Hey, I’m Jacqui! What can I tell you about me? Hmm… Well,
I fell in love for the first time when I was eight years old. I was sitting in the pews at a little Presbyterian Church on Chicago’s South Side. My aunt played the organ there; my dad and uncle were elders and my mom sang in the choir. I was taking communion for the first time, and while the little bread cubes were coming my way, Mom said, “This bread means God will always love you.” The bread was the sticky-honey kind that you scoop out the center to put that amazing vegetable dip in. Without dip, it was amazing! When the little cups of grape juice came by, Mom whispered, “This cup means, “God will never leave you.” What?!? Bread this sweet, grape juice making my tongue purple like Kool Aid?? With the help of children’s choir and barn dances, Christmas pageants and Sunday School teachers—I was totally in love with God!!
Later that year, just before my ninth birthday, The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. I was both traumatized and catalyzed to work against racism and poverty in America. It took a minute, because I had heard that women can’t preach, for me to get to seminary. In the meantime, I did great work in the corporate world, learned how to manage big budgets and inspire leaders to lead. Then, at 30, I was confident enough to go to seminary and earn my Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. I LOVED being in school again studying preaching and urban ministry. I started a gospel choir with some friends and put theology, justice and art together in ways that will never leave me. After eight years in Trenton, I went back to school and earned a M.Phil. and a Ph.D. in Psychology and Religion from Drew University. There, I focused on gender and racial/ethnic identity development. Thanks to Dr. King, I wrote my dissertation on how leaders grow multi-ethnic communities that can combat racism and poverty.
When I was doing my research, I went to New York to study Middle Collegiate Church. They opened their hearts to me and decided to keep me! I am now the Senior Minister of this 1,300-member multiethnic, welcoming and inclusive congregation that seeks to not only heal souls but also the world. My job description includes public theology. This means I get to preach most Sundays, plan worship, teach at seminaries, lecture in spaces around the globe, show up on television, write articles and books, create podcasts, and sometimes get arrested. The amazing work my community does has put us in the public square in places like The Today Show, MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, The New Yorker, Essence and The Huffington Post and on stages with Eve Ensler, Richard Rohr, Sharon Brous, Angela Buchdahl, Ruby Sales, Valarie Kaur, Brian McLaren, Wajahat Ali, Linda Sarsour and some famous people from television, film, and stage. I hang with a multiethnic, multifaith, secular bunch of revolutionaries, is my point; my brand of Christianity believes there is more than one path to God, and all of those paths lead to Revolutionary Love.
Speaking of love, my spouse and best friend, The Rev. John Janka and I co-founded The Middle Project, which, along with Middle Church, hosted fifteen annual conferences to train faith leaders to combat racism, poverty and bigotry by growing multiethnic congregations that work for justice. This work has now transformed into a beautiful project called Freedom Rising, which provides antiracism and justice training to pastors, laypeople and secular companies and institutions alike. Education changes the world, and we’re deeply committed to bending hearts toward liberation. Speaking of world changing: When we got married, John gave me the best dowry ever: our son Joel, who married a lovely woman named Gabby. Together, they gave us two grandbabies named Ophelia and Octavius, who teach me daily how to love more deeply.
Despite being warned that women can’t talk in church, I was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and I talk in church almost every day! I am the first African American and first woman to serve as senior minister in the Collegiate Church, which was founded in New York City in 1628. (I’m not saying I’m proud of this history, and how long it took them to hire someone brown; I’m just sharing…) If you want to find my books, they are The Power of Stories: A Guide for Leading Multi-racial, and Multi-cultural Congregations; 10 Essential Strategies to Grow a Multiracial, Multicultural Congregation; and the children’s book, You Are So Wonderful! I’ve collaborated on some books that you can google. And I’m so excited to share my newest book with you, Fierce Love: A Bold Path to Ferocious Courage and Rule-Breaking Kindness That Can Heal the World. Out November 9, you can pre-order it today!Say Hi!