Ministry

Emanuel: A Conversation about Legacy and Healing with Rose Simmons by Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah

Image taken from  here .

Image taken from here.

I remember June 17, 2015 like it was yesterday. News spread across the nation that a white supremacist opened fired as the faithful folks of Emanuel African Methodist Church (AME) in Charleston, South Carolina gathered for mid-week prayer—as they always had. Nine were killed. Three survived. The nation was left rocking and reeling from the news that one of the nations oldest Black churches and a beacon for justice and love was infiltrated by hate.

I was rocking and reeling. As an ordained clergy person actively involved in church life and worship, I cried out to God, lamenting the loss of life and questioning the rise of white supremacy in America and the complete disregard of sacred spaces. When I was growing up, houses of worship, like schools, used to be safe and holy ground. Now it is not uncommon to hear of synagogues being burned, mosques being bombed, and churches and gurdwaras being sites for mass shootings.

During worship one Sunday, while sitting in the pulpit, an unknown and unkempt white man entered the sanctuary of our predominantly African-American congregation and came barreling down the center aisle. Fear rose up within me. In that moment, I thought about the Charleston Nine—the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharon Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, DePayne Middleton Doctor, Susie Jackson, and the Reverend Daniel L. Simmons Sr.—whose lives were taken as they gathered to pray and praise God. I also silently prayed and pleaded with God for the safety of my husband, daughters, and church family.

Image taken from  here.

Image taken from here.

I was reminded of this experience during my interview with Rose Simmons, the daughter of the late Reverend Daniel L. Simmons, Sr. who was tragically killed in the shooting. Simmons is one of many surviving family members and survivors featured in Emmanuel, a documentary centered around hate, healing and forgiveness in the aftermath of the shooting in Charleston. In our conversation, Simmons spoke about the widespread grief that grew out of this moment—grief that was dormant in me and is likely still dormant in others across the nation. A gracious and kind soul, when offered condolences on the loss of her father, Simmons extended condolences back with the recognition that Charleston happened to all of us.

Grief is not the last act of love…legacy is.
— Dr. Amey Adkins Jones

Simmons is full of surprises. In describing the moments after hearing of her father’s death, she spoke of an overwhelming sense of peace and joy that came from the Holy Spirit. I was ready to talk about grief, but instead had a powerful conversation on the beauty of Reverend Simmons’ life, the mantle to preserve his legacy, and the importance of healing and forgiveness in a nation divided. It is clear, that Simmons loves her father and is carrying on the work that her father began, work that God has called and strengthened her to do.

But don’t take my word for it; Listen to the full audio of the interview then scroll down to view the trailer for this pivotal documentary. And don't miss your opportunity to see Emanuel, in theaters on June 17th and 19th.

Directed by Brian Ivie and Executive Produced by Stephen Curry and Viola Davis, Emmanuel gives voice to survivors and surviving family members and demonstrates the power of faith and forgiveness. Proceeds from the film will go to the survivors and their family members. Read more about the film here.

Sunday Sermon: Directions for Deliverance by Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah

Earlier today I had the profound privilege of preaching at my home church, the Bethesda Baptist Church of New Rochelle where my faith was formed, I received my call, and when I received invaluable experience in ministry under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Allen Paul Weaver, Jr. We had a glorious time in the Lord!

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Walking and Chewing Gum by Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah

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You know the expression, “Walking and chewing gum at the same time,” right? Someone who walks and chews gum at the same time is able to do two or more things at once. 

Turns out I’m not very good at walking and chewing gum. By walking, I mean blogging. And by chewing gum, I mean working out. Last year I got this website up and running and was good with creating and posting content. I also didn’t have the best year of health and fitness. In 2019 I set some new goals to make my health and fitness a priority and...

On Sunday when I posted the sermon, I noticed that I had not blogged in 14 days. Fourteen days. Two weeks. I’ve stopped and started posts, but didn’t finish. I also started training for the Hot Chocolate 15k and tried a new hot yoga studio in town. If this trend continues, in December I’ll be super healthy and you’ll be wondering where I am.

I’m committed to my health and fitness. I’m committed to creating and posting content. I’m also committed to peace, which is why I’ve given up the notion of balance. Old me would have made a plan for “X” workouts, “X” posts, all while preparing sermons, running to dance, Girl Scouts, birthday parties and such. I also would have done it all and done it all well until...

image from Pexels.  

image from Pexels.  

I must be honest. I used to be a master multitasker. Master. I could do it all and more without getting tired. All the balls in the air. All the plates stacked. Whatever metaphor there is to describe magnificent multitasking, I was about that life. But now I can’t. And that’s ok. Wisdom prevails. Single tasking is where I thrive.  Research shows that it’s where most people thrive. In fact, there are amazing articles on Thrive Global (link not working, but you can search “multitasking” to read them).  

So some times I’ll walk.  

Other times I’ll chew gum. 

If I have to, I’ll do both. 

And I encourage you to do the same.  

Sunday Sermon: Standing Up, Praising God by Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah

Instead of a sermon excerpt, this week I want to talk about the sermonic process. On my former blog I had a feature called “Making the Sermon” where I would talk about the mechanics of preaching and how I arrived at the sermon. For today, I want to revive that feature. You can read an excerpt of the sermon here.

Today I had the good pleasure of preaching at the Wanaque Community Church. I’ve been there every month since June, sometimes several times a month. They are a lovely people without a pastor and they have a few clergy that rotate in pulpit supply. I always look forward to going there. Always except this morning..

Let me say this. I was looking forward to going there until yesterday. The week was pretty normal as far as sermon preparation goes. On Sunday I selected the text from the Revised Common Lectionary. Since I’ve been preaching more regularly, I don’t leave the Scripture selection to chance/whim, trusting that the Holy Spirit can work through lectionary text as effectively as if I had selected the text myself. After selecting the text, I prayed and I read and reread the text during the week, jotting down ideas as they came throughout the days. By Wednesday I had a title and points. I had my introduction. I was planning to preach “I Want You Back” from Isaiah 43:1-7, riffing on the Jackson Five song of the same title. The sermon was all about God’s redemptive, rescuing, restoring love for humanity. I was excited! I mean, how could I not be excited about the privilege of telling the story of God’s great love?!?!?!

So Thursday I did my exegetical work and consulted commentaries. Everything was going as it usually does. And then Friday morning came and I was stuck. So instead of forcing it, I did other things: I folded laundry, went to lunch with my mentor and friend Lynne Westfield, and planned to run some miles which didn’t happen. By evening I sat down and still nothing. So I adjusted my schedule so I could put some sermonic meat on the outline that I had on Saturday afternoon.

On Saturday afternoon I went to Panera Bread which has been my pastoral study for over eight years. My favorite table was open. I just knew God and I were going to flow and in a few hours my portion of the sermon would be complete. I was wrong. I wrote and wrote, toiling over words, but nothing connected. It was all very disjointed and forced and when I realized it hours later, I stopped. I decided I would rest and try again in the morning before service. When I got home though, I went looking for the sermon I preached on this text during my first year of ordained ministry. I couldn’t find it, but in my digging in the sermonic crates I did find another message that leaped out at me. I put the papers into my black folio and resigned myself to it.

I went to bed early hoping to at least get a good night’s rest. Instead I slept horribly, had a terrible dream, and woke up super late. Long story short, I made it to the church with several reminders of God’s abiding presence bolstering me before the preaching moment—including the hymn before the sermon, “Rise Up, O Church” . As I preached, I could feel God moving. I knew then that the message was what God planned for me to preach all along. The congregation was engaged and their body language was evidence that they were listening and hearing. It was a beautiful dance between God, preacher, and people.

Here’s the interesting thing. I was disturbed and discouraged during this process, but when I went back to find the original “Making of the Sermon: Standing Up, Praising God” it turns out this process, while unsettling and unusual, is not new to me. And in hindsight, I believe that God was using this process to remind me that God is always on time and that the preaching moment is about God, not me. That’s not license to slack in preparation, but an invitation to know who is doing the work. Because although I went into the preaching moment feeling uneasy, members of the congregation remarked about how touching and timely the message was in their own situations.

image take from http://gracechurchanderson.com/2016/08/sabbath-2/

Word Up Wednesday: Don't Give Up by Donna Olivia Owusu-Ansah

As promised, I am continuing Word Up Wednesday by featuring reflections written during my Clinical Pastoral Education Internship. The following was written in April 2015. Again, Scripture was added and minor edits made to be shared here on www.reverendmotherrunner.com

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
— Galatians 6:9 (NIV)

A few weeks ago, I was visiting a patient in rehab. During our time together, she shared her life story with me and specifically the illness that caused her hospital stay. Towards the end of our conversation she said something, words that I will never forget, This patient, tired after just returning from therapy and resting up for another round of therapy in a few short hours said, “The hardest work I’ve ever done is not giving up.” She was having physical discomfort, but she was tireless. She was being stretched beyond what she thought was imaginable, but she was resolute. She had a dogged strength within that kept her going to make strides in her health. It wasn’t easy, but she was persistent. It wasn’t without pain, but she was determined. Above all, this tenacious patient wanted to be well and was committed to not giving up on her health and herself.

Her spirit brought to mind a quotation from author Harriet Beecher Stowe. She wrote, “Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” My patient was correct, not giving up, when circumstances are difficult and we grow weary, is hard work. But Stowe is also correct. What if the very moment we are ready to call it quits is the moment when we will begin to see positive changes in our situations? What if the very moment we are ready to throw in the towel is the moment when there is progress made?

Image from www.pexels.com

Image from www.pexels.com

Have you ever been in traffic? I have. It’s a trivial example, but I often get impatient when I am stuck in traffic on the highway, especially if I am pressed for time and have someplace I need to be. I have been stuck in a lane that is not moving. A lane that I’ve been sitting in for a while, going nowhere fast. And I decide to switch lanes. I’ve given up on the lane I am in because I’m not making any progress in reaching my destination. And the very moment I switch lanes, traffic begins to flow in the lane that I was previously in. The cars that were behind me in the lane I was in are now breezing past me, passing by as I sit—absolutely still--in a new lane. And if I had waited another moment, another second, I would have been on my way, moving in the direction of my destination.

Not giving up requires patience. Not giving up requires strength. Not asks us to be still, trusting that progress is being made even if we cannot see or feel it. Not giving up is hard work, but if we hold on, we just may be at the point of a turn in our situation.

Will you pray with me?

Gracious God, there are times when we find ourselves in difficult situations. We have difficulty in our families. We have difficulty with our health. We have difficulty in our places of employment. We see trouble and distress in our world. These situations sometimes cause us to be faint of heart and physically exhausted. We grow impatient. Give us, we pray, a tenacious spirit, to keep on going, when the going gets tough. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.