The Power of the Process: Pastor Laura Kigweba
Your story is news. So, ‘The Power of The Process’ is a different approach to ‘the interview.’ Here we celebrate brown brilliance by giving a prompt to curate a thought provoking first-person narrative from our interviewee.
Tell us about what started you on a path to being a pastor… What is your perspective on being a ‘black’ clergy woman in today’s America? What obstacles do you face in the church because of your race and gender? How has your presence altered perspectives on the church by people who aren’t necessarily church goers and on the people who attend your church?
The Power of the Process: A Woman’s Journey Toward the Pastorate
My journey towards the pastorate began when I took the time to discover who I am.
Honestly, I didn’t realize that the pastorate would be a place where my gifts and talents thrived.
When I was growing up, people always asked what are you interested in and I would respond that I am interested in people. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I loved to care and be with people, but I never thought that my love and care of people would lead me to the pastorate.
I was born in the US, and grew up in a household with Burundian parents who had very different religious perspectives. My mother was a Roman Catholic, my dad was Quaker. Yet, their understandings of God and the church, broke boundaries of fundamentals and absolutes, and was centered on love and community. Both of my parents, experienced the painful tragedy of genocide that ripped through their country of Burundi in 1972 and 1994. My family was deeply impacted by the war, and it was faith that offered my family a sense of being. In the chaos of war, faith became a foundation and a sense of freedom for my family, that the war could not destroy. Faith for my family provided a spiritual and physical stability in the midst of very difficult times. And seeing my parents live their faith in the midst of such a grave tragedy, allowed faith to become real in every aspect of my life. And as my faith, and understanding of God grew, I began questioning if the faith of my family is the reason why I cared for people so much? Is the faith of my family the reason, why I pursue acts of justice and compassion? And when will the faith of my family become my own?
These questions rattled my entire being as a grew up as a first generation African American in white suburban American Churches, that did not know the sufferings of war.
I can’t say that suffering did not occur in these places, but there was a different narrative of suffering. In some of these spaces faith was not a foundation for being like it was for my family, rather faith was simply another material that could be consumed or ignored. And it was in these spaces where I lived out, the faith that I knew that was part of my being. Monica A. Coleman describes it “as a faith that liberates.” In the churches that I grew up in I lived a faith that liberates. It is faith that goes beyond having the right answers to questions but as poet Rainer Maria Rilke eloquently describes, “live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will find them gradually, without noticing it, and live along some distant day into the answer.”
And so that is what I did. I began to live out the questions of my faith to seek my liberation, not just to have the right answers.
Those questions surrounding my faith pushed me towards different opportunities in social justice. I advocated for those who experienced the injustice of being unhoused, enslaved as child soldiers, and exploited in sex trafficking. Eventually, those experiences led me to new questions that liberated my old understandings and led me to something new and different. I was led to seminary. In August 2012 found myself at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. It was in the sacred space were I learned to ask different questions, questions that led me into spaces of healing and confronted who I was becoming with every answer that was exposed.
In seminary, I grappled with the power of my voice, the tragedy of my experience with trauma and my family’s trauma. And as I did the the work of discovering who I am, faith for me became my own. My own way of being, my liberation, and then I became a pastor.
What is your perspective on being a ‘black’ clergy woman in today’s America?
My perspective on being a black clergy woman in today’s America is that our experiences of blackness and womaness are so significant to the gospel story, that our voices must be shared, and when our experiences are told as testimonies of faith, lives and this world will be transformed.
When I was in college I had a classmate tell me “Wow Laura, you have three strikes against you. You are black, a woman and a black woman.”
When my classmate said that, I didn’t realize that the last one was a third strike. However, as I have entered into a field where the white male voice has dominated what is known as the “gospel truth”, I do not see my identity as a black woman being a strike against, rather my voice is a necessary witness that strikes back against all the foolishness that has been mistakenly taken as “God’s word.”
I give thanks to the many women such as Dr. Beverly Mitchell, Dr. Shively Smith, Dr. Immaculee Harushimana, Lanecia Rouse-Tinsley, Ciona Rouse, Dian Lammy and many others who have taught me the importance of a black women’s voice to express, and interpret faith through a different lens and with a deeper understanding.
What obstacles do you face in the church because of your race and gender?
As much as I believe that a black woman’s voice is essential to the narrative of faith in the today’s church, the greatest obstacle I face in church is not being heard.
Although, there have been many people who have come before me, and they have led the way. There are still some who choose not to listen or acknowledge my position as a pastor.
I have had people say “never in a million years did I ever think you would be the pastor of this church” And then I jump to quickly ask why, and see how embarrassed they are by their own answer.
I am not heard, because the systems of racism, white supremacy and sexism are obstacles that get in the way of people listening. Regardless, these obstacles do not silence me, but motivate me to speak louder.
How has your presence altered perspectives on the church by people who aren’t necessarily church goers and on the people who attend your church?
Haha! I love this question! I am very intentional, about when I tell people that I am the pastor of the church.
Everyone has there expectations and judgements of what a pastor looks like. I always introduce myself first, and then share that I am the pastor.
I do this because I know its not typical for people to see a young black female pastor, but I also do this because I want people to meet and see me, before they meet and see their judgments.
My presence has altered many perspectives of people at the church, and non-church goers. My prayer is that their change of perspective will lead to change in their minds and hearts, that will release their judgements, build community, and end racism.
(photo credit: Lauren Brooke Turner)
Tags: church, faith, leadership, news, process, religion, wellness