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.
“Pursued in Love…Always”
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli with Foundry UMC, November 21, 2021. Reign of Christ and Consecration Sunday, “Prepare the Table with Justice and Joy” series.
Texts: Psalm 23, Revelation 1:4b-8
Over the past seven weeks, we have been guided by the Lord, our shepherd, in Psalm 23. And on this last Sunday of the Christian liturgical year, the last Sunday before Advent, and the day often celebrated as the Reign of Christ or Christ the King, we receive the final verse of the Psalm. The familiar-to-many King James Version reads: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
Years ago I learned that the verb translated “follow” is more intense in the original Hebrew: “Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me…” This is not only an image of these graces passively lurking about or showing up here and there. It’s that God’s goodness and mercy “will run after me and find me wherever I am!” It strikes me that this is where we began the journey, with the ancient image of God, not as a conquering king, but as a humble, strong, shepherd and the affirmation that God is with us, no matter what.
When I was a teenager, our youth camp worship would use “sing along slides” to guide our singing of a variety of songs, including pop songs. As I prepared for today, meditating on this profound promise of God’s loving presence, I was transported back to evening worship in Miller Hall at Canyon Camp and again heard God in the distinctive form of Cyndi Lauper’s voice: “If you're lost you can look and you will find me/ Time after time/ If you fall I will catch you, I'll be waiting/ Time after time.”
The Lord, our shepherd pursues us, time after time, wherever we are and no matter how we got there. And, if we are willing to follow, God’s goodness guides us into places of beauty, green places of nourishment, still places of peace, places where our soul may be restored; God’s goodness guides us on roundabout paths that get us where we need to go, guides us through the valleys of life, makes sure we eat something when we are overwhelmed with fear, danger, or grief, and tenderly loves us, anointing us as valued and called.
An important word in verse six is the word translated “mercy,” in Hebrew it is hesed, and usually is translated “lovingkindness.” Rabbi Harold Kushner thinks of it as “unearned love.” Unearned love. God’s goodness and unearned love pursue us… What an extraordinary challenge to the culture in which we live.
The common wisdom is that nothing in the world is free, that we have to look a certain way, act a certain way, have certain things to be loved. We have to have this to get that. How many children are taught—implicitly or explicitly—that they are bad, wrong, worthless, unlovable because they don’t meet their parent’s or teachers’ expectations? How much energy flows into trying at every age and stage of life to earn or prove or buy our worth and lovability? How much money gets made by clever people who exploit our insecurities with the lure of “miracle” products and schemes? How often do lives full of potential get coopted and corrupted by gangs—on the streets or in the lunch room or in the marbled and paneled halls of power? The exploitation in all these things depends on human insecurity, on the lie that any one of us is unworthy of love, goodness, and mercy.
And when everything we’ve tried still leaves us feeling unloved or devalued, we can fall into all sorts of destructive things. Our own insecurity can trigger an impulse to knock others down so we can stand over them, our boots on their necks, to feel bigger or like we have some power. Our own insecurity makes us turn on ourselves in self-loathing and on others with envy and resentment, all out of self-defense for our wounded hearts. Whether or not you figure out how to navigate the worldly macro or micro accounting of earned interest in who you are, it is a struggle to believe that there is any such thing as unearned interest, unearned love. In this world, the relational economy is so often quid pro quo, based on exploitation, or simply governed by run-of-the-mill human brokenness.
But God’s economy is altogether different. The Lord, our shepherd—as we’ve been singing these past weeks—is the king of love not the king of empires or courts or councils or turfs. And the Kin-dom of God doesn’t require three forms of legal documentation where all the names exactly match for entry. Because God knows your name and loves you and wants to be close to you! Kin-dom economy with a shepherd in charge is truly different than what we’re used to. Jesus didn’t test people’s theological knowledge or work history before giving them food. Jesus didn’t pay the latecomer less than the first to clock in. Jesus didn’t play with the devil’s shiny advertisements for comfort, prestige, and power. Jesus didn’t do violence or execute people, Jesus allowed himself to be publicly executed so that we might finally recognize that buying “peace” or “justice” with another human life yields neither peace nor justice. Jesus didn’t raise an army, Jesus raised lives. Jesus embodied God’s love and revealed again and again that only love has the power to bring about the healing that will truly set us free.
The Lord, our shepherd, pursues us not to blame or test or bully us. God pursues us because God loves us and wants to be with us, to help us, to give us what we need to live lives filled with beauty, meaning, justice, and joy. God’s love for you and for me is absolute and it is unearned. God, in love, is always present, always reaching out and waiting for your heart to open wide to receive the overflow.
As the sheep of God’s pasture, as citizens of Christ’s Kin-dom, we are taught that we love because God first loved us. All our acts of goodness and lovingkindness, all our acts of justice and unearned love, all our acts of generosity and care, all our acts of praise and thanksgiving are in response to God’s abundant grace. As we, like a cup, receive and are filled with God’s goodness and unearned love, we overflow in acts of gratitude, justice, and joy.
Because God prepares the table for us, we prepare the table for others. And, by God’s grace, our offerings will create the best “pot luck” ever! By God’s grace overflowing in generosity, we will set a table with love of God and neighbor as the centerpiece, a table that is anti-racist, fully inclusive and affirming, creative, committed, courageous, and full of friendship, support, and laughter; we will set a table big and wide enough so that everyone has a place. On this Consecration Sunday, we’re reminded that God gives us everything, holds nothing back, pursues us in love, time after time, so that you will have life and so that we as the people of God called Foundry can prepare the table with justice and joy. What will you return in gratitude?
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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.