and Effective Public and Pulpit Speaking. She is also a graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (2017), where she completed her Doctor of Philosophy in the area of Liturgical Studies with a concentration in Homiletics. Her dissertation is entitled, “Towards a Womanist Homiletical Theology for Subverting Rape Culture.”
Currently, she serves as the Liaison to Worship and Arts Ministries in the Office of the Senior Pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ on the South side of Chicago, where the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss, III is the Senior Pastor. She is the creator of shepreaches, a virtual community and professional development organization that aspires to uplift AfricanAmerican millennial women in ministry through theological reflection, fellowship, and liturgical curation. She served as the 2016 Preacher/PastorIn-Residence at the Black Theology and Leadership Institute at Princeton Theological Seminary. She was listed as one of “12 New Faces of Black Leadership” in TIME Magazine (January 2015). She was recognized for “quickly becoming one of her generation’s most powerful female faith leaders” on Ebony Magazine’s 2015 Power 100 list (December 2015), and one of “Ten Women of Faith Leading the Charge Ahead” by Sojourners. Additionally, Rev. Dr. Neichelle and the work of shepreaches were featured in the New York Times (April 3, 2015). She is a contributor to What Would Jesus Ask?: Christian Leaders Reflect on His Questions of Faith (Time Books, 2015), and the author of Curating a World: Sermonic Words from a Young Woman Who Preaches (self-published, June 2016)
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