Dear siblings of Duke Memorial,
“Thank you” simply doesn’t feel like a significant enough phrase to express my endless appreciation for the gift of my sabbatical. So, my family and I want to share a few glimpses of gratitude from our experiences over the past three months to give voice to our thanksgiving to you, and to God.
It’s hard to summarize what has occurred in the past twelve weeks. To some, it might seem to have been unproductive. I haven’t written a book, or researched a thesis, or taken self-improvement courses, or cleaned out my house, or done mission work, or built anything significant. In fact, most of the projects I started are still unfinished. And I’m okay with that.
The first few weeks I hibernated; letting my mind get quiet and my body rest and restore. I met weekly with my therapist almost the whole three months. Just about every Thursday I spent hours in Greensboro with my mom and my Granddaddy. We ate lunch, chatted, and did some sorting and cleaning out of his house, which often led to hearing family stories I’d forgotten or never heard. I started making a quilt. I visited with friends. Seth and I took a restorative island vacation around our 15th anniversary, and we took Lucy and Teddy on a fun road trip to experience the magic of Harry Potter World. I only opened my laptop a handful of times, and it was only to work on Shutterfly photo albums or to write poetry. I read and read and read (I stopped keeping track, but my estimate is over 30,000 pages of fiction). If you need a trashy beach read I can recommend several! One of the few non-fiction books I read was Wintering by Katherine May, in which she writes with profound beauty about the power of rest and retreat. My sabbatical looked much like how she describes the practice of wintering: It’s a time for reflection and recuperation, for slow replenishment, for putting your house in order. Doing those deeply unfashionable things - slowing down, letting your spare time expand, getting enough sleep, resting - is a radical act now, but it is essential.
Another phrase that came to be a guiding principle of my time was one I learned through watching the brilliant Brene Brown’s newest series Atlas of the Heart (a series I recommend that all human beings watch, or at least read her book of the same title). One of the concepts she addresses is the notion of “overwhelm” which, for me, resonated with the feeling of burnout. Brene posits, alongside other researchers, that the only truly helpful and healing cures for overwhelm are nothingness and play.
Nothingness and play shaped much of my past twelve weeks, often taking the simpler forms of rest and joy.
And I bring these guiding words with me as I return to you. The past two years have been so very hard for so many people, and feelings of burnout are at an all time high. The precious and immeasurable gift of a twelve week sabbatical is not possible for everyone; and I acknowledge the privilege from which I write. But I want to urge you - no matter your age, your vocation, how full your plate is, no matter where you are in your life journey - to find ways to embrace rest and joy as often as you can. They truly are acts of resistance, as well as deeply and transformationally healing.
I return to you feeling more complete and whole than I have in years, thanks, in large part, to the rest and joy I encountered in my time away. And, just like each of you, my healing work is not complete. My therapist and I will still meet, I will be purposeful about finding (or making) pockets of time for creative writing or silly play, and I am committed to a better rhythm of rest; all with the aim of maintaining that wholeness, and living with intentionality into all that God has called me to be.
Thank you for the gift of this time and space. Thank you to the staff and leaders who have stepped up and stepped in to make it possible, in ways big and small. Thank you for your prayers while I was away, and thank you for welcoming me back. I am grateful for you, and lift thanksgiving to the God who created us for the purpose of joyful relationship, and then rested.
All my love - Jennifer
Dear Duke Memorial Family,
Thank you for giving Jennifer and our family the gift of sabbatical. We remind our children that resting enables their play; that it makes possible their growth and their development and their giving back to the world. Sabbatical has been such a time of rest and rejuvenation - a rare experience in ministry life and one we’re grateful for. Thank you for creating restful space for her and for us.
We have missed you. I especially missed you during basketball season…and Tobacco Road rivalries aside, we are excited to be back with you! It seems to me that the mark of a good period of rest is a feeling of excitement that it’s coming to an end. We are energized to play, grow, and give back alongside you as Jennifer returns to ministry.
With appreciation, anticipation, and love,
I’m glad mom got to have a sabbatical because it made things easier for everyone. I really enjoyed our trip to Harry Potter World and I’m so glad mom could go with us. It was also nice that she could pick us up from school sometimes when our grandparents didn’t and have evenings together. I loved getting to spend more time with my mom. Thank you for letting my mom go on sabbatical. I’m glad to be coming back to church to see friends and all of you again and play a lot together!
Dear church family,
I have really missed all of you during my mom’s sabbatical (I also missed the foosball table). I have learned how to sew from mom because she had lots of extra time at home (let me know if you want me to make you a pillow!) We also got to take a family trip to Harry Potter World in Florida! That was amazing and I loved it. I also enjoyed watching movies together and having relaxing family time. We also had more dinners together and I got to share sushi with my mom. Also, it has been nice that she could snuggle me to sleep many nights. Thank you so much for letting my mom have a sabbatical. I am also excited to be back at church with you.
To celebrate, here is a joke of the day:
Q: What time do ducks wake up?
A: The quack of dawn!
Dear Church Family,
I have an exciting update about our anti-racism work. On Tuesday, March 22, the Church Council met to review the report and consider the recommendations of the Anti-Racism Task Force (ART Force). As you will remember, the ART Force was created by the Church Council in 2020. It was directed to identify ways in which our church contributes to systems of racism and anti-racism, and to present recommendations to the Church Council on how to become an anti-racist church. After reviewing the report, and at the recommendation of the ART Force, all present members of the Church Council voted to create a new standing committee to advance not just our anti-racism work, but all of our anti-oppression work as we name it in our Welcome Statement. This is the next step on a long journey that we know is just beginning. In the next few weeks, the Church Council will invite the congregation to one or more Visioning Sessions to allow the congregation to hear the ART Force presentation, share what excites you, what concerns you, and vision together about the anti-oppression work that is yet to come. The ART Force report itself is now available on the church website here, and paper copies are available in the church office.
I want to thank the ART Force for their incredible, important, and holy work: Caleb Parker (chair), Jennifer Shingleton, Ginny Ghezzo, Craige Summers, Kerry Averette, Jackson Carroll, Haven Biddix, Fuller Sasser, Jr., Angie Hong, in collaboration with ministry team members Heather Rodrigues, Garrett Rocha, and Jennifer Ingold Asbill.
I look forward to continuing the journey with you.
2022 Church Council Chair
What do saints do? Saints, Catholic or otherwise, have stories attached to them. These stories share and reinforce Christ's teachings serving as a witness and a testimony of God's faithful work in the world. They are an important part of modern day faith because they aim to inspire and teach morals, theological ideas, and to provide faithful examples of what it means to be a follower of God.
As United Methodists we celebrate the saints on an annual basis after Halloween. For the most part, John Wesley cautioned against the celebration of the saints in fear that the saints would be too highly regarded and become idols. And yet, All Saints day was Wesley's favorite holiday! Wesley understood All Saints as an opportunity to give thanks for all those who have gone before us. It is a time for us, as a community of faith, to celebrate our history, our tradition. We are a part of a long history that goes back through John Wesley, to the early days of the church, the apostles, and all the faithful before them. When we celebrate the tradition of the church through sermons, prayers, books, music, and past Christian lives, we understand that each of those sources have understood the work of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in their lives and expressions.
Who makes the cut as a saint? Alongside Paul, Martin Luther,and the Wesley brothers, Saints are family members, pastors, Sunday School teachers, and youth leaders who may have first introduced us to Christ or extended a kind gesture in love.Our Saints are those, both the living and who have passed on, who inspire us. They are who is reflected in our welcome statement, those of every race, faith, nation, gender identity, sexuality, socioeconomic background, and mental and physical ability. Join us over the next four Sundays as we celebrate the Saints in our lives.
Anti-Racism Task Force
September 2021 Update
The Anti-racism Task Force was appointed by Church Council in August 2020 to identify ways in which DMUMC contributes to systems of racism and anti-racism and share with Church Council ways we can become an anti-racist church.
But why does becoming an anti-racist church matter? “Love the Lord your God....(it says in Luke 11:25-29)....with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And we hear from Amos 5 that to love is to fight for justice- justice that rolls on like a river. As Christians, we believe the work of anti-racism is the work of mercy and justice as we seek to love our neighbor as ourselves.
And we’re not the only ones doing the work! The United Methodist Church has undertaken the work of anti-racism for years through the General Commission on Religion and Race founded in 1968. The North Carolina Conference under the leadership of Bishop Ward has also been promoting anti-racism work. And we join several other churches here in Durham on this journey as well.
In 2016, following the death of Michael Brown, Duke Memorial began to pray, preach, teach, and discern what it means to be an anti-racist congregation. Most recently, in 2020, new investments and commitments were made, the Anti-Racism Task Force being one of those.
So far, the Task Force has spent time together learning about the history of our city and our church, and discussing what we believe are important ideas to become an anti-racist congregation. We asked church leaders to complete an inventory on racial equity with their committees, allowing them to reflect on how their work may contribute to or hinder racial justice. And we realized that, to do this work well, we needed professional expertise.
We are excited to announce that, with approval from Church Council, we have hired local consultant Alicia Crosby to guide us in our work!
Alicia’s consultation with us will include a congregation survey, meetings with the ART Force, and listening sessions with the congregation. The work of the Task Force will conclude in November in a final report with recommendations for next steps to become an anti-racist church. The report will then be given to the Church Council, who will decide on the next steps.
From you, friends, we ask for participation in the process - sign up for a listening session, complete a survey*, pray for the journey, and offer grace: Grace for ourselves, and grace from each other in order to do this important and difficult work well. We will mess up, most certainly, and from our mistakes will learn a better way even as we will be amazed again, through the difficult work ahead, just how mighty God is when we step out in faith in the name of justice, hope and love.
Rev. Heather Rodrigues
Chair, Anti-racism Task Force
*Information coming soon about upcoming listening sessions and survey opportunities.
A Statement From Your Ministry Team
The book “White Awake” was pulled this past week from our spiritual formation offerings due to the anti-LGBTQ+ stance of both the publishing company and the author. In our journey towards full inclusion, we recognize the intersectionality of justice and welcome for all: To seek to create equity and justice for People of Color without also doing the same for all oppressed people including LGBTQ+ persons is to undercut Jesus’ call to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We are grateful for those who brought this to our attention even as we grieve having made a decision that necessitated such a response.
The work of creating God’s kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven is a journey full of praise and pain, celebration and grief. Even as we give thanks for Duke Memorial’s commitment to the work of full inclusion for all of God’s children, we lament the ways our work has, at times, caused further pain and trauma to the very ones we seek to love. Even though our intent in offering this study was good and lovely, we name and lament that the impact caused harm.
To that end, we will replace “White Awake” with a study that explores the journey of anti-racism within the context of our Christian faith, written and published by those who seek the same justice for LGBTQ+ persons. As well, we will re-evaluate our Anti-Racism Formation Guide and remove any resources from authors or organizations that do not align with our welcome statement.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Heather Rodrigues
Rev. Jennifer Ingold Asbill
Minister Garrett Rocha
What is the ART Force?
The Anti-Racism Task Force is Duke Memorial's team appointed by Church Council in August 2020 to (1) identify ways in which DMUMC contributes to systems of racism and anti-racism, and (2) to share with Church Council ways we can become an anti-racist church. Our work has been evolving, and we have been meeting since August to explore terms and ideas. We are now at the stage to hear from church members, and we explain more about that in a later section.
Why do we need an an Anti-Racism Task Force?
Racism--a worldview that is established in our political, economic, cultural, and social systems, where one race is viewed as being more important than another--is a powerful and omnipresent oppressive force against Black People, Indigenous People, and People of Color. We acknowledge that racism is a system, meaning that the power that white people have collectively goes beyond the individual actor. We recognize that the contributors to racism come from many levels, and that to dismantle racism in our communities and at Duke Memorial, we must address all of these contributors appropriately who benefit from racism in the form of white privilege: us as individuals, the corporate institution of Duke Memorial, and the greater UMC.
We are doing the work of anti-racism because it is part of our Christian calling. We know from Luke 11:25-29, that we are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And we know from Amos 5:24, that we are called to do justice: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” We believe the work of anti-racism is the work of love and justice.
Who else is doing this work?
We are not alone in doing this work. The United Methodist Church has undertaken the work of anti-racism for years through the General Commission on Religion and Race founded in 1968. The North Carolina Conference under the leadership of Bishop Ward has also been promoting anti-racism work. More recently in the wake of anti-Black violence and the Black Lives Matter response of 2020, Duke Memorial decided to seriously invest energy in our own anti-racism work, and creating this task force would build off the important and intense work of the Full Inclusion Task Force. Duke Memorial has assembled some content already and was put on the website over the summer.
How can you be a part of our Anti-Racism work?
In the months of April and May, the ART Force will host several Listening Sessions, where you can offer your thoughts about the work of anti-racism. The sessions will be about one-hour long, structured with questions and moderated so each person can respond. Your thoughts and ideas will help shape how we move forward to become an anti-racist church. Please contact Caleb Parker (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you would like to be a part of this. More details on the sessions will be shared in the coming weeks.
What we ask of you.
Grace. We ask grace for ourselves, and grace from each other to do this important and difficult work well. We will mess up on our path of good intentions, and we will learn from them to do better. We have found just how difficult and complex this work is, and know that to become an anti-racist church will require all of us working together with purpose and grace for our lifetime.
ART Force Members
Caleb Parker, Jack Carroll, Jennifer Shingleton, Kerry Averette, Craige Summers, Fuller Sasser, Haven Biddix, Ginny Ghezzo, and Angie Hong.
January 8, 2021
We the pastors and Church Council of Duke Memorial United Methodist Church in Durham, NC, appreciate the commitment to duty and courage of the legislators who, on Wednesday evening, conducted the business of the nation in the face of violence and endorsed the votes of all Americans in the election of our next president. We thank the law enforcement, Secret Service, and military personnel who placed themselves in danger to protect others. We pray for those killed, injured, or terrorized by the violence, and for those who feel unheard and unsupported.
At the same time, we denounce those who invoked the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus, during their violent assault on the United States Congress. Jesus calls us to reconciliation with God and with each other. When Jesus’ own disciples took up arms against Roman oppressors seeking to remove him and kill him, Jesus stopped the violence and healed the injured Roman. Jesus embodied self-sacrificing service for the sake of others, a willingness to die rather than violently insist on his own agenda. We are saved by Jesus, not by our violence.
As a church, we again commit to stand up and speak out against evil, oppression and injustice in whatever forms they present themselves as we seek to love as Jesus loved: not in ways sentimental but in ways that lead to justice, mercy, forgiveness and grace for all.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Hebrews 12:14-15)
2021 Church Council, Duke Memorial UMC
Rev. Heather Rodrigues, Lead Pastor
Rev. Jennifer Ingold Asbill, Minister of Children and Pastoral Care
Statement crafted by
Rev. Heather Rodrigues, Rev. Jennifer Ingold Asbill,
Rev. Renee Burnette, Jim Coble, and Gair McCullough
As United Methodists we are clear in our convictions. Since the early 1900s our denomination has advocated for the rights of marginalized communities (learn more). Those early calls for justice became what we now call the United Methodist Social Principles, a collection of values for Methodists around the world.
Duke Memorial, voting is an essential action in our advocacy for the basic rights of our community, and we call upon you to vote this election.
Is there a principle that matches your current passion? Take it home and tell your neighbors #Ivotetheprinciples
Want to know more about the principles? catch up with the General Board of Church and Society.
Want to know more about voting? check out dcovotes.com
Use the Social Principles Voter Guide from the NC Conference Board of Church & Society
The strength of a political system depends upon the full and willing participation of its citizens. The church should continually exert a strong ethical influence upon the state, supporting policies and programs deemed to be just and opposing policies and programs that are unjust. - UMC Social Principles 164.5.b
Churches! Where are you?
A message from Pastor Heather
"We recognize that this work is a journey.
It's long, it's personal, it's emotional, it's messy, and it's tough.
Still, we say yes.
In the name of a God who allows us to begin again and again.
In the name of God with brown skin, Jesus, who marched against discrimination all the way to the cross and whose redeeming love empowers us to do the same."