Changing Church: Rev. Dr. Genny Rowley, Pastoral Theologian, Pastoral Counselor, and Local Church Pastor, Dallas, Texas

Rev. Dr. Genny Rowley

 Advent Invocation

She comes to us like fresh air in a stifled room:
Signaling our hearts to prepare for the unexpected, the subversive, the truly joyful, & deeply thoughtful.
This candle reminds us of the light of hope. 
In the stillness of our worship here, we light this candle,


and we affirm once again that we are a people of God.
  (The candle is lit.)
Let us remember that without hope, 
people struggle to find their way.
May this flame stay bright within us, now and in the days to come as chances to partner with Hope make their way into our everyday lives.

Prayer of Awareness

Presence!
Silence.
Gaze of Love, you hold us close.
Sensing this Mystery
So great that the limits of language are clear. 
Be among us – in, around and through us –
drawing us towards
collectedness:
Embodied lives of patient, justice-making love.

Farm Blessing

We gather with eyes open wide,
         Creative Presence connecting with the generative soil beneath our feet. 
         This is a place of life, green and growing,
         And complexity: some things live well here, and some things struggle. 
         And mystery: who can say what tomorrow will bring? 
 
So we gather this day:  hoping to bless this land, and how it reminds us to live:
         mindful and aware of our neighbors, the people and plants and bees,
         thankful and active in our vocations and communities,
         justly and kindly in our comings and goings
         open to the stirrings of Spirit of Life, who is always making things new.
 

These are among Genny Rowley’s creative blessings and prayers, demonstrating her belief that “offering a rich variety of names and images for the Divine is an act of radical hospitality that can connect unique individuals to the mystery we call God.”

Through liturgy, social activism, and academic research, Genny invites care of all creation. Genny recently completed her PhD in Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Care at Brite Divinity School with a research focus on “congregational groups who are doing ecological justice work as acts of care for the wider Earth community.” She serves as the Alliance of Baptists liaison to the National Council of Churches Ecojustice program and as a part-time chaplain, pastoral counselor, and liturgist. She was recently accepted into the interfaith GreenFaith program that provides training and community for religious environmentalists through retreats, monthly webinars, ecotheological statements, and individual projects. Also, she writes about environmental activism on her website (http://www.gennyrowley.com/) and for The Huffington Post.

Genny Rowley grew up in non-denominational evangelical churches that were very conservative theologically. Her training as a social worker led her to question this theology. “I hit the limits of that kind of theology through caring deeply about social justice,” she says. “One question about why fighting for people’s full humanity matters led to another, and before I knew it, I was in seminary. I owe my professors a great deal. I was terribly frightened of how my worldview was changing, and their compassion and thoughtfulness enabled me to be honest with myself and search deeply for what mattered to me in my free-church tradition. I joined the Alliance of Baptists in 2007. As my vision of just love expanded, I couldn’t ignore the ways we human beings treat creation like an object for our use, rather than a partner in the community of life.”

So, for her PhD research Genny is finding faith communities that are trying to change that relationship with creation at the grassroots level. She states: “I’m inspired by the congregations that I’ve studied. These communities are really transforming the churches they are involved with, creating language bridges between their love of nature and their faith traditions, making connections between social and environmental justice, and highlighting all of the ‘green spaces’ in the Christian tradition. In my work as a scholar, I’m trying to shift our understanding of humanity towards being part of a sacred web of life, all of which is sacred and part of God’s being-in-the-world. Without valuing our connectedness to creation, we miss part of God’s expression.”

Genny’s passion for environmental justice grew from her ministry as a social worker, chaplain, pastoral counselor, teacher, and theologian. “I’ve spent a lot of time caring for people in different ways,” she says. “I’ve come to believe that you can’t care well for people if you don’t also care for our planet! We, too, are a part of nature—not separate from it. We breathe air, eat food, and drink water each day in order to live, and the pain of the environment is also our own. This can show up through sadness when a favorite stand of trees is paved over for a shopping center, through the soaring childhood asthma rates in urban areas, through the obesity epidemic plaguing our nation as a result of overconsumption of processed foods, and through the need to heat and cool our inside air in the increasingly extreme weather we experience as a result of climate change.”

Ecofeminist scholars have helped Genny understand the connections between the oppression of women and the oppression of the natural world. “Changing our relationship with the Earth from one of mastery over something to one of kinship and respect is vital if we are to flourish spiritually, and if we are to physically survive as a species. Moving from relationships of acquisition, where we have to possess something to be happy, towards relationships of presence, where we seek to genuinely connect to those beyond ourselves—human and otherwise—is a central task of ecofeminist worship.”

Inclusive language, Genny believes, is vital to this worship. “In my work as a pastoral counselor and chaplain, I’ve seen over and over again how our language plays such a huge role in creating our worldviews and self-identity. I recall the first time I read the NRSV translation of the Bible in my teenage years; I didn’t know why exactly, but I felt like the text spoke to me in ways that other translations I owned didn’t. Looking back, I realized that was my first experience with the power of inclusive language, and have since been an advocate for radically inclusive and expansive language.”

Including Divine Feminine language and women pastors in worship will open possibilities for changing churches and the wider culture, Genny states: “It’s my hope that gender inclusive leadership, language, and theology will create space for authentic and fulfilling relationships between people of all genders, sexualities, races, classes, ages, and abilities. Changing the way we talk about the Divine and one another helps open up possibilities for creative love and kinship between all people, removing an unhealthy level of competition and insecurity that comes with being an object on a hierarchical scale. I think it expands our idea of hope and possibility when we see that Love and leadership have so many forms and faces.”

Even though church has been an “edge-place” for Genny and she has thought often about leaving, two things keep her coming back: “connections to genuine, interesting, and thoughtful people; and hope that things never stay the way they are forever.” She realizes that for change to happen, she has “to step up and participate.”

Genny has stepped up and participated in changing churches in many ways, including how they talk about the Divine. “The idea of the Divine is primarily mystery for me, and most church experiences I’ve had talk about what we ‘know’ about God. I’d much rather talk about what we don’t know! Our human experience is so small and so sacred—putting our experiences in conversation with our living faith traditions gives me hope that they can change as we change, through Divine Wisdom breathing us forward into the future.”

Genny articulates a hopeful, expansive vision for the future: “I hope for a day when the idea of Mother-Sister-Daughter God is a comforting norm for people of faith, instead of something people fear, and for a day when acting in the interest of the whole community of Earth is second nature. I hope for a time when dominant notes in our faith traditions ring out all the ways people do justice, love kindness, and walk in genuine humility together. I pray for a day when our idea of heaven is bread for all who are hungry, clean water for all who thirst, and a place at the table for every member of the community of life on this planet. I dream of no less than heaven on earth, because I have seen glimpses of it in the here and now—in stands of old growth forests, in the community gardens feeding hungry families, in the delight of children as they discover something new and wonderful. I hope quite stubbornly that if we dream passionately and act faithfully, She creates this future with and through us.”

In an article in The Huffington Post entitled “Food, Farms and Faith: Priorities for Faith-Based Advocacy on the Farm Bill,” Genny expands the table metaphor, connecting it to her Christian tradition: “Christianity envisions people gathered around a table as one of its central symbols: We come together through breaking bread and drinking from a common cup. These are practical symbols, pointing to our interdependence in creation, each other and in God. Asking those that represent us in government to act for our values is effort worth making. It requires the belief that we are called to participate in stewardship of the land and water on which we depend and to help create a society that promotes human health. To hope for a world where we share a table together, supported by a blessed garden in a circle of abundant life, is faith worth acting upon.” For the full article see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/genny-rowley.

Also, I highly recommend Genny Rowley’s website, http://www.gennyrowley.com/ for more of her prophetic, creative work.

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. Mark Grace
    Posted August 14, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Wow! Great to hear about Genny’s work, Jann and about the worlds of possibilities that it opens up for all of us. Thanks for putting this out there.

  2. Jann Aldredge-Clanto
    Posted August 16, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for your comment, Mark!

One Trackback

  • By “Changing Church” Interview | Genny Rowley on August 15, 2012 at 10:19 am

    […] A big thank you to Jann Aldredge-Clanton, who recently interviewed me about my interest in ecology, liturgy, and community practices for her blog “Changing Church.”  You can read the interview here: Genny Rowley, Chaplain & Pastoral Counselor, Dallas, TX; PhD Candidate, Brite Divinity School […]

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