Lutheran Volunteer Corps, one of my mentors asked me why I had chosen a faith-based organization focusing on social justice, rather than a secular organization. This question caught me completely off guard—I had never considered that my passion for social justice could come from anything but my faith. So many of the Scripture passages that speak to me most deeply are those that call for an end to oppression and injustice, that call for us to care for those who are in need, for those who are rejected and for those who are forgotten. From Jesus to Martin Luther King, Jr. my models of social justice are strongly tied to faith.

"> Social Justice as an Extension of Faith | Forum for Theological Exploration Introducing the Leaders for Tomorrow’s Institutions | Forum for Theological Exploration A Lesson on Leadership | Forum for Theological Exploration When in Doubt, Do ... | Forum for Theological Exploration “We’ve a Story to Tell to the Nations …” | Forum for Theological Exploration What is our next most faithful step? | Forum for Theological Exploration What is Changing? | Forum for Theological Exploration Survival in the Lily Fields: FTE Doctoral Fellowships | Forum for Theological Exploration Faith & Politics: Conversations Leading to Action | Forum for Theological Exploration second installment of my thoughts on diversity in the classroom. It doesn’t take the events of last week to make it difficult for me to write on the topic because even on ordinary days (if those actually exist) whatever I feel led to say smacks of being trite.

"> Classroom Violence | Forum for Theological Exploration The Pulse of Justice – The Passion of Jesus | Forum for Theological Exploration Leading Differently When Different is Dangerous | Forum for Theological Exploration Where Were You on Bloody Sunday? | Forum for Theological Exploration Our Students Will Lead Us | Forum for Theological Exploration Pentecost: A Time for Change | Forum for Theological Exploration Can the Church Help End Violence & Injustice in Our Communities? Seven Themes We Heard in Chicago. | Forum for Theological Exploration “Go, set the world on fire!” But don’t burn it down. | Forum for Theological Exploration Shake, Rattle, and Roll: Culture, Queerness, and Faith | Forum for Theological Exploration Behind the Doctorate | Forum for Theological Exploration Refreshed Through Discernement | Forum for Theological Exploration Creating Space for Imagination | Forum for Theological Exploration Leading Differently by Listening to Whispers, Shouts and Echoes | Forum for Theological Exploration God, thank you for making me BLACK! Black History Month Musings | Forum for Theological Exploration Same Ole Gospel | Forum for Theological Exploration terrorist shooting in San Bernadino, CA.

"> Leading with Love in the Wake of Islamophobia | Forum for Theological Exploration Set the Prisoners Free | Forum for Theological Exploration Sacred Work | Forum for Theological Exploration It Takes a Village | Forum for Theological Exploration What’s Your New Year’s Resolution? | Forum for Theological Exploration The Hope of Now | Forum for Theological Exploration Trusting Brown Hands | Forum for Theological Exploration God Beyond Borders | Forum for Theological Exploration More Questions Than Answers | Forum for Theological Exploration Reflections on three years with CMTEV | Forum for Theological Exploration A call to ‘Opt-in’ | Forum for Theological Exploration Theological Education, Diversity, and a Transformative Future | Forum for Theological Exploration Benefits of a Vocational Friendship | Forum for Theological Exploration FTE’s Ministry Exploration and Mentoring Grant; The grant was such a tremendous blessing as it enabled me to develop relationships with women that have utilized their experience and/or understanding of grief in their respective ministries.

"> Affirmations of Calling | Forum for Theological Exploration Ferguson & Faith: Sparking Leadership and Awakening Community, Dr. Leah Gunning Francis discusses the significance of her work for faith communities and emerging Christian leaders.

"> Seven Questions with Leah Gunning Francis, Author of “Ferguson & Faith” | Forum for Theological Exploration A Reflection on My Ministry Exploration and Mentoring Grant Experience | Forum for Theological Exploration The Sublime Power of Belief | Forum for Theological Exploration Theological Education After Ferguson and Long Island and Baltimore and Charleston and…. | Forum for Theological Exploration The Ministry of Surrender | Forum for Theological Exploration The Stillness | Forum for Theological Exploration Racism: The Most Sinful of Legacies | Forum for Theological Exploration What Is Thy Name | Forum for Theological Exploration Active Faith is Urgent | Forum for Theological Exploration The Birth of Goodness | Forum for Theological Exploration Re-Arranged by the Spirit | Forum for Theological Exploration Vocation in Between the Aftermath of Violence and a Hoped-for Future | Forum for Theological Exploration To Follow a Call | Forum for Theological Exploration Where Two or Three Are Gathered | Forum for Theological Exploration Tooth Fairy | Forum for Theological Exploration Marking Vocational Transitions Faithfully | Forum for Theological Exploration Mission Year to attend FTE’s Discernment Retreat in Lake Arrowhead, California.

"> Our Becoming | Forum for Theological Exploration Falling Deeper Into My Calling | Forum for Theological Exploration Let the Streets Inspire You | Forum for Theological Exploration Whose Name is on the Invitation? | Forum for Theological Exploration The Feeble Art of Radical Hospitality | Forum for Theological Exploration Finding God in the Rabbit Trail | Forum for Theological Exploration What is Worship to Me | Forum for Theological Exploration A Resolution for Religion | Forum for Theological Exploration Sacred Cows at the Lord’s Table | Forum for Theological Exploration I am a Pile of Trash | Forum for Theological Exploration The Church Knows Something | Forum for Theological Exploration Critical Feeling | Forum for Theological Exploration “Do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:19 | Forum for Theological Exploration Buddy Crossed the Line | Forum for Theological Exploration Campus Ministries Shaping the Future | Forum for Theological Exploration Teaching Theology after Ferguson | Forum for Theological Exploration Imagination Next | Forum for Theological Exploration If it was a Snake ... | Forum for Theological Exploration The Power to Reshape Brokenness | Forum for Theological Exploration Campus Ministries that Stick | Forum for Theological Exploration How to Harness the Awkward Pause | Forum for Theological Exploration 2015 FTE Doctoral Fellowships. This is an appropriate moment to reflect briefly on why we do the work of supporting rising theological educators of color.

"> Why We Do This | Forum for Theological Exploration In Praise of Small Spaces | Forum for Theological Exploration Culture Shock | Forum for Theological Exploration Can We Keep Our Promises? | Forum for Theological Exploration An Opportunity to Re-Engage not Remake the Church | Forum for Theological Exploration Living Stream Church of the Brethren.

"> Innovative Ministries: Stepping outside my box | Forum for Theological Exploration Attentiveness and Practices in Christian Ministry | Forum for Theological Exploration Conducting My Beautiful, Cacophonous Clone Choir | Forum for Theological Exploration Can you Repack That? | Forum for Theological Exploration An Open Reflection to My Younger Self | Forum for Theological Exploration A Christian Take on Mindfulness | Forum for Theological Exploration The Building of Community in Unlikely Places | Forum for Theological Exploration Compensation for Being | Forum for Theological Exploration Transitioning-into-Ministry (TiM) Participants Gathering. The first year I thought it was a fluke. The second year I was looking for it. This year, I was expecting it. What was is “it”? The power of a room.

"> The Power of a Room | Forum for Theological Exploration

Notes from further down the path: Checking in with the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis

By: Erica Ramirez
April 17, 2018

From heart-stopping crisis, to mundane work, and then on to the sublime, Dr. Lewis’ path has been marked by the uneven challenges that often shape a vocational path through higher religious education.

With her vibrant congregation, new Doctor of Ministry project, successful social media presence, and network news experience, the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis is a living inspiration to which many Ph.D. candidates might aspire. But Lewis’ vocational trajectory has twists and even obstacles that many on a doctoral journey might find familiar.

The first is that moment she felt called to justice work. Dr. Lewis recounts being nine-years-old, under her bed and hiding from gunshots, as the beginning of her vocational journey. The grief and anger that erupted in her Chicago community after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birthed for Jacqui a sense of mission. But such crisis points don’t flourish into vocational trajectories in uniform ways and, at times, may lie dormant. During her early twenties, Dr. Lewis found herself selling copiers, and then working in human resources. After about a decade, Dr. Lewis decided to adjust course to pursue the MDiv at Princeton. Her time in graduate school, Lewis candidly offers, was “stunning, growing, lovely, brain-on-fire”—it was, she ventures, “a luxury.”

From heart-stopping crisis, to mundane work, and then on to the sublime, Dr. Lewis’ path has been marked by the uneven challenges that often shape a vocational path through higher religious education. She went on to get her M.Phil. and a Ph.D. in Psychology and Religion from Drew University, where she faced a (very common) dearth of economic resources. Lewis credits Dr. Traci West, at Drew, and the Forum for Exploration (FTE) for helping to sustain her academic work.

Another challenge that might sound familiar? Completing the dissertation while juggling competing commitments. While she was still working on her dissertation at Drew, the ABD Dr. Lewis unexpectedly got a job offer from the historic Middle Collegiate Church, founded in New York City in 1628, where she is now the first African American and the first woman to serve as the senior minister. She took the job fourteen years ago in January, working under a “truly wonderful” boss, who nevertheless “didn’t really understand” her call to finish her program and wasn’t actively supportive. She worked “very full time—50 hours a week for one and a half years” and, still in the midst of finding her footing in the pastorate, “wrote four chapters of her dissertation after January” of her writing year.

To balance the pastorate and her writing, Dr. Lewis will own that she basically had to “kick ass”. The doctoral journey often includes this impossible task of pulling off a miracle and making it look easy.

The pressure was intense, but the dissertation challenge did not make Lewis rethink her trajectory—she really wanted the opportunity to apprentice into the pastoral role. Her time spent in Princeton, and with her adviser, Peter Paris, had solidified her sense of calling to the pastorate.

Her interdisciplinary doctoral research at Drew honed in on “the homiletical plot”—just how does preaching transform the hearer? How does it help hearers to transform lives? Today in her work, these questions continue to inform her engagement with her congregation. Jacqui highlights how narratives influence how we are formed: “we are the product of stories told to us and about us. And we can change that story.”

She speaks, of course, from personal experience. “Jacqui,” to many in her church, consciously empowers her 900-person congregation, which is ethnically, racially, socio-economically diverse and affirming, to choose to live into better narratives.

But it’s clear that some of the power of her pulpit is also sourced from her incredible vision-casting.

Jacqui’s ministry is “fully committed to grace, fresh starts, and forgiveness” and to “rehearsing the reign of God— On earth as it is in Heaven. [We] really try to create what King calls ‘the beloved community,’ marked by right-relatedness with each other. If a child is hungry in Mississippi, my stomach should growl. When lives are shot down, I use my voice.”

Jacqui prioritizes her congregation, then her civic activism, and then her contributions to media and social media—this ordering helps keep her balanced. But because her job description actually stipulates that she is responsible to usher a “bold proclamation of liberty and liberation and radical welcome and love” as a public-facing theology, she engages the public through “a really amazing team” that includes a former journalist. With the mandate to bring healing to communities outside and exceeding the church, Jacqui engages in what she terms “vulnerable” prophetic work, self-disclosing and revealing in her sermons, so that her work springs from an integrated part of her own life and vice versa. By continually situating herself within the group of people (be it in her congregation or the wider public) who can yet change for the better and who can, in turn, bring real and lasting change for others, Jacqui says that she is able to avoid the tired, bitter crankiness that can set in when one is working hard, long, and with sometimes slow results.

Jacqui’s schedule of engagements, third book in the works, and plans to launch a D.Min. program with Drew are among the challenges that would seem to continually demand her full-capacities. But Jacqui says she is bolstered in her work by her own professional liminality—working with the Reformed Church, as a Presbyterian, and now with Methodist Drew, for example, allows her to mobilize multiple networks without being too constrained by any particular one. It’s this confluence of strategic positionings that enables Jacqui to be really nimble and active in her engagements. She’s busy, she’ll even admit she’s “really overbooked,” but the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis hastens to add, without a hint of reservation, “all my dreams have come true.”



Photo: Béatrice de Géa

Tags: Inspired Leaders, Diverse Solutions


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