The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard is new associate for racial and gender justice
By Gail Strange | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – The Rev. Shanea D. Leonard, pastor of Judah Fellowship Christian Church, a New Worshiping Community of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), has accepted a new position with the Presbyterian Mission Agency. Leonard has been called as the new associate for racial and gender justice, working in the agency’s Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries (RE&WIM).
Leonard, who has served as the organizing and founding pastor of Judah Fellowship in Pittsburgh since 2011, said she’s looking forward to her new role.
“I am very excited about this position,” she said. “This is a natural next step for me and the work that I have been doing around justice issues and justice work for years in Western Pennsylvania and the Midwest region. I’m excited to look at and to expand how we think about gender in our denomination. I want to dive into some racial issues with groups who are disenfranchised around our nation and to really look at how our church can stand alongside those who are marginalized and forge a better way in the name of Christ.”
Throughout her career, Leonard has served as a community-builder and an advocate for social and gender justice. As pastor of Judah Fellowship, she led the congregation in being an active voice against injustice for marginalized communities. In her role as organizer for both New Voices for Reproductive Justice (a multi-state organization that focuses on the health and well-being of black women and girls) and Equality Pennsylvania (an organization that advocates throughout the state for LGBTQ rights), she was responsible for movement-building and social change that impacted legislation. Leonard has also served as a program director for at-risk youth, a mental health advocate and a religion teacher.
Leonard believes that her calling to this position is a part of a divine plan. “Everything I have done in my life has led to this role,” she said. “This is very much in line with where I am. While this role will stretch me, it’s also right in my wheelhouse at the same time.”
Her first goal, she said, is to “access the denominations’ work around gender equity issues. I want to know how gender and justice matters are being addressed by Presbyterian congregations, presbyteries and mid councils. It will be most important for me to learn what’s already happening at the ground level and to determine how my experience, my work and my expertise might enhance and advance what’s already at work in the church. I want to work in partnership with congregations to expand the work of the PC(USA) in an effort to raise women’s voices and increase equity for all people.”
Leonard added that “I’m especially thrilled to work with the Rev. T. Denise Anderson and to see where we can collaborate. I think we share a capable theology and approach.” Anderson recently joined the RE&WIM staff as the coordinator for racial and intercultural justice.
Rhashell Hunter, the director of RE&WIM, says she is excited to have Leonard join the team in ministry.
“It became clear to us very early on that Shanea’s call to gender and racial justice fits the ministry area’s goals to end racism, achieve gender equity and build intercultural community,” said Hunter. “In our new staff configuration, we will have a team of staff working across ministry areas towards this strategic emphasis, seeking to impact and disrupt systems of oppression.
“Our church has made a commitment to end structural racism,” Hunter added. “Shanea Leonard has been a leader in addressing this issue in the PC(USA). Her work will help create an awareness of systemic racism in the church and create an environment where Presbyterians of color, new immigrants and women can serve fully in ministry and leadership in the church.”
Leonard, who will be relocating to Louisville, said, “While I’m sad to move away from the people, the congregation and the work in Pittsburgh, I really feel like God is calling me to this role in this season. I think it’s going to be a good fit for our denomination and for me. This is very much the work of the Holy Spirit. I am open to being stretched and sharing the expertise I have in this area.”
Leonard will begin her duties Monday, Oct. 22.
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