2019, Spinning the Sacred Yarn

Identities: Fibers of a Sacred Yarn

By Grace Cajiuat, Wisconsin Annual Conference

Paul talked about the different gifts given to the body of Christ in Ephesians 4:10: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. I would venture to say that the different identities behind those different gifts bless our life together and strengthen our unity.

I just finished orientation for being a member of the Community Investment Committee of the United Way in my town. I am energized because this is part of my call as clergy in The United Methodist Church; serving, not only the local church, but the community, the state, the nation, and the world. What I bring to this endeavor is the many identities that inform my ministry. I am a child of God, Christian, Protestant, United Methodist, pastor, teacher, a cisgender woman, Filipina, preacher’s kid, musician, youngest of five children, wife, childless by choice, immigrant, in my fifties, educated with four masters from two fields (Music and Theology) and a doctorate in music. These identities have contributed to my stories. And my stories are part of a bigger story of the Christian faith, which began with Abraham and has been shaped by the heritage of the Wesleyan movement.

Because I am United Methodist, I claim my part in our tradition’s story of slavery and abolition, as I now claim, in my story, slavery and racism when I chose to become a citizen of the United States. This is added to my journey of coming to terms with the ugly truth of colonization; trying to reconcile the privileges of a grace-filled faith with the colonizers, who brought it and thought of Filipinos as indolent, needing saving from themselves.

I am a goddaughter to Grace E. Huck. Ordained in 1949, she wasn’t given full clergy rights until 1956. She was a missionary to the Philippines in the 60s and 70s, and befriended my father, a fellow teacher at Harris Memorial College, where she was dean of academic affairs. I was named for her, and she took seriously the role of godmother. She made it possible for me to finish undergraduate studies here in the US; then she used her connections to get me into Scarritt Graduate School, when she found out I wanted to pursue a masters in Church Music. I learned from her story of faithfulness and persistence, even throughout the time that the church that gave her rights did not appoint her because she was a woman. I remember, in 2006, at the Chicago gathering for the fiftieth anniversary of the 1956 legislation (recognizing full ordination rights for women), she spoke of her call and her advice to the assembly to “keep your eyes on Jesus.” I last visited her in 2018 to celebrate her 102nd birthday.[1] Though she was weak in body, her mind was still sharp. She was still well informed about what’s going on in the church. On her 101st birthday, I videotaped her greeting on Facebook, to allow her Filipino friends and family to hear her. I asked her to share her view on our current conflict. She offered, “I wish that Paul had been a little less direct, and Jesus had given us a little more instruction.” My godmother’s stories and wisdom from her trials and triumphs have enriched and empowered me. I claim and carry her story and her voice with me and my ministry.

I live into my call with more than just “me.” My life is webbed with others. The living church relies on relationships with the “other.” To build relationships, we need to know who we are in order to avoid getting lost. We also get to know who we are when we make room for the “other.” As we continue to seek to be the church, the conflict over one issue dismisses the many ways and identities each of us has. Our identities are sharpened at the same time that we make time to get to know ourselves and the other. We learn from our commonalities and differences. It takes many identities to make a person. Those identities define and inform a person’s ministry and what she or he brings to the kin-dom.

When we are self-aware, it is much clearer what and how to adapt to our context so we may help make visible the reign of God. A clear sense of self—with the awareness that our understanding of Scripture, experience, reason, and tradition come through the lens of these identities—gives us courage to serve, healed or healing, and to liberate our self from oppression,. When we understand and live this, we lead from what Nadia Bolz-Weber describes as a “scar rather than a wound.”

As a trainer on diversity and inclusion/intercultural communication, I work with clergy and laity leaders from the US, Latin America, Asia, and Africa. I have observed different motivations behind the same behaviors and desire to serve one God in the same church. Even as we serve, clergy of color and clergywomen experience disparity, discrimination, and have sometimes been dismissed by their white congregants.

Warren Wiersbe’s On Being a Servant of God is required reading for an event I lead. This statement struck me: “Christian love is not blind. . . . If truth and love contradict each other, something is amiss.” Wiersbe cites Paul praying for the Philippians so their “love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight” (Phil 1:9), and Jesus, loving the rich young ruler but not lowering the standards for the man to follow Christ. He continues to say that we “must also love the truth that God has given us (Ps. 119:97; 2 Thess. 2:10).”[2] Love and truth need to align. We need to be truthful in order to love fully.

How do we align the truth of the fibers (identities) of our being with the sacred yarn that weaves the tapestry of love? What is the truth of this church that speaks and sometimes attempts to “legislate” acts of love?

Because of love, the church institution legislated full clergy rights for women. Nearly sixty years later, the truth is that there is still disparity in appointments and pay equity.

Because of love, the church declares valuing everybody and valuing diversity. The truth is that we exclude through our present ways of doing church. Let me share some experiences. As chair of my conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women, I have observed the lack of participation by lay and clergy of color in the annual conference. The use of Robert’s Rules precludes time and space for different styles of participation and communication based on the cultures some people grew up with and still practice.

Because of love, people like me answered the call and entered ministry as a second career. The truth is that an institution that pines for young, male clergy makes me feel dismissed. Contributions by people like me, with wisdom and experience from their first careers—that have helped their ministries, are often discounted. A recent study reveals that the number of young women going into ministry is declining. What is the truth that these young women are receiving from the church?

Because of love, people of color have been appointed to different boards and agencies in the conference. Based on experience at my recent annual conference, the truth is that white people are still the spokespeople/leaders of boards and agencies.

How then do I reconcile and align God’s love with truth? My own journey of reconciliation of love and truth starts with naming who I am and accepting these identities.

That is why I began with my identities. Many identities inform and define who each of us is, and how we see things and behave. In just one self are many identities that contribute to how we live out our call. Each identity has a culture of its own that we can tap into to connect with others. Each connection then introduces us to another identity or culture, and is enriched by that encounter. Nothing—friend or enemy—is lessened when we are clear about who we are.

When we learn of and from our identities, we can better develop and practice humility, curiosity, and empathy: the three traits that can hold together our integrity in the tapestry we are trying to weave.

Imagine the many identities of the thousands of ministers of the church serving God’s children with thousands of cultures and experiences? How rich is that?! What would it look like if we were all giving our all to serve the one Christ? What would happen if we were to lift one another up and make room for all these cultures to impact us for good? What would happen if, from these cultures, we shape a culture of Christ that acknowledges the strengths of each culture? What would happen if we saw difference as “good and pleasant” like the psalmist declared in Psalm 133:1?

When we know ourselves and the complexity of our makeup, we are blessed to know how much richer we can be as a church. We are all needed “to equip the saints for the work of the ministry” to build up the body of Christ (Eph 4:12).

When we take the time to discover the fibers/identities that make the yarn, we align love with truth that makes the weaving that is the kin-dom of God. How “good and pleasant” that would be.

[1] The Rev. Grace E. Huck died Sunday, August 12, 2018, at the age of 102. Read her obituary and the story of her life at https://www.dakotasumc.org/news/in-honor-of-reverend-grace-e-huck.

[2] Warren Wiersbe, On Being a Servant of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 24.

THEMES

2019 – Unity in the Church

2018 – Claim Who We Are in Christ

2017 – Bodies, Oppression, and Gospel

2016 – Birthing a Worldwide Church

2015 – Clergywomen Lead Vital Congregations

2014 – Empowerment for All

2013 – What’s Next?

2012 – What Does the Lord Require of Us?

2011 – See, I am Doing a New Thing

2010 – Voicing Truth With Grace

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WellSprings, A Journal of United Methodist Clergywomen, is published by the Division of Ordained Ministry, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

Editor: HiRho Y. Park

Managing Editor: Barbara A. Dick

Editorial Circle: Patricia Bonilla, Neelley Hicks, Anita Phillips, Jacqui Rose-Tucker, Trudy Hawkins Stringer