Two women church leaders I know are deliberately innovative in opening up new vistas of faith. They represent a vision (and also perhaps a coming reality) of a future church. This approach transcends archaic ways of doing things that are no longer relevant. It powerfully works against a negative foreboding of institutional failure that can badly damage both creativity and hope.
Rev. Sandie Richards, 51, minister of the First Methodist Church of Los Angeles, refuses to be limited by local or routine pastoral duties. She works through traditional barriers to redefine ministry globally. A wife and mother, she cooperates with distant agencies and individuals to meet ever new challenges of poverty and sexism.
"Around the globe, every 90 seconds a woman dies in childbirth," she says. "That number is unacceptably high. How can a woman in Los Angeles make a difference in a place like Sierra Leone? I have direct communication with Beatrice Gbanga, a United Methodist missionary there. I channel donations and supplies as an advocate on this side of the planet. No matter how bad things get over there, I can help from here.
"Also I partner with Alice Wasila in rural Kenya. She maintains a small clinix that serves women. They seek contraception, help with difficult pregnancies and aid for children. Ambulances will not travel to her clinic at night because of the darkness and lack of good roads. Once I asked Alice exactly how she manages to carry on her ministry under sometimes devastating conditions. She explained it's because she knows she can make a difference. I know that I can too."
Rev. Anna Olson, 40, is an English and Spanish speaking Episcopal priest, a wife and mother who serves an historic Japanese American congregation in L.A.'s Koreatown. She describes her neighborhood as "majority Latino, significantly Korean, increasingly South Asian and somewhat Filipino." She grew up as a white student attending an African-American public school. Most of her life she's found herself in some kind of cross-cultural setting. In college she studied structural injustices that keep people in poverty. Afterwards, in Texas and Louisiana, she became involved in organizing immigrant factory workers.
Where does she find the key to work creatively in her current highly diverse situation? "The community embraces ethnic, cultural, linguistic, economic and generational, take your pick. The key factor of possibility is the younger generation. Raising my own daughters in Koreatown shows me that, while parents may barely communicate across different issues that divide us, our kids show a different reality. Their sharing is common ground for growth and provides a kind of bridge for older generations. A little tchild shall lead them..."
Both Anna and Sandie are clearly embarked on a spiritual adventure that represents hope and vigor. Would you like to join them?
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