Monthly Archives: September 2010

Ministering to the Minister: Reflections from the Teresa Lewis Vigil

I was blessed to have two amazing women of faith, Joy Heaton and Pat Henfling, accompany me last night to Greenville Correctional facility to participate in the vigil for the execution of Teresa Lewis. All three of us were participating in this vigil primarily in support of Rev. Lynn Litchfield who has touched each of our lives in different yet powerful ways. As we entered the freeway, I noticed that the moon was a light shade of red amidst a clear dark sky which seemed rather fitting for this ominous occasion.

As we pulled into the field where the vigil was to be held, I was comforted by the large number of cars parked haphazardly between the trees.  We took a few minutes to sit in silence in the dark to pray and it was with the same contemplative spirit that we made our way across the field to the site of the vigil.  However, that peaceful quite spirit quickly vanished when we reached the crowd who had gathered.  Protesters were urging people to take signs as camera crews shined bright lights in our faces and reporters thrust microphones toward us and began peppering us with questions.  Something about this whole scene turned my stomach and I attempted to fade into the background.  I realized that roughly half of the gathering consisted of media from all over the world.

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Filed under Stories from the Street, Urban Ministry

A Tale of Two Women

Suzie and Tracy are your typical suburban moms.  They are both college educated working professionals who choose to stay home when their children were born.  When the last of their children went off to school, they began to feel a stirring in their spirit.  They began to wonder, “How can I make the most out of my life?”   Their friends suggested they get a part-time job, but neither of them desired more money.  What they both desired was to make a difference in the world.

Suzie’s Call

Suzie believed that she was called by God to do something but did not know what.  She signed up for a women’s retreat at her church.  There she heard an amazing speaker share how she had discerned God call to work with the homeless.  Suzie was moved and felt God calling her to invest her life in serving the poor.  She left the retreat on fire and determined to follow God’s call.

Tracy’s Call

Like Suzie, Tracy knew that God was calling her to something of significance but she could not discern what that something was.  She began telling her friends about her desire and someone suggested that she contact a woman in their church who had followed God’s call and was serving the urban poor.  So, Tracy called up the woman, Wanda, and they agreed to meet.

Tracy’s Response

Tracy was inspired by Wanda’s journey and asked Wanda if she would help her discern her own unique call.  Wanda agreed.  Over the next several months, Wanda and Tracy went on walks, exchanged emails and Tracy began serving alongside Wanda in the inner city.  Tracy was moved by the stories of complete strangers who had gone through so much and who were praising God in the midst of their trials.  As she saw God in unlikely places and people, Tracy’s faith began to grow in ways she had never experienced.

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Filed under missional church, Stories from the Street, Urban Ministry

Finding Your “One Thing”

As I shared in my post “A Unifying Question”, I believe unity requires shared mission not a shared belief system .  Once we agree on our shared mission, in the case of Embrace Richmond that mission is strengthening impoverished communities.  The more challenging question becomes “How?”  What methodology will we employ in order to achieve that mission?  Poverty is a complex issue and there are hundreds of strategies out there for addressing the underlying issues.  It is easy to get lost in what seems like a bottomless pit of need.

A few months ago, I attended the worship service at Richmond Hill.  Reverend Ben Campbell’s sermon was on the story of Mary and Martha. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I have always been a “Martha” and as such have always disliked this passage of scripture.  If I had not been at Richmond Hill with its contemplative spirit and had I not been in a place of personal spiritual seeking, I would have likely tuned out Rev. Campbell’s words.  As he gently said “Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things,” I am certain he was looking right at me.

Distracted?  I guess you could say that.  The needs of so many people constantly pulling me and Embrace Richmond in all different directions, stretches me and the organization to the point we can’t see what we am doing.  In the past year, there were seasons when I felt like we were just running around putting out fires and for every one we put out, three more pop up.

Rev. Campbell again gently repeated the words, “Martha, Martha you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.”  I expected Reverend Campbell to then tell us all that the only important thing was to sit at Jesus feet like Mary.  I had heard the story before and that is how it always ended; me the “Martha” being scolded for not sitting at Jesus feet.  I was ready for it. ”Bring it on, I can handle it”, I thought to myself.

But then he did something quite surprising. He asked “What is your one thing?”  I thought it was a trick question.  Wasn’t the answer obvious: We should all spend all our time in prayer and studying the bible?  Rev. Campbell acknowledged my thoughts in a jovial fashion saying something like, “Some think this passage is about the contemplative life, the monks love this passage because it supports their lifestyle.  However, that is not what is going on in this passage.  What is going on is that Mary chose “one thing” an “excellent thing” not a “better thing.”  Martha was worried and distracted by “many things” therefore she was not fully present in anything.  It is not that the active life is bad.  That is not the point of the story.  The point is to choose “one thing” and pour all of your being into that one thing. So what is your one thing?”  Now I don’t know if I got Rev. Campbell’s message down word for word but this is the just of what I heard and it spoke powerfully to me.

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New AmeriCorps Openings at Embrace Richmond

We are currently recruiting for the following two positions:

Dream Works Coordinator: The Dream Works Coordinator will help build a network of support by recruiting mentoring and building small groups to support our community based leadership team.  This individual must be able to communicate the vision of the community leaders and teams in a way that others are willing to invest their time, talents and treasures in bringing the vision into reality. The ideal candidate will have experience starting and building volunteer driven groups, facilitating small groups, and helping groups achieve specific goals.

Youth Engagement Specialist: The Youth Engagement Specialist will help connect young people into the Embrace Richmond’s community based ministries and will also develop educational programs to take the message of Embrace into youth groups and schools sharing how young people can make a difference in our city.  The ideal candidate will have experience working with youth, starting youth small groups, and doing missions projects with young people.

If you would like to know more about these positions, please email me at

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BTSR Convocation Message: Beyond the Pew

Today I had the great honor of speaking at convocation for Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Below is the message I prepared to welcome the incoming class of BTSR.  I hope it blesses seminary students, faculty,  graduates and friends everywhere. Over the years I have heard many people question the importance of a theological education. This message is my testimony to the value I place on my seminary experience.


I grew up completely un-churched in the heart of the Bible belt.  I was that “lost child” all the church ladies prayed for, the one they assumed did not know Jesus.  My image of the church was a place where people sat and pastors preached.  I was outside the walls and wondered what it would be like to sit in those pews.

In my late twenties through a series of miscarriages, God led me inside the walls of the church building and I found a comfortable home in the pew.  I knew all the faces who sat near my comfy pew home and they loved me into the Christian family.  I belonged in that pew. I was finally comfortable inside the church walls.

In 2001, with the demise of Enron, my family moved from Houston to Richmond and I lost my comfy home in that pew.  I landed in Richmond, not knowing anyone.  There was a stirring in my spirit, an unrest that I could not explain.  I felt God was calling me to go beyond pew sitting, and I answered that call by enrolling in BTSR in 2003.

At orientation, I learned that BTSR is dedicated to training “pastors.”  That scared me!  I was not pastor.  The Pastor was the one who stood and preached to the pew sitters.  I did not know what God was calling me to do, but I knew it was not that!

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Filed under Leadership, Theology, Unity Works Reading

Book Discussion Guide Now Available!

We are thrilled to have several groups across the country reading “From the Sanctuary to the Streets” this fall and produced a Discussion Guide to accompany the book.

It is free and available to anyone.  This packet is great for Bible studies, small groups, Sunday School classes or simply individual reflection while reading through the book.

Click here for a PDF of the packet.

You can find the book at and Barnes &, as well as directly from the publishers, Wipf & Stock.  The publisher offers a 40% discount on orders of four or more books. If your group would like to take advantage of this discount contact Wipf and Stock publishing by phone or email and request their group discount.  Click here for contact information.

All proceeds from the book benefit Embrace Richmond.

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A Unifing Question: “Do you care about what I care about?”

Having grown up outside the church, coming to faith in the Lutheran church, finding my way into a Baptist seminary, birthing a ministry made up initially of catholic women, while being a member of a Methodist church, I knew whatever God called me to, it would involve unifying the body of Christ.  In Seminary I took a class on Ecumenism.  The professor said, “We will never be able to unite the body of Christ around doctrine.  However, we can unite in our care of the poor and the oppressed.”

In 2004, when I wrote the original vision statement for Embrace Richmond it was with this goal in mind. Earlier this year, our board modified the vision statement which now reads, “A city united to embrace all; bridging people of every race, class, and religious background together to care for one another.”  When I wrote this statement I had no idea how difficult it would be to actually achieve this vision.

For the past month, I have been praying a lot about the word “unity” and what “unity that bridges people of every religious background together to care for one another” actually means.  I have written many posts on the difficulties of bridging people of different races and classes but by far the most difficult task has been bridging people from different religious traditions within the Christian faith.

This week my associate Janie Walker led our team in a meditation on the core values of Embrace Richmond.  The core value of “Missional Unity” caught my attention.  It reads, “We value Missional Unity birthed out of racial, economic, religious, and cultural diversity.”  I realized at that moment that we had inadvertently dropped one very key concept from the conversation on unity and that concept is unity around mission.

The original vision statement of Embrace reads, “We envision a city united to embrace all who are in need;  a place where people of every race, class and religious background join together to care for their neighbors in need.”  When we removed the missional emphasis from our vision statement, we did so thinking that this element of who we are was explicit in our mission statement.  However, in hindsight, I wonder if this was wise.  Will future generations understand that the unity we seek is unity in caring for those in need?

In conversations on the topic of “unity” as it relates to faith, we often default to the question, “Do you believe what I believe?”  However, the missional unity that is the core of our vision statement asks an entirely different question.  Missional unity asks the question, “Do you care about what I care about?”

I do not believe it is possible to unify people of different faith traditions around a set of beliefs. The history books are proof of that. However, I do believe it is possible to unity people of different faith traditions around the shared mission of reducing poverty and suffering in our city.

The difficulty in achieving this mission then becomes one of finding unity in methodology.  This is a whole different conversation which I hope to consider in a later post.

In short, I was reminded this week that the focus has to be on the mission and it is the mission that unifies us. I look forward to exploring the concept of missional unity more in the coming weeks.

What experiences have you had working with ecumenical groups?  How have you seen different faith traditions unify around shared mission?  What practices or processes do you think can help achieve this kind of unity?


Filed under Leadership, missional church, Urban Ministry

Clarification: I am not really advocating chopping off parts of the body

As you likely deduced from my blog titled “The Shadow of my Blog”, I got in a bit of hot water because of my blog titled “Ouch, that hurt!” At the time I wrote “Ouch”, I simply could not process all the pain I was feeling and as I shared in “Shadow,” I simply needed to lament.

Not only is the word lament not used in our culture, the actual practice is equally as neglected.  We have become a plastic people.  We are taught to control our emotions, hide our feelings. Those who express deep emotions are often labeled “emotionally unstable.”  I don’t know if it is just American’s or if people everywhere have gradually sought to stifle emotion as a part of our human evolution.

If any of the prophets and many of the psalmists whose writings appear in the Old Testament were to appear on the scene today, I feel certain we would quickly commit them to a mental hospital or drug them with anti-depressants.  We would suggest they have a glass of wine or perhaps a Valium. We would instruct them to only share their pain with their therapist and insist that they not “rock the boat.”

Over the past several months, the issue of depression has come up several times in our Embrace communities at all levels.  It seems to me that depression has reached an epidemic level among all segments of our society; rich, poor, young, old, urban, suburban, male and female.  I am not psychiatrist or a trained therapist but I wonder if by stifling our emotions if we might be emotionally damaging ourselves and others?

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Filed under Leadership, missional church, Urban Ministry

Lynn’s Campaign to Save a Life

As I shared in my last post, over the past several month’s I have met some amazing women who are fighting for justice in our community and our world.  My friend Lynn Litchfield is one of those women.  She served as chaplain at Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women from 1997 to 2009.  Lynn is on a crusade to save the life of a woman, Teresa Lewis, who is scheduled to be executed later this month.  Lynn is not advocating for Teresa because Teresa is innocent, she is advocating because of the injustice in Teresa’s sentencing.  She is not hoping for Teresa’s release, simply Teresa’s life.  She had an article published on the Newsweek site early this week and has been working diligently to raise awareness about the unique nature of Teresa’s case. I invited Lynn to be a guest blogger with me this week.  Below you will find Lynn’s reflection on the case as well as her challenge to Christians everywhere.  Lynn shared with me that one of the greatest challenges she has faced in advocating for Teresa is getting people to simply consider the facts with an open mind before passing judgment.  I pray as you read Lynn’s words, you will be open to what she has to share.

How far does Grace stretch?  How far will grace actually reach?  Does unmerited favor stretch as far as prison?   What about those on Death Row?  What about Teresa Lewis, 41, with an IQ of 70 and the only woman on death row in Virginia.  She pled guilty to capital murder for hire in the deaths of her husband and adult stepson in 2003.  The judge, believing her to be the remorseless “mastermind” of the crime, sentenced the two men who actually shot the victims to life in prison but sentenced Teresa to death – twice.  She is scheduled to be the first woman executed in the state of Virginia since 1912 – on September 23, 2010 unless the Governor commutes her sentence. Continue reading


Filed under Stories from the Street, Urban Ministry

Julie Clawson’s Call to Care

I have often felt somewhat alone in Christian circles as a woman who feels called to write about issues of social justice. However, over the past several months, I have begun to meet a number of women who share my passion, some in the flesh but many more via their on-line writing. One of these women is Julie Clawson who is the author of “Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of our Daily Choices.” While most of my insights arise out of the context of the inner city, I recognize that the injustices I witness pale in comparison to the suffering of people around the world.

In a post titled “Caring While We Still Can” which appears on Julie Clawson’s site One Hand Clapping, Julie brings the stark images of gang rape and child molestation directly to us.  However, rather than simply leave us with the horrific images, Julie challenges us stating:

“While America is in a dither about being offended by the presence of Muslims in our midst, this is what is happening in the world right now. We talk about fearing terrorism, but this is terrorism in the flesh. At some point we have to move beyond talk. We have to stop watching films like Hotel Rwanda just so we can seem caring and enlightened at our church “God at the Movies” night, and start working to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Hatred, power, and money are all still fueling atrocities – we have to get over our poor track record of only caring about such things in hindsight. Feeling bad about the Holocaust, or Rwanda, or Bosnia, or Japanese internment camps is trendy years later. What takes guts is standing up and doing something about such things as they happen. That is never popular, and will get you called some nasty names as you encourage society to change and care. But what does it say about the state of our souls if we don’t at least try?”

Julie goes on in her post to provide us with several ways we can help fight against the forces that create the injustices she has writes about.  Julie’s suggestions require that we think about the systemic causes of injustice and challenge us to link our own behavior with these unintended outcomes.  I hope you all will read the full article and prayerfully consider how we as Christians can respond.

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