Young Black Clergy and Community
“God is never in a state of inertia.”
I’ve found that those seasoned by the salt of fruitful testimony regularly toss around these kinds of sage gems.
Prone to selective amnesia and idolatrous meandering as we are, these declarations are forever timely.
The aforementioned words were shared with me during a recent phone conversation with a treasured mentor.
The gentleman is one-part preacher and one-part tenured professor, but all-parts a sincere disciple of Christ.
From Psalm 46:1, we know that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
Then again, even when trouble is not found circling above like birds of prey, God is just as engaged and beneficent, with a controlling stake in our lives.
One way that we experience God is through those created in the image of God, in broader terms, and those who have made Jesus their choice, more specifically.
Given the epidemiological nightmare, humankind is enduring right now, it is easy to feel disconnected because, well, we are.
It is impossible or not prudent to hug, laugh, cry, break bread or shout with one another like we really want to in close quarters.
And while a strong Wi-Fi connection may cover a multitude of video conferencing angst, it just isn’t the same.
While praying for and laboring toward interventions that will lay the smackdown on the coronavirus, we must persist in dreaming and planning, which is why the 2022 Young Black Church Clergy Colloquy is so crucial and exciting.
All Christians need hearty, regular fellowship in small bands and larger assemblies, but those called to some form of vocational ministry probably need a double portion.
I have spoken for myself in Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil: Stories about the Challenges of Young Pastors, and so won’t put words in your mouth on the matter; but in my sojourn, for all its unparalleled beauty and blessings, the Church is also a challenging organism.
Clergy do not stand fundamentally innocent of similar ugliness, I know, but blood-bought, fire baptized believers filled with the Holy Ghost at times will cuss you under the bus like they and Jesus are the strangest of strangers.
They can be discourteous, petty, belligerent, abusive, and worse, even sullying the name of Jesus to co-sign sin.
Truth be told, “born in sin, shaped in iniquity” (Psalm 51:5), there is more King Herod in all of us than we care to admit.
Becoming drunk from the wine of the world is a wily and common temptation.
Apart from the atoning, intervening work of Christ, we are totally depraved.
Furthermore, young, Black clergy can easily feel disproportionately adrift in this world, pouring themselves out for others while lacking opportunities to, in a sense, “center down” (to reference the mystic Howard Thurman) together in professional solidarity.
With all due respect to the prerequisites of self-actualization and self-sacrifice, in the end interdependence beckons.
It is true for everyone that, “You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”
Fortunately, my colleague Rev. Dr. Lynn Brinkley and I have been invited by Columbia Theological Seminary to convene a time, over the span of a few days in 2022, where these ministers in question can be poured into and make what we hope will be collegial connections that will offer help for the road ahead.
There is a saying that some of us are familiar with: “If you stay ready you don’t have to get ready.”
Peeling away the terse overconfidence and swagger that occasionally accompanies it, an application exists for those who shepherd two-legged sheep.
We know not what the future holds, what news will flash across our e-mail or cell phone requiring prompt pastoral attention, but we do know that we are better in the community.
It was John Donne, the Anglican poet and dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, who informed us that, “no man is an island, entire of himself.”
It remains undetermined if this collective will meet face-to-face or virtually, but one matter has been resolved: We will meet.
As the proud progeny of a cross-based resurrection, doing hard things does not intimidate us.
We are resident aliens of holy salt and light, “plain people” unable to do the work of God well apart from one another.
In planning, praying, and working, let us lean on the incomparable, transforming exclusivity of Jesus, who was and is and is to come, our sole portion in life and in death.
To learn more about the Colloquy for Clergy Series with the Center for Lifelong Learning, click here.
Rev. Dr. James Ellis II was ordained in the Baptist tradition, The Rev. Dr. James Ellis III serves as University Chaplain and Director of Student Ministries at Trinity Western University in Canada, just north of Seattle. With several years of experience in higher education and churches, he has served in Anglo, African American, and multiracial settings of varied socioeconomic, cultural, and theological diversity.
Though born in Japan, he is a U.S. citizen who has resided in Texas, Pennsylvania, Georgia, West Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Michigan. He is a graduate of Western Theological Seminary, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University, and the University of Maryland. He is editor of the book, Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil: Stories about the Challenges of Young Pastors (Smyth & Helwys, 2015). He is a contented introvert who is passionate about spending lots of time with his wife.
For those who care to know, he does not enjoy raspberries, camping, or wasabi. He currently works as University Chaplain and Director of Student Ministries at Trinity Western University in British, Columbia, Canada.