Reflecting on the Winds of Change

by Christine Y. Wiley

After 37 years of serving one church my eyes have seen and my ears have heard so much as the winds of change were blowing through. I saw an increase of women in ministry in Baptist
churches. I was licensed to preach and ordained in 1983 and 1986 respectively. I was surprised to learn that I was the first ordained clergy woman in our local DC Baptist Convention aligned with both the Southern Baptist Convention and American Baptist Churches at the time.

Those winds blew in the advent of AIDS while I was working as a case manager/therapist in a community mental health center. Several clinicians’ clients were in DC General Hospital just across the yard from our clinic. My colleagues knew I was a minister and gave me a list of their clients who were sick with AIDS to visit in the hospital because they were afraid of this new disease. This experience gave me a sense of compassion that went very deep. Around this same time, our church allowed the Max Robinson Center, a medical clinic for those living with AIDS to use space in our building when their roof fell in. The winds of change were blowing as several staff and patients of this center came to worship with us and joined our church. We could not objectify the people but actually embraced them as we developed relationships with them. A couple of years later ministers and lay persons from our church led a weekly spirituality group for men and women living with AIDS in the Center’s new building. These winds changed our hearts and minds.

As the breezes blew, it was so interesting and heartwarming over the years seeing children grow up and go to school, get married and have families of their own. But in the midst of those years there was gun violence, and our city was called the “murder capitol“ of the United States as the homicides peaked in 1991. Most of these murders were in the ward where our church sat, Ward 8, with the highest density of people, the highest poverty rate, and the lowest income level. As the years went by, we became very involved in the community. There was our food bank where we supplied groceries to 500 families per month. There was our counseling center where licensed clinicians saw individuals, couples, and groups using a very low sliding scale. There was the ChristAfrican Theological Institute where we invited the community, church folk, and scholars to do theology from the ground up, as well as from the top down. We all came together to learn from each other. There was also our Family Crisis center where we had family support workers and social workers. We also participated in neighborhood watch assignments and marched against putting a prison in our ward that would have been part of the prison industrial complex.

The wind blew hard as our church went through a process to become open and affirming of LGBTQ people and affirmed Holy Union ceremonies in our congregation when Massachusetts was the only state that had legalized marriage equality. The winds were still blowing when we invited BLACK LIVES MATTER to hold their meetings and gatherings in our church, and we were so amazed when 600 people—black, white, brown and Asian—showed up to that first gathering.

Finally, the winds gently blew when we realized in 2017 that it was time for another wind of change to come. So, my husband Rev. Dr. Dennis W. Wiley, and myself, Rev. Dr. Christine Y. Wiley, answered the call to retirement. One of the first things we were asked to do upon our retirement was to preach and lecture on antiracism in a large white Episcopal church in Washington DC. The winds keep blowing and my husband, who is a liberation theologian, continues to write. In addition to my teaching and doing clinical work, I find myself with a group of Baptists who have caught onto the winds of change and have taken a bold move to not just be called an antiracist organization, but with great courage and vulnerability are putting into action antiracist policies and ways of being. I have been following this wind of change, this breath, this air in motion, this spirit of the living God for quite a while now. This ruah, this pneuma is blowing now through the Alliance of Baptists. We know this wind; this spirit is active when we see the effects of God’s work. This wind of change “blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going…” (John 3:8 ESV) Like the wind, the Spirit of God will fill the people of the Alliance of Baptists to bring forth holy change as we become an antiracist organization knowing that the breath of the Almighty gives us life.

Reverend Christine Y. Wiley is pastor Emerita of Covenant Baptist UCC in Washington DC. She is an adjunct professor at Howard University School of Social Work and is the director of Pastoral Clinical Services, a counseling center in the Washington area. She has three wonderful adult children and six adorable grandchildren. She serves on the board of the Alliance of
Baptists.

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