By Racquel Gill,
Being a millennial woman of African descent in ministry is to acknowledge that I represent an institution of complexity. I am learning to appreciate how the black church has been a healing station throughout generations while also mourning how it has served as a site of trauma. When there were so few other places in America that celebrated black life, our sanctuaries have been a source of refuge and communal joy. Yet in these same sanctuaries many have felt ostracized because of patriarchy, homophobia, institutional silence concerning abuse, the demonization of mental distress and a plethora of other concerns. As a young woman who serves in the black church, I find myself sitting in the tension of knowing how amazing it is yet recognizing it’s capacity to be greater in our current world. I continue to serve in it because I believe that it is one of the most affirming spaces for black life in America yet I’m pushed by my peers to help make it an affirming space for all black life. I love it fiercely yet critically.
While thinking through what I do weekly, I recalled the story of the widow in 2 Kings 4:1-7. In this story while not even being able to fully grieve losing her husband, a woman is faced with the impending reality that her children will be taken into debt slavery. She comes to the prophet Elisha about her dilemma. Elisha listens to her and then asked what she still had left in her house. As she reflects and makes assessment she simply responds that she has one jar of oil. Elisha instructs her to ask her neighbors for more jars and to start pouring the oil she has into those jars. Miraculously the jar that had enough oil for one container starts to fill several containers. When the woman and her children are finished filling the jars they received, Elisha tells her to sell them and pay her debt. He then instructs her to live with whatever she has left.
Like this woman, oftentimes when people come into my care they feel helpless today and hopeless concerning tomorrow. Prophetic ministry must do three things. First, It must speak to the systems that have people trapped in cycles of hopelessness. Second, It must allow people to express their pain and live into their disappointment. And third, Yet it must also push their gaze beyond their pain and into their possibilities. In a myriad of ways the one question I find myself asking people is “The loss is great but what do you still have left and how can we use it to live?” My work is to stand with people as they piece back together lives that have felt shattered by crisis. People need to know that with communal support and God’s provision, they can live beyond hardship. God never leaves us with nothing. As long as you are alive, there is always something left to live with. After crisis, life may never be the same but life does not have to be over.
Discovering womanist theology was deeply affirming for me, yet I often wondered if I could use it beyond seminary. While I saw it’s ability to advocate for poor black women, I wondered if it could connect spiritually to these women. In pastoral ministry I expand on traditional womanist epistemologies by trying to make them accessible to women who have and more importantly women who have not received formal education beyond grade school.
As I teach gender specific bible study to the women in my current congregation, I do my best to incorporate womanist tenants. Our sessions are radically subjective in that we center our experiences as black women without apology. From this subjectivity we carve out time to learn how to love ourselves in ways that are redemptive and life giving. While centering our experiences, we do not talk only ourselves. We discuss how what happens to us affects what happens to those we are in community with. As we love God and ourselves, we seek to love the people in our lives well while expecting them to love us well. Lastly we think through systems that will not allow us to thrive through critical engagement. Sometimes this means thinking about how we are implicated in these systems ourselves.
As a millennial in ministry, I try to encourage our congregation to have intergenerational dialogue often. As I serve many who have navigated life longer than myself, I am humbly reminded that I am being led as much as I am leading. Many of the women that I engage see me as an authoritative voice, and I recognize them as voices of influence as well. Seeing them as my teachers, I try to lead in a way where we instruct each other across various spectrums of identity. A very direct way of doing this is by holding older women accountable for listening to the experiences of women who are younger in the church and creating more spaces for younger women to lead. This is necessary for our current social reality because the black church will never fully grasp Black Lives Matter, Say Her Name, and other modern justice movements until young voices who are informed about these intersections are given the ability to not just serve in the church but to have agency in it’s trajectory. Another way of doing this is by encouraging constructive critique during meetings and bible study. I cannot teach people that it is right to critically engage with the world and then model that it is never right to critically engage with me. I feel that a growing edge of my ministry is engagement of the digital age. I know that there is much more that I can do to use social media as a resource for ministry work and I hope to explore new ways to engage in the future.
Rev. Racquel C.N. Gill is a proud native of Winnsboro, SC. She is the daughter of Stephen and Camilla Gill. Racquel accepted her call into ministry at the age of fourteen and preached her initial sermon on May 22, 2005 at the St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church. On May 4, 2008, at the age of seventeen, Racquel was ordained at St. Luke under the leadership of the late Rev. Dr. Roy C. Jeffcoat. Racquel is a 2012 graduate of Columbia College for women in Columbia, SC where she holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English Education. Racquel received her Master’s of Divinity in May of 2015 from Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC. Currently Racquel serves in her second year as a Pastor-In- Residence at the St. Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, NY under the leadership of Pastor David K. Brawley. Racquel’s favorite scripture is Psalms 61:2.
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