By Babette Chatman and Justin Lind-Ayres
This article is co-written, modeling the value of listening equally to diverse voices in ministry leadership.
Space for grace
“Jesus said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
Zoom rooms have gotten us to think differently about space these past 18 months. They are, of course, virtual space; nevertheless, they are an extension of the incarnate spaces we occupy with our very bodies. As such, they can also be a space where marginalization can occur. Over the past several months, Pr. Babette and I have been in many Zoom rooms together. And a saving grace of that space has been the “private chat” function. Sure, we have used the private chat to joke around together, check-in (when we have checked-out of a meeting), and engage deeper with the topic at hand. But we have also used the private chat to further our shared call toward practicing justice and equitable leadership. I invite Pr. Babette to tell one of the—sadly—many circumstances that have unfolded in our Zoom meetings.
It was another normal Zoom strategy meeting. There were several of us in attendance. We were having an interview conversation around recruitment. A question was asked, and I was in the middle of answering when a male-identifying colleague cut me off and began to usurp the conversation. Now, when that kind of thing happens it can be very demoralizing, even for the strongest of persons. But on this occasion it felt different. I believe it was because I thought it was a safe space. I went to the chat box and privately messaged Pr. Justin, “Did he just cut me off?” I asked. And he responded, “Yeah, I think he did. I’m so sorry for that.” And then, as I remember it, Justin said aloud in the meeting, “Excuse me, I think Pr. Babette hadn’t completed her thought.”
Our colleague was taken aback, but he yielded the screen back to me. It is in those moments, that I am reminded that we are called to embody that sufficient grace of God. As a Black female-identifying person, micro and macro aggressions happen to me more times than I care to admit. And I have observed it happening in other similar settings with other BIPOC. This is one of many stories of how we as a co-pastor team have practiced justice and equity through our shared leadership.
Our ministry partnership is not something I take for granted. I know that I am fortunate to have such a fierce ministry partner who is both an advocate and friend. Justin’s openness and curiosity are a source of encouragement and motivation. We all come to this work broken, or as the Apostle Paul has described, “with thorns in our side.” But the way we share this work amid our brokenness is through God’s sufficient grace.
As a cisgender male, I am continually coming to terms with my privilege rooted in whiteness, patriarchy, and hetero-normative practices—especially as a clergy person in the church. My journey will never end, but thanks be to God I was gifted with a dear companion on the way! Pr. Babette and I have worked together for more than eight years in campus ministry, with the last two years serving as co-pastors. She has graciously and faithfully accompanied me, challenged me, nurtured me, agitated me, and emboldened me in my call to work toward racial justice as gospel, grace-centered work in God’s world. I believe our relationship, rooted in our love for Jesus, has enabled us to work toward God’s reconciliation in our shared ministry context.
The invitation to write this article together prompted us to (re)think how it came to pass that we were able to foster such a shared ministry together. The answers go beyond this article, but we offer up the acronym of S.P.A.C.E. as a beginning point. Sure, acronyms can be a bit overused and underwhelming, but this works for us.
Sharing Perspectives Around Calling out/in Each other – SPACE.
From my perspective as one who shows up in a white body, I need to be intentional about making space for others. Or at the very least, I need to get the heck out of the way so others may enter into the space as their authentic selves. This realization has taken time for me to learn, like water dripping on stone. But in order for others to share from their own truths (and in particular, BIPOC folx), I need to take up less room, be it at a conference table, in the sanctuary, or on a Zoom call.
For me, the “calling out/in” part of the acronym has been critical for my own formation as a leader. I remember in November of 2015, the day after Jamar Clark was shot and killed while pinned to the ground by Minneapolis police officers, we as a campus ministry staff sat at a table discussing the tragic event. My interpretation of the events that led to Mr. Clark’s death was seen through my privileged, white eyes. I was trying to “get the facts straight” and “understand the whole story” and was processing it openly—as if my car’s preprogrammed Minnesota Public Radio station or phone’s CNN newsfeed was enough to help me make an “informed judgment” of the circumstances. I was adrift in my narrow and racist perspective of all manner of things concerning policing and the experience of BIPOC children of God living in our country.
My attempt to intellectualize this traumatic event was called out by one look by Pr. Babette. I can still see the tears in her eyes as my vapid words clouded up the space and perpetuated the horror of Mr. Clark’s murder. I saw Pr. Babette’s face, and in that moment I knew my white privilege was preventing me from seeing and experiencing the truth. And for the next hour, I shut up. I shut up and genuinely listened to Pr. Babette speak truth to our ministry staff. She courageously shared her own experiences with Minneapolis police, her deep pain experienced by this killing (and so many more), and her vision for a different reality for all God’s beloved in this world we share. At that moment, she then called me in. Through the Spirit of grace—and because Pr. Babette is Pr. Babette—she called us all in: to see her perspective, to know her heart, and to experience the power of Christ that dwells in us, together, richly!
Our partnership in ministry and as followers of Jesus will always be about SPACE. I give thanks for such a grace-filled co-pastor who has accompanied me on the way.
Jesus speaking to his disciples “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light;” Matthew 6:22.
I believe this is where the phrase “the eyes are the window of the soul” comes from.
As a faith leader who identifies as Black or African American female, I am learning to pay attention. I have a practice of reading the room before the room reads me. Be it in person or a zoom space. I watch for opportunities to connect with other people on the margins, To use my privilege to benefit others. I do this because my colleague has made a practice of doing the same for me.
Justin and I are intentional about how we share this work. Also, we are intentional about how we host and cultivate SPACE. We have very difficult conversations because we authentically care about sustaining each other in this work. When we are in predominantly white (PW) spaces together, we check in with each other. It is in those spaces that we live into our commitment to call each other out/in.
Some ways you may be able to share SPACE with others include:
- If you are part of the dominant culture, pay attention to how much space you occupy.
- Watch for the light of Christ; pray for the light of Christ.
- Be attentive to what you can learn. Everyone has a story, which means everyone has something to share.
- Develop a comfortability with uncomfortable situations and conversations.
- Listen to and for each other.
- Be intentional and authentic in how you build relationship
- Practice elevating and inviting in other voices.
- Trust in the sufficient grace of our God.