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.
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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.
At Home. In God.
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli for Foundry UMC May 17, 2020, the sixth Sunday of Easter. “Life Interrupted” series.
Text: Acts 17:22-31
In this moment in our shared life, people are suffering in many different ways. People are suffering the ravages of COVID-19 in their bodies, people are grieving deaths of loved ones to the disease, people are losing their jobs, losing their homes, are without access to healthcare or insurance, are falling into addiction, reeling with anxiety, paralyzed by depression. People are grieving losses of all kinds, even as they continue to grapple with everything that comes with being human—messy relationships, vulnerable bodies, weighty responsibilities. Siblings of color have this collective grief compounded by exhaustion and rage in the face of ongoing, often unchecked, acts of racial aggression in our society. People of conscience who have more resources and privilege add guilt to their grief plates as they wonder, in light of what others are going through, whether it’s OK to admit that they’re struggling, too. And as is always the case, the poor and marginalized will continue to carry the brunt of the suffering; the ones already on the edge will be the first ones to fall.
Over the past many weeks, as we’ve been grappling with life interrupted by grief and suffering, I wonder how many times I have proclaimed “we are not alone,” “God is with us,” or “No matter where you are or what you’re holding, God’s with you there.” How or why, with so much that could be argued to the contrary, can I make such an affirmation?
I must admit that, at times over the past months, I’ve felt I needed to explain or even apologize for repeating it so often. I’ve wondered how many folks receive my assurance of God’s abiding presence and just get angry—because they don’t perceive that presence or feel that God has broken the promise and abandoned them. If that resonates with you, be assured of this: you share in a time-honored reaction—at least if our scriptures are any indication. There are moments in our lives when we join an ancient chorus and cry out to God—“Where are you??” “How long will you leave me alone?”
And yet, alongside this refrain, another song rises, telling stories of an ever-present God. This God is not a fairy tale, a narrative projection of the human psyche, a divine ATM machine, a macho bully, or a nebulous ball of energy. This God acts concretely in history, is relational, loving, and involved. Testimonies of this God include: The steadfast love of the Lord is present from generation to generation! God receives and responds to the cries of God’s people! Even if we try, we can’t escape God’s presence! God is with us and loves us and there is nothing we can do about it! This God proves the testimonies true by coming into the world in flesh as Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us.” Jesus reveals that “God is with us” in every experience of human relationship, joy, suffering, even death. And Jesus promises not to leave us orphaned, a promise fulfilled at Pentecost as Spirit appears with fresh energy and power in and among the disciples. It is because this particular God is the one I worship that I’m compelled to assure over and again, “You are not alone.”
The highly educated, philosophically curious people of Athens in the first century of the Common Era knew many gods but not this God. The ancient Greek gods were each connected to different parts and energies of creation. These gods had desirable qualities and special powers but were involved in all sorts of internecine drama among themselves, and—unpredictably—exacted favor or vengeance on each other and upon humans. As with many ancient religious cults, it was a quid pro quo kind of spiritual economy. You wanted to keep your gods happy! So you honor them with statues of their likeness and bring presents to their temples to curry favor. The Greeks also had to grapple with the three goddesses called the “Fates.” Clotho (the spinner) spun the “thread” of human fate, Lachesis (the alotter) dispensed it, and Atropos (the inflexible) cut the thread (sets the moment of death). This strand of religious philosophy left humans powerless. Your fate was set and you just had to suffer through it. // Buzzing in and around all these idols were many lines of philosophical inquiry, including some mentioned earlier in the story, Stoicism and Epicureanism.
It was into this religious, philosophical, and curious soup that Paul steps. After acknowledging the religiosity of the Athenians, he mentions a monument tucked among the many idols. This monument “To an unknown god,” may seem strange at first. Why would such a monument be needed? Well, if the goal was to keep the gods happy, what if you inadvertently missed one? This provides a space to cover your…bases…
In any case, Paul uses this as his opening to share that while the Athenians may not know this God, this God knows them. Paul paints the picture of this God for them: This is the God who hurled the stars into orbit and stirred the seas to make waves, who gathered stardust into earth, scooped up those crystals into shapes of creatures, breathed into them and chanted, “Live!” This God, whose name you don’t know, has known you by name from the beginning. This God, bidden or unbidden is present with you. This is the God who is not divided into discrete energies of creation, but is the life-giving energy and breath of all things. (17:24-25) This is not a God of one people, one tribe, one nation, but is the Mother and Father of all nations. (17:26) This God knows you as a parent knows their child. This God has been loving and longing for you all along. And this God, as a loving parent, is not playing with you as though your life is a pawn in a game, is not demanding sacrifices in order to give you life and blessing, but freely and joyfully provides all that you need. As a loving parent, this God doesn’t cause you suffering but draws near to you when you suffer and cries with you. And the presence of this loving God, present and at work even without your knowledge, has revealed wisdom to your own philosophers who rightly expressed: “We are God’s offspring” and “In God we live, move, and have our being.” This is the God we search and long for as a child searching for a parent, as a river searching for the sea, as a traveler searching for home.
Paul lays out this vision and then says, in essence, “Now you know! And you can choose to turn toward this God of life-giving love.” (17:30) That, after all, is what it means to “repent,” it means to turn toward love and life and mercy and grace, to turn away from the “idols” of your own making that may be beautiful, interesting, and even helpful in some ways, but that are ultimately unable to sustain you. You can turn away from the quid pro quo ways into which you’ve been indoctrinated, the ways of having to earn favor, grace, love. You can turn toward the God who loves you, whose mercies are new every morning, free of charge. You can turn away from the lie of uncaring Fates before which you have no power. You can turn toward a life of agency and creativity, participating in the mighty works of God’s mending and new creation in the world. You dwell in God and God dwells in you. And because you live and move and have your being in God who has proven to be the God of life through the resurrection of Jesus, you don’t have to fear death—because in life, in death, in life beyond death, we are in God. We are held in that steadfast, everlasting, eternal, present-before-the-world-was-a-thing love of a God who is the Lord of Lords. //
The Athenians got to ponder and wonder about what difference this newly revealed God could make. What we believe about our God—the nature of our God, the presence or absence of our God, the desire of our God—makes a difference in how we live our lives. It determines how we form community and what we do and value together.
If we believe that God is or should be formed in our image instead of the other way around, then our perspectives, desires, and prejudices will consistently, comfortably align with “God’s will!” (magic!) If we believe God is out to get us, we will live in fear and feel like victims. If we believe that God has to be paid off in order to love us, we will likely treat others as transactions, too. If we believe that the ways of God are separate from and hostile to scientific knowledge and the various arts of human discernment and understanding, then we can ignore information coming from those disciplines while claiming to be acting in faith. If we believe that God is our nation’s God and that God has destined our nation to be the best and baddest nation in the world and, further, that our nation is supposed to look, think, and worship one way, then we will dehumanize and devalue anyone or anything that hinders that vision—to the point of destruction—and we will do that in the name of God. I have written elsewhere, “In God we trust” may be written on our money, but our money serves other gods. There is growing proof that plenty of people who call themselves Christian worship at these altars.”
Today we are reminded of the steadfast presence and love and life-giving power of YHWH, the God in whom we ALL live, move, and have our being. The particular God not of one tribe or nation but the God of all, who is not vengeful or prejudiced or partial toward any (Acts 10:34), who freely gives to all love and grace, who endows all of us with minds to use well and hands and hearts to offer one another in lovingkindness. A God who has given us in Jesus an example and teacher of what life in the Kin-dom looks like, and we seek to be formed by that God instead of the other way around.
In this moment, formed in the God we know, and based on science, human study, and the teachings of our faith, our call is to love God and neighbor and that means privileging human health and life over other considerations and erring on the side of safety. This means staying home, wearing masks in public, washing our hands, sharing our resources generously if we have them so as to support those who are struggling in this time, asking for help when we need it, having patience with others, being gentle with ourselves, taking one day at a time, staying connected in healthy ways with other people—for their sakes and for our own, praying for and concretely supporting in any way we can our leaders, essential workers, and folks on the frontlines.
And staying connected with God. That last bit is in some ways the easiest of all since the assurance is that we are always, already in God. There are many unknowns in this moment in our history. But one thing that is known for sure: You are not alone. We are not alone. God is with us. Thanks be to God.
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.