Racial Justice Resources

‘Let’s take the opportunity to swing wide the gates’

Spelman College’s Dean of Sisters Chapel encourages preachers to assert their moral authority

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Neichelle Guidry

LOUSVILLE — The Rev. Dr. Neichelle Guidry’s alma mater is Clark Atlanta University, where the motto — attributed to the ancient general Hannibal, who was once asked about the wisdom of crossing a mountain pass on elephants — is, “I shall find a way or make one.”

“That motto lifted up the role of our community,” Guidry told the Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis of Luther Seminary last week during the Festival of Homiletics. “We turned to each other to figure it out.” That required “vulnerability to state what we need, the de-stigmatization of need and, for those of us who can give, we must see the value and worth in all the ways we can contribute — the value of tenderness, kindness and compassion.”

Guidry is dean of Sisters Chapel and director of the WISDOM Center at Spelman College in Atlanta. She created shepreaches, a virtual community and professional development organization that aspires to uplift African American millennial women in ministry.

On Easter Sunday, Guidry said she took in several online sermons during what she called “the most un-Easter Easter ever.” That afternoon, she and the Rev. Dr. Dominique Ayesha Robinson, dean of the Chapel at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, engaged in online dialogue on how to foster the spirit of resurrection during the pandemic. “Here were two preachers doing ministry at historic black colleges wrestling with Scripture,” Guidry told Lewis. “That was life-giving.”

“Our posture is supposed to be one of rejoicing, but we gave people space to grapple with what is right in front of us,” she said. “It is a beauty of womanist and black theology. What does it mean to follow a liberator while living in a state of demonization and disinheritance?”

“What would it be like,” she wondered, “to invite conversation where we can really raise the hard questions, where there is no expert and we are really in this together? What is God saying to me and to you? I appreciate the creativity and the spontaneity that come from conversations. It’s helped me to feel my way through what God may be doing in this season.”

Whatever form of preaching is being utilized during and after the pandemic, “I hope we get clear about preachers as moral voices,” she said. “It’s hard for me to hear the ongoing dismal news about climate, the Earth and our relationship to Creation and not think that a lot of this is the failure of moral and ethical leadership … We have the responsibility to sound the moral alarm and to say, ‘This is not right.’”

When it comes to one major issue raised by the pandemic — how soon to reopen places of business and, of course, in-person worship — Guidry noted that “people may not listen to official sources of information,” including, for example, their governor or local health official. “But they will listen to their preacher,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to be factual” while sermonizing, whether the topic is climate change or gender-based violence. “It behooves us to know the narratives, and to raise those stories in the body of your preaching.”

Lewis agreed: “It’s risky business,” she said, “but we have to do it.”

Guidry said she started a new podcast, Modern Faith, “to reclaim the tradition of liberation,” she said. “It’s not an academic podcast. It’s my heart’s effort to bring the gospel to people who won’t set foot in a church. Just because people won’t step into a sanctuary doesn’t mean they aren’t beloved of God.”

Asked about doing ministry by and for women, Guidry said that “whatever our fight is, we can find ways to be innovative and democratize our message. It’s 2020, but in many settings, women doing this work is still very new. Every Easter I highlight that the first gospel preacher was a woman, and inevitably I hear someone say, ‘I never heard that,’ even though it’s right there in the gospel. Let’s take the opportunity to swing wide the gates, and let’s do it with some boldness.”


Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?