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Rev. Bianca Davis-Lovelace
Reverend Bianca R. Davis-Lovelace is an ordained United Church of Christ Pastor and Co-Founder of Progressive Millennials for Action. Also, she is the Co-host of Progressive Millennials podcast. During her time in ministry and activism, she has been a champion for women’s empowerment, social justice, spiritual formation, interfaith engagement, and hip hop social consciousness. Bianca makes it abundantly clear how important it is for young people to know who they are, whose they are, and to commit themselves to something beyond themselves. Her favorite quote is, “It’s not how you start but how you finish!” She represents the 3rd generation to serve as clergy in her family.
Tell us about your experience at God Can Ministries UCC.
I served as the pastor for Millennials at God Can Ministries and I served there for over a decade. My mother is the founder of God Can Ministries. While I was there my main goal and main focus was to expose youth and young adults to things that are different from what they see in their communities, to break barriers, and to teach them how to come together and see past differences. One of things that I did while I was there was teach an interfaith class and I talked to youth about various religions and explained to them why we are more alike than we are different. Another thing I did while I was there was teach hip-hop classes, or rather classes about hip-hop theology. I brought together youth and taught them how to identify the sacred and the holy God–even in their favorite songs that they hear on the radio or the music videos that they see–and how God is within everything that they do.
Another thing that I did was participate in the performing arts ministry. One of the things that brought youth and young adults to God Can was the plays and the productions we would put on for the community. Me and a few of my siblings that were there were very instrumental in developing the performing arts ministry. We touched hard topics like drugs, gangs, sexism, racism and we would mix that with pride and African American culture. Blending all of that together within the performing arts was very therapeutic for economically oppressed communities like Ford Heights, Illinois, which at one point was the poorest town in the state of Illinois.
the state of Illinois.My ministry there was mainly about empowerment and enlightenment because I wanted youth who come from those neighborhoods to know what other cultures are like outside of that neighborhood.
I also worked on The Nia Circle Mentoring Program. The purpose was for preteen and teenage girls within the Ford Heights community to learn healthy body image, to build their self-esteem, and to teach them things they may not be exposed to outside of the community. I took the young ladies out on retreats, took them to movies, and taught them healthy living and healthy eating. We talked about tough issues like sex, STDs, HIV, and how to protect your body.
A lot of my ministry was about doing things that were outside of the box. I really wanted to tackle the tough issues and empower a community of people, especially the youth and young adults there who come from a community that is economically oppressed.
You are one of the founders of Progressive Millennials for Action. What inspired this group? What was the creation process like?
My husband and I are the founders of Progressive Millennials for Action. The inspiration came from the fact that when we see a lot of people working in our government or working in social action organizations, they were mainly Baby Boomers and older generations. We were kind of fired up because at the time we felt a lot of people were making decisions for us and we really had no voice. We organized to basically empower the voices of the Millennial generation. What we did was social organizing like inspiring people to go register to vote, endorsing certain candidates for local offices, participating in various protests around the Chicagoland area, and doing workshops about various subjects like direct action and human rights.
You are a third-generation clergy, educated at CTS. Please describe the impact CTS had on your spiritual growth and commitments throughout your life.
I picked CTS not necessarily because my parents went there. It wasn’t the fact that it was a family legacy—I was drawn to the CTS legacy, period. The fact that Martin Luther King was associated with CTS, and Rev. Jesse Jackson was associated with CTS, the fact that CTS was not afraid to go there—and when I say “go there” I mean go and talk about the hard issues. I grew up, at least in my early years, Baptist. I heard a lot of theology that was very exclusive and it wasn’t until I went to seminary and was able to deconstruct some of that theology I had learned growing up Baptist, that allowed me to shred some of the things I had grew up with. I guess you could say I was always theologically rebellious because, for instance, it wasn’t until I saw my mother active in ministry and pastoring her own church, that I put two and two together and thought ‘The ministry is for women as well.’ I always had a problem with not seeing women serving as pastors, specifically black women in the black church. I never really seen that growing up. I witnessed her pastoring her own church and I thought ‘I can do this. This is what I’m called to do.’
I always had an issue with the patriarchy and misogyny that existed within the church. It wasn’t until I came to CTS that I was able to articulate, and have the theological words and theological framework, to describe exactly how I was feeling as a child. It wasn’t until I came to CTS that I was able to find my voice and find who I really am within ministry. CTS, for me, developed my theological identity and it gave me the courage and the confidence to go out into this world now and fight every barrier that exists—barriers in our faith traditions and barriers in our society as a whole. I think, even now in my current context, the things that I learned and the confidence that I gained from the experience and the learning and the teachings of different professors, like JoAnne Terrell, like Lee Butler, and like Susan Thistlethwaite. I had some awesome professors. Seeing the fact that we have Alice Hunt as a female seminary president—that for me was so empowering! Now I’m breaking down barriers in ministry because CTS gave me the confidence to break down barriers. It gave me the confidence to go out there and challenge the different systems of oppression that exist. I do have confidence and I take that confidence and theological framework to where I serve now.
I am now the Pastor at Eastgate Congregational United Church of Christ in Bellevue, Washington, where the majority of my congregants are white. I am a black female Millennial pastoring a majority white church. My church is about 20% people of color and 80% white. That’s almost unheard of in the United Church of Christ because one of the barriers that exists for African American women in the United Church of Christ is actually being able to get called shortly after ordination, whether its for a black church or a white church. For me to come in shortly after ordination and receive a call to a church in a suburb outside of Seattle, Washington, in a church that is mainly affluent, and for me to still speak truth to power and talk about racism, sexism, and even white privilege. I come in talking about those hard issues in a congregation that is majority white and affluent and have the courage to do that. I would never have had that courage if I did not experience fearless leaders like JoAnne Terrell and Alice Hunt that empowered me to go into this ministry context and still hold my head up and speak truth to power and do it confidently. I think CTS prepared me for what I’m doing now, which is breaking down barriers.
Please share some of your successes and challenges at Eastgate Congregational UCC.
One of the successes is just being called as a young African American woman in a majority white context. The second is my congregation is so open, welcoming, and willing and willing to let me be me. They allow me, even if it stretches them and pushes them beyond what they can fathom, to push the envelope and talk about hard subjects like white privilege. They have also embraced me as a Millennial and we’re having important conversations now about what the church will look like in the future. We just recently had a town hall meeting at my church to talk about the church of the future.
Some of the challenges have been getting older members of the congregation on board and getting them to understand that ministry that happened 40 or 50 years ago does not look the same today in 2016. You have to do ministry completely different from the way you did it before. You have that theological foundation, but everyone is not going to come to Sunday worship, Bible study, or Sunday school, so what are the other ways we can serve the community and be there for the community and welcome the community without necessarily pushing them to go to church all the time. Trying to get them out of the mindset of the way church used to be has been a challenge, but they’re open. I have to say it is a blessing that they’re open because some places are not open to new and innovative ways of doing ministry. My context is very open, it’s just getting some on board of thinking outside of the box that has been a challenge.
Another challenge is there’s still work to do around race and privilege. People sometimes don’t understand it, but my role as a minister is to get them to kind of understand people from different places. The blessing is, again, that they’re willing to go there.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
Because of the social climate now, after this election, I want to get more into the social activism and theology realm—how to blend the two. I want to be out in the streets. I want to be able to be effective in changing laws that create divisions and continually oppress people. I definitely want to venture and think about ways in which me as a minister, not necessarily going in to proselytize or evangelize, go into different places and engage in street activism and see how I can be of service to those who are in the streets that are really doing the work in the streets and how I can be of service. Of course, I want to pastor and be in the church, but I don’t want to be confined to the church. I want to make sure my ministry goes outside of the church.
What is one class you recommend every CTS student to take?
I really loved Lee Butler’s pastoral care class because he was really able to break down pastoral care on so many levels and so many different stages of life. The way that he eloquently brought together pastoral care and the stages of life has, to this day, me looking at how I do ministry from with people at different stages in life. Even now, my congregation has a lot of older congregants. How do I, as a Millennial, do pastoral care for someone who is in their 70s or 80s? How do I also do pastoral care for somebody that is under 18? I felt that Dr. Butler’s pastoral care class was very instrumental for me to minster in the context that I’m ministering to now.
Another class I loved was the interfaith class with Susan Thistlethwaite. With the political climate and how so many people are talking about xenophobia and being prejudice against people of other faiths—for me it was very helpful to be in that class and to be able to challenge racism. I can have those conversations because I know more than what I would have if I did not take that class.
Those two classes helped prepare me for ministry within the church and outside of the church.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I really want CTS to be one of the havens of theological training because CTS is way outside of the box compared to a lot of seminaries…CTS really prepared me for ministry in the real world, so I just hope and pray that more students come to CTS and get that rich theological training and experience that I got. CTS is a gem.