ELM Blog-Love in Action: Rev. Carla Christopher

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My work with and for the church largely consists of training rostered leaders in areas relating to DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging). It started as a starry-eyed and grateful seminarian joining our synod’s Racial Justice Task Force because Black Lutherans with a history in curriculum development are a rare unicorn in central Pennsylvania. That work branched out in just a few years to include LGBTQIA2S+ trainings and then supporting unhoused and formerly unhoused people and Mental Health/Trauma/Survivor support ministry. It turns out I have a lot of marginalizations many of us experience in ourselves or our families, but very few people feel safe talking or teaching about in congregational spaces.

I get it. I exist AS an intersection. A multi-ethnic Black woman (Black, Romani, Spanish, English, Jewish and Creole). Gendered female at birth with a condition eventually diagnosed as severe Polycystic Ovarian Disorder that flooded my system at puberty with Testosterone and Androgen, virilizing (generally considered masc) hormones. Doctors were mystified when a waifish dancer developed bulked-out shoulders, a shy mustache and shot up 6 inches in height. That traumatic gauntlet known as middle school dances became the burning sands of raised eyebrows and mocking smirks. In virtually every space I still enter, I am the Black woman not dark enough to look safe to other Black people, the brown woman too swarthy to belong at the covered dish potluck. I was born Jewish and raised Episcopalian, not Lutheran or “catch the Spirit Pentecostal”. Explaining my attraction to nontoxic masculinity that most frequently manifests in those gendered female at birth is a tough explanation even in most queer spaces. I still twitch answering unknown phone numbers or being in a space where I can’t easily locate an exit, thanks to my status as a survivor. Sticking out is hard. It makes me a complicated person to quantify with checkboxes. It also makes me an empathetic, compassionate, tender pastor and listener for countless people who don’t feel safe or welcome in certain spaces.

In Romans 12:4-5 we read that there are many members of the body of Christ, each with their own function. A thousand hearts without minds, without hands, without a nice cleaning liver to take out the trash, cannot survive. A straight, cis, white Lutheran denomination filled with very “nice” people was a culture and a lifestyle…and an utterly unsustainable model for church in a changing world. A cis, white, Lutheran community of LGBTQIA2S+ people had only slightly more staying power. This internet-driven society of instant access to other countries, cultures, ways of life and language makes almost immediately obvious those spaces equipped to carry a global message, and those woefully underprepared. 

When I first began to dream and ponder this blog, it was a call-out of the racism that exists even in queer groups, the socio-economic barriers and lack of trauma-informed care that characterize too many of our dubbed inclusive spaces. I bless and release that dwelling in anything less than my own necessary and splendid divinity. One of the most powerful spirits in the Creole tradition is Papa Legba, Lord of the Crossroads. He is often associated with St. Peter, the rock upon which the church is built. At his belt jingle a set of keys, symbols of the pastoral order and access to the many gateways towards spiritual evolution and life progress. Without honoring the crossroads there is no travel, no growth. You. Need. Me. Church. You need us, all of us who rest against our canes and crutches, dressed in rags, and possess deep magic of guidance and understanding from having journeyed on roads not traveled by most now realizing they require passage. “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.”  The words of earthy saint, Walt Whitman. I claim space with my siblings at the intersections as gifts and guides, outsiders no more.

For the record, I have scrapped most of my former trainings and elaborate curriculums. I teach about the principles of trauma-informed care first and how to apply them to different groups last. 1) Safety. 2) Trustworthiness and Transparency. 3) Peer Support. 4) Collaboration and Mutuality. 5) Empowerment, Voice and Choice. 6) Cultural History and Issues Specific to Marginalized Groups. There is room for boxes that overlap in caring and respectful spaces honoring an individual’s experience as pilgrim beyond a single affinity group. May the new church that emerges from the ash Jesus shakes from their feet hold space for meaningful collaboration and empowerment of the other parts of Jesus’ body. We will ALL be stronger for it.
Rev. Carla Christopher (she/hers) is a Proclaim Chaplain, pastor of an Open and Affirming UCC congregation, and also serves as Assistant to the Bishop in Charge of Justice Ministries in Lower Susquehanna Synod/Central Pennsylvania (land of the Susquehannock).

One Reply to “ELM Blog-Love in Action: Rev. Carla Christopher”

  1. I had to read this twice as it is so dense with meaning and thought and heart. It gives me a lot to chew on and a lot to put into my life circumstance and story. And I am sure I will read it many more times. About crossroad Ministry, about gender, about the need for all of US.
    Thank you for your imagery, symbols and generosity. You have given me a gift.
    Robbyn Shiell

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