In this episode, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling explores the “yin and yang” partnership and world-changing ministry with Rudy and Juanita Rasmus, the founding pastors of St. John’s Downtown United Methodist Church in Houston, TX. Together, they explore what it means for the church to have a heart for service, how to find balance and wholeness amid woundedness, what it means to build the church God intends, and how to become a manifestation of Jesus – wherever we find ourselves.
In 1992, Pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus, two United Methodist lay people, started St. John’s UMC in Houston, Texas, with nine people. The church grew to more than 9,000 members and has changed the region’s cultural landscape. Celebrated as “urban prophets,” the couple recently entered “rewirement,” and serve as directors at Bread for Life and continue their ministries as authors, speakers, and spiritual entrepreneurs, helping to define spirituality for our times.
Questions for Reflection and Extending the Conversation
Bishop LaTrelle Easterling: Beloved of God, I could not be more pleased about today's episode of Thursdays at the Table, where we engage in conversations centered in justice, liberation, and God's unconditional love. Today I welcome two world-renowned pastors, authors, but most importantly, two committed disciples of Jesus Christ. Pastors Juanita and Rudy Rasmus co-led St. John's United Methodist Church in downtown Houston, Texas. They began their ministry in 1992 with nine members, and through their faithful leadership, it has expanded to over 9,000. They co-founded the Bread of Life Ministry, where they distribute over nine tons of fresh food weekly to those experiencing food insecurity. Through generous contributions from individuals such as the Knowles family, they formed the Temenos Community Development Corporation to address homelessness in their community. There's so much more I could talk about. I could spend the entire podcast just listing for you the great ministries that they've been involved in, but I want you to note that they are also authors of several books, including Learning to Be: Finding Your Center After the Bottom Falls Out by Pastor Juanita Rasmus, and I'm Black. I'm Christian. I'm Methodist. by Pastor Rudy Rasmus. Beloved, welcome to the table.
Pastor Rudy Rasmus: Hey, good morning, Bishop.
Pastor Juanita Rasmus: Thank you for having us. Great morning. Great morning. Glad to be here.
Bishop LaTrelle: Thank you, again. I am simply thrilled, and I'm going to try not to be starstruck as I am engaging in this wonderful podcast with you. I want to get to the deepest things we know. Coffee or tea?
Pastor Juanita: Tea.
Pastor Rudy: Coffee.
Bishop LaTrelle: See. All right, my brother. I enjoy a nice cup of tea sometimes, especially with crisp mornings like this, but, oh, I love my coffee. Caffe or decaf?
Pastor Rudy: Caffeinated.
Pastor Juanita: Decaf all the way.
Bishop LaTrelle: All right. See, now look at that. Look, again, isn't it good when brothers and sisters can dwell together in unity amidst their diversity? I love it. I love it. I love it. Often the cup that I have at the table with me represents in some way the guests that I have the privilege to interview. When I thought of you, I couldn't think of anything deeper than love. The cup says today, “I give you a new commandment. Love each other just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” I believe that's how you are serving in the world and how your ministry has been so blessed.
Keeping right in that vein, again, talking about the number of ministries that you're a part of, the number of individuals who have passed through St. John's or the other opportunities you've had to serve, how do you remain humble servants of God amidst your celebrity?
Pastor Juanita: That's a good question. I don't think we consider ourselves celebrities. That's the first part. Golly, the work we started at St. John's was boots-on-the-ground work. You have a picture of what that looked like. On any given Sunday, the plumbing could back up in the men's restroom or the women's. If it was in the women's, I'd go in, unplug it, with the plunger, and then wash my hands and go preach. Our ministry has always pretty much looked like that. What would you say, Rudy?
Pastor Rudy: My mentor, when we first started ministry, I guess he had a sense that this would work out. What he (God) told me was, don't ever read your press clippings and believe them. I think from that, what he was really saying is really consciously practice some intentional humility, regardless to how good things appear to be. I think if he could even look back at this point, he would say, man, you really did practice intentional humility consistently. It worked out.
Bishop LaTrelle: Amen. Amen.
Even though we laugh as I ask that question, I asked it intentionally because so many see where your lives have taken you, the circles that you walk in, and the opportunities that you've earned. They may be seduced by what they consider to be celebrity. I know from the number of years that I've known you and being in your presence and talking with you that it isn't about celebrity for you. What is the center of your calling?
Pastor Rudy: First of all, I want to say what people don't see are the scars under the wardrobe. Anything that we have has come with a price. What folk are not always really aware of is how high the cost is for what appears to be success. This has been 31 years of ministry. We have seen thousands of people come and go, mostly go. I think in the midst of all of that, the one thing that I think I'm always drawn back to is, whenever I see someone's life that might even appear glamorous, my real question for them is, man, how much does that cost? Would you invest that again? That's the other side of it. You mentioned something, Bishop, that I just want to want to touch on. That is, when I think about the lives that have come through and the circles that we have been a part of just as a result of doing ministry, I think the one common denominator for Juanita and I in all of those circles is we realized that all of those folk, regardless of how wealthy, famous or otherwise, or even infamous they might have been -- they all needed a pastor. That's where we found ourselves actually being people's pastors who never figured that they would need one and ultimately discovered one day that some people really cared about.
Pastor Juanita: When you ask us about what keeps us grounded and what's at the center for me, I'm a contemplative, and I've come to realize that in ministry that I am a person who needs quality time and prayer. For me, that is both the discipline of prayer, where I know that every day I'm going to set some time aside in the morning. For me, mornings is best for me that way. For me, the center is constant communication with God. I loved it when people were wearing the Bluetooth. Now they're doing the iPods in their ears. Right? You see people walking around, they're talking, and you're thinking to yourself, who are they talking to?
For me, that's the model of the life I want to live. That is that I am in constant communication with God. I'm asking God, okay, what's the next step? What is it that you're inviting me to do here? Who are you inviting me to be here? I think one of the things that's worked so really well for Rudy and I, as a couple in ministry, is that when we first started in ministry, we were in business together before. We had a sense about each other's strengths. Right? Whenever the work list came together, we tore it in half along the strength lines. He got his strength stuff and I got my strength stuff. His is in front of the room, often in terms of moving the mission forward, casting vision.
Mine is in the back room where we're praying, okay, God, show us the way. For us, that's how it's worked. That's what centers us. I'm just so grateful that we have that partnership where he's the yin and I'm the yang, or when I need to be the yin and he needs to be the yang, that we're there. I think the key in this relationship, because our ministry has been so much a part of our relationship, idea that God is at the center. Good, bad, or indifferent. When I like what Rudy says, God's at the center. When I don't like what he says, God's at the center. You get to this place where you're saying, okay, God, show us the way. I don't have to win. Show me the way. Put us on the same page with where you want us to go as leaders, as a couple, as parents, and all the different roles that we play. Yes, keeping grounded in the ways that are life-giving for the individual, grounded in the presence of God. Rudy loves the beach. We have to go to the beach on a regular basis, because that's where he taps into the power and the magnificence of God. We have to stay connected in the ways that keep us individually and neutrally connected.
Bishop LaTrelle: I'm so glad you expounded on that, that way because for me, part of one of the -- I don't know that it's a temptation. I think it's a side effect of being in ministry, is that we often forget we're still disciples. Right?
Pastor Juanita: Exactly.
Bishop LaTrelle: We still need our spiritual nurture. We've not somehow arrived, right? We're there, all right, wherever there is, and we're just trying to bring these other folk along. I often think that -- and we'll talk about the trauma and burnout that we know clergy are experiencing. We'll talk about that a little later. I think some of that is because we don't continue to have that contemplative prayer. We don't stay connected. I think early in our ministries, I know most of us are on our knees continually because we don't know necessarily what we're doing. We have not had good experiences. I think sometimes after we've got some years under our belt, then we begin to forget to have those disciplines, those spiritual disciplines that you talk about. I'm glad to hear you say that.
Pastor Juanita: Could I say also that sometimes I don't know if it's a forgetting or if it's a prioritizing. I have this belief, and that is that many of us get called to ministry, and we think it's our gift. The reality is it's our woundedness that drives us, just as the disciples. How many of your friends, when they see you, they come running and take off their clothes like the disciple did, right? [See John 21:7, when Peter is out in a boat fishing, sees the risen Christ on the seashore, and throws off his clothese to run to him.]
Bishop LaTrelle: Right.
Pastor Juanita: We have this need to be healed. What happens is sometimes we let other people prioritize our time. We let the demands prioritize our time. Right. We stop putting ourself on the calendar. We stop putting ourself on the agenda. When I say ourself, we stop putting the prayer time where it's written on the calendar or the meditation time where it's written on the calendar. Slowly but surely, we get on the back burner, and we burn up.
Bishop LaTrelle: I am going to stay centered there. I said we'd come back to it, but your eloquent responses about woundedness and that, I think we're going to continue to investigate. I saw a quote recently, again from Henri Nouwen, that talks about how we take that woundedness and use it in service to others, how we take that woundedness and allow God to use it. What came to my mind was, how do we move from victim to vessel? All right. Can you speak to that? Because I know that you've had some profound experiences of woundedness. You've gone through a serious season of healing. How have you both been honest with yourself about those wounds, but then use those wounds to be a blessing to others?
Pastor Juanita: Rudy, do you want to start?
Pastor Rudy: That's good. I like that. I think if I look back over the last 30 years and reflect on, one, just how many times I have been wounded, and then even reflect on how much woundedness I brought to this work, then I'm sort of reminded of, one, that Nouwen sort of reflection around the healer that's wounded. I think, Juanita mentioned it, in essence, it's our pain and not our gifts that land us often in this work. I think my awkwardness and my quirkiness, my tendency towards dissociating my childhood trauma, I think all of those things lended to a common ground with just a lot of people. I was reflecting when you and Juanita were talking about what centers us.
I think in process what I've learned from Juanita is the need for that centeredness. I have not been a person of profound intentional quiet time and prayer. I am a person who has really thrived in the town square and in the midst of a crowd. What I also see from my own life and in reflecting now, is if I could do one thing over again, I would have stopped more frequently, taken more time for reflection, and probably yielded more devotion towards God. I have leaned a lot over the years on my skill set, and occasionally I would default to God when I'd really get in trouble. Subsequently, Juanita would have to pray us out of situations. That has been our cycle. I think I've lived long enough now to reflect on that, to see maybe if I would pray a little more, she wouldn't have to pray us out of so many situations.
Bishop LaTrelle: I love the honesty. I love the vulnerability. I love it.
Pastor Juanita: As you're talking about woundedness, I think a recommendation that I would make to every person in leadership, whether they're in leadership in ministry or leadership in the world, and the reality is you're leading yourself. You're not leading anybody else. Right? Have a good therapist. The Scripture says, a wise person will seek counsel. Often as leaders in the church, we get thrown into that seat and we've not been trained for that. Get a good therapist, someone that you can talk to. The reality is that I love psychology. I've taken some classes along the way and there's this family theory system that says that we recreate the same chaos that we grew up with in our childhood in our workplaces.
Bishop LaTrelle: That's right. That's right.
Pastor Juanita: I think it's Bowen's Family Theory. The reality is, if I know, and here's the key, we often don't know the impact of our childhood trauma. There is a model called Johari's Window, and it's a four-pane window. One of the panes in that window is the me I see. The other pane is the me I don't want you to see. Then there's the pane that's the me everybody sees. The fourth pane is the me only God sees.
Bishop LaTrelle: God sees. Yes.
Pastor Juanita: We are often operating in those three panes, and those three panes are all skewed perceptions. We bring these wounded selves, parts of us we see, parts of us we don't see, parts of us we're trying to hide. We bring all of that to bear on ministry. The pressures of ministry, the challenges of meetings and demands, and your cousin, the one that molested you, shows up and they're over the board of trustees. It's not the literal cousin, but everything about how that person functions, your five-year-old self is going, oh my God, they're out to get me again.
The necessity of a therapist, then secondly, the necessity of a spiritual director or a spiritual companion. I've had both. I have a good friend. I have several friends who've been spiritual companions for me, but I also have had spiritual directors along the way. We need places that are safe so we can say, am I losing my mind? Is this real? Or am I making this up? We need people who can say, now, I see a pattern with you. I love that about my therapist. She'll say to me, now, Juanita, I believe we talked about something along these lines about six weeks ago.
Pastor Rudy: That's right.
Pastor Juanita: You're going, oh, and I didn't deal with it, huh?
Pastor Rudy: Right.
Bishop LaTrelle: Right. Somebody who will tell you the truth. Thank you so much, Pastor Juanita, for saying that. Everyone who has worked with me, everyone who I serve in these two conferences, I've said repeatedly that we need a therapist, a coach, and a good friend that's not United Methodist that we can call and scream into the phone and say, this district superintendent, this bishop, this person, somebody who's disconnected. We don't have to worry about it showing up what we've shared. You have underlined what I've been saying since I arrived here. Thank you for punctuating that point, because it's real. It's real.
Pastor Juanita: It is real.
Bishop LaTrelle: Especially we need to continue in the Black church to disabuse ourselves of this notion, again, that we can simply pray everything away. Prayer is extremely important. Prayer is the center of who we are. You've talked about that. We need that contemplative, disciplined prayer life. God has gifted psychologists and therapists to walk alongside us and help us to become exactly who God desires us to become. Again, so that we can understand that fourth pane in that window that you talked about.
Pastor Juanita: That's right.
Bishop LaTrelle: Amen. Pivoting to the Black church, Pastor Rudy, I love in your book, your book, I'm Black. I'm Christian. I'm Methodist. you say I'm Methodist for now. That's what you said, for now. You make me think about the comedian Katt Williams. When he was doing a critique of Hillary Clinton's campaign, he said the mistake she made was presuming that she had the Black vote “off top.” Okay, remember, he said, off top. You just think you're going to get that off top. You took us for granted is what she's saying. I often feel like from my own experience, but also what I'm hearing, that we as African-Americans think this United Methodist Church is taking us for granted because we've always been here and during this season of disaffiliation, many of us are not leaving. Talk to me about what you meant when you said, I'm Methodist for now.
Pastor Rudy: I think Katt Williams hit the nail on the head. Let's say the Black Methodist vote has been taken for granted for 60 years or so. Whereas the intention of even the merger might have been rooted in some really just principles, I think along the way, the challenges with who our identities are as a community were somehow lost in the shuffle. When I think about even now, May 28th, Juanita and I rewired. We moved from full-time active ministry to what we call sort of emeritus positions, but down the street. What we also had to contemplate, it was a season in the Texas conference where churches were given literally the freedom to walk away, to walk away without necessarily cost. As a community, we had to come together and to decide, why were we Methodist? Why would we stay? In final analysis, Juanita and I realized that in spite of the flaws of institutional process, this denomination offered an opportunity to lay people with no experience in ministry and limited experience in church leadership an opportunity to serve collectively a community that in many ways had no idea what Methodism was. We found those parameters acceptable enough to fight for change. I think it's the changes that probably needed to occur that brought us to this place. Have those changes occurred completely? They haven't.
St. John's, the church where we served for many years, is an open and affirming community. One of the few African-American communities in the country that says, okay, the LGBTQIA community, you're cool here. Matter of fact, you can even find your place on the pew and you can find your place in leadership. That was uniquely profound. When we think about the parameters that I think our denomination is moving towards, we saw the potential for a more inclusive experience for everyone. Has that happened yet? Not yet. The young leader that followed us, Pastor Tiffany Tarrant, started here when she was seven-years-old. She's 38 years old now. I like to say we sent her to seminary at a good Methodist school at Perkins.
Bishop LaTrelle: Amen.
Pastor Rudy: Right. She got an MD out there. She has moved through the process of ordination. She has followed all of the denominational rules. She has, since our departure, Bishop, has grown revenue and attendance. I think there's a word that I think we should use at this point of the conversation, and it's continuity. Sort of a connection with who we were, but the freedom to be and become who the Creator is really choosing for this community to be and become. In my 67-year-old self, I'm a consummate boomer, but I am probably the world's oldest millennial.
Bishop LaTrelle: All right now. All right. I feel you on that one. All right.
Pastor Rudy: Yes.
Bishop LaTrelle: I'm on that bubble. I'm on the bubble. I am. I was born in 64, so I'm on that bubble. I don't like being called a boomer. I don't like it. I'm on that bubble.
Pastor Rudy: You’re on that bubble. Right. I think in the midst of it, we have an opportunity to dream and create a future for our denomination, for our churches, and for our community. The challenge will be, will the need for institutional survival allow the kinds of freedom needed to morph into that vision for the future? That's where we land.
Bishop LaTrelle: Yes. You remind me of someone that I know we both revere, Richard Rohr, and those Ms that he talks about – those five M’s (human, movement, machine, monument, memory). We're stuck right now in that monument phase, and we've lost the core of the movement. What you're talking about is getting us back to the movement, which was always inclusive, but always kept the beloved community and the kingdom of God at the center. Working toward that, and that's outward-focused, not inwardly focused. Again, survival of the institution. You've hit something profound, but I just have to stop and mark a moment. I have to mark a moment because I carry a little bit of PTSD in me.
From General Conference 2012, we were talking about, again, this tension we've been in around what the discipline says, what many of us hope it will be evolved to say. I stood on the floor and talked about how -- someone had said the only churches that were growing were our more traditional conservative churches. I, as a delegate, went to the floor and said, that is not true, and I started naming the churches that were growing that were open and affirming, and I named St. John's. Someone came to the microphone immediately after me and took me to task and said, don't you say that about St. John's. St. John's is not -- I want my moment of vindication that you have said St. John's has been welcoming and affirming, because I know that to be true. I know that this love revolution that you've led has been inclusive and has been welcoming of all.
Pastor Rudy: Absolutely. I'm going to give you a stat. 30,000 people have joined this church in the last 30 years, walked down the aisle, committed their lives to Christ. Committed their hearts and work to this faith community. What we know is maybe 10,000 of those 30,000 left because of our position on inclusivity.
Bishop LaTrelle: My Lord.
Pastor Rudy: Yes. What I like to do is use an analogy of an emergency room. If you are sick enough, you want to find a place where somebody is skilled enough to lead your body to a better place. Often we find those places being an emergency room. Walk into the emergency room, we don't care what the art looks like on the wall. We don't care what the quality of the furniture is. What we want to know is if there's somebody in there who cares enough to help me feel better. As an emergency room, we have been that here at St. John's for many, many years. As an emergency room, people have walked in, they said, oh man, I needed to be here. I love y'all. Thank y'all for what y'all doing. Then Bishop, damn this thing. You start looking around and you say, hold on, that picture on the wall right there is crooked. I don't like that. Hold on. Wait, this furniture look like -- hold on, this is not the kind of furniture I'm accustomed to sitting on. Who is this in the chair next to me in this emergency room? That person is not from my community, not from my neighborhood. We are not in the same socioeconomic group. I cannot sit here in this emergency room because I'm feeling good enough now to look around and see that I might need to be somewhere else. Now, we have seen that over and over again.
We've seen people walk down the aisle and say, Pastor Juanita, Pastor Rudy, I love you. I love this place. I'm so glad I found y'all. Thank y'all. Then you start looking around and you see, uh-oh, uh-oh, was he here the whole time? Hold on. This is a good one. Were they here the whole time?
Bishop LaTrelle: Were they? That's right. Were they here the whole time?
Pastor Rudy: Were they here the whole time? Then, as that vision begins to heal, our delineations and our preferences also start to manifest. One thing we have learned, though, is the power of, one, committing to a missional focus. Our missional focus from the very beginning was tearing down the walls of classism, sexism, and racism and building bridges of hope, love, and universal recovery. I'm telling you, there have been times, Bishop, where the desire to negotiate that for the sake of institutional survival had creeped in. At a point, we would say, maybe if we could just move just a little more to the right, just maybe we could make that particular group of donors a little more comfortable.
Bishop LaTrelle: There you go.
Pastor Rudy: Then, each time, we would get together and we would say, but that's not being honest. That's not being integral to who we are as an institution. Really, it's not how we view Jesus's principles around love and acceptance. At the end of the day, we defaulted to what we know, what we feel is how Jesus loves. From there, we have made the decision repeatedly to pay the cost for that love.
Bishop LaTrelle: All right. Again, willing to pay the cost. You talked about looking at persons where they are now, the wounds that they carry, the cost that they paid, would they invest that again? What I think I hear you saying is you would invest that all over again.
Pastor Rudy: All over again. In our six months away from, and we've committed to really stay out of our faith community for six months to a year to give new leadership a chance to really establish their leadership here. In the midst of that, we would bump into people every now and then who will see us and say, oh, y'all, looking good. How the hell you think I'm supposed to be looking? Broke down? Like, what? In the midst of it. I said that to say, people, in many cases, feel as though they have done you a favor with their presence when in actuality, our individual missions as followers of Jesus should be to make our presence the literal manifestation of Jesus's love wherever we find ourselves. I don't know, man. I'm still trying to figure this out.
Bishop LaTrelle: Amen. Now, Pastor Juanita, Pastor Rudy talked about that tension that I think all faith communities go through in terms of this temporal need to keep the lights on, the doors open, the heat or the air flowing, whatever the season might require, but also staying centered, again, in who we know God through Christ to be in our work. There's a quote that says, when a church does what it's supposed to do as a church, it transforms not only the lives of its members but the life of their culture as well. How were you able to keep St. John's focus so outwardly manifested? All of the work that's being done, whether it's through Bread of Life, whether it's through the Temenos housing facility is so richly outwardly focused. How were you able to bring the congregation along with you in that work?
Pastor Juanita: I think there's been two things, and this really probably just boils down to one. First of all, the work we've done at St. John's has all been rooted in Matthew 25:35, “when I was hungry, you fed me. When I was sick and in prison, you came to see about me.” Literally every need that's represented in that passage, St. John's has manifested a ministry to fulfill that work. The second thing is you have to keep the vision before the people. You have to keep telling them, this is what we're about. This is where we're going. This is what we're doing. It's just like any other corporate entity that buys advertisements. It's so you won't forget their product. Right?
Bishop LaTrelle: That's right.
Pastor Juanita: We've had to do that because otherwise people get so easily distracted and they begin to think it's all about me, versus saying, I am called to meet the needs of the least of these. Bottom line is we came from the Word, we keep going back to the Word, and we constantly keep the vision before the people.
Bishop LaTrelle: Amen. What would you say to those who know of your ministry and say, well, yes, that's easy to do when you have Bey and others who stop by and just drop a little something, something in the offering plate? What would you say to them about before you had those relationships and yet you were doing transformative ministry?
Pastor Juanita: Here's the thing, and I'm going to give my perspective and I'll let Rudy give his. Here's what I would say. First of all, when there is a vision that people can attach their interest to, a vision that's in alignment with who they are at core, it's easy for people to want to be a part of that. If nobody knows your mission, if nobody knows your vision, then they can't hook up to it. The reality is, when we started this work, we started it with a credit card and every Sunday we would pay off the credit card bills.
Bishop LaTrelle: My lord.
Pastor Juanita: There's a history to everything. The key is you got to have a vision and if you don't keep telling people the vision, they don't know what the heck you're doing. Rudy?
Pastor Rudy: Yes. I would say I tell preachers all the time, pray for the babies. You never know, one day, one of them might grow up to be Beyonce.
Bishop LaTrelle: My Lord. My Lord, indeed.
Pastor Rudy: Watch this. Pray for the babies, one day, one of them might grow up to be Rudy. Pray for the baby, one day, one of them might grow up to be LaTrelle.
Bishop LaTrelle: Say so.
Pastor Rudy: Pray for the babies. Jesus said, “hey, let the children come to me.” When we think about the broader mission of our faith communities, we know that occasionally there will be one who will just emerge out of that crowd, let's say, as a successful product of that community. Now, what does it really say though? It says that if we are faithful over a few things, people, situations, opportunities, then what happens to that moment when the creator says, you know what? You've been faithful here. I know I can trust you with this next opportunity.
If I can tell you the truth, we have literally been consistent with 50 people. We were consistent with 500 people, and we were consistent with 5,000 people. We didn't one day reach a certain number and because our income and our status in the community shifted, more people -- I tell people all the time, I'm an overnight success in 31 years.
Bishop LaTrelle: There you go. All right.
Pastor Rudy: Hey, Bishop, I remember 10 years when folk wouldn't even speak to me. I'm a baseball cap wearing, blue jean wearing, T-shirt, tennis shoe wearing, they said, hold up, you didn't fit none of the criteria that we believe. Now, I can walk show up in my drawers and people say, hey, Pastor Rudy.
Bishop LaTrelle: He's here. He's here. He's in the building.
Pastor Rudy: Yes.
Bishop LaTrelle: He's in the building. You had to get there. That's all right. We tell the whole truth at Thursdays at the Table. We keep it real. It's all good.
Pastor Rudy: You keep it real.
Bishop LaTrelle: Now, speaking of which, many know the story of your goatee, but not everyone does. For the benefit of those who are not knowledgeable, help us understand the goatee.
Pastor Rudy: I was on the beach once. My daughters were little girls and they were getting their hair braided. The sister that was braiding my daughter's hair, I had a beard at the time, they called me Father Rudy. They called me Father Rudy because I was drinking beer on the beach. They said, Father Rudy, can we braid your beard? I said, sure. I'm telling you, Bishop, she braided my beard and as I walked around, I realized, man, people judge me based on my facial hair. Then I said, okay, so you're going to judge me based on my facial hair. That means I get a chance to see who you are before you really get a chance to see who I am.
Bishop LaTrelle: All right.
Pastor Rudy: All right, and it became like a filter, a judgment filter. It was the dark onus thing. People who were open and willing to accept me and to embrace me just with the piercings and all of that stuff. It was just something about those folks that they were ready to take the next step in relationship. The folk who were a little more resistant, I realized I had a little more work to do on them. It's not that I would reject that person's lack of willingness to accept my personhood. I would approach that person based on how I saw their fear manifest around my difference. That's all it is. It's just people don't know who you are, don't know your heart. They're going to basically base their initial assessment of you based on how they have assigned criteria to some stuff.
Bishop LaTrelle: That's right.
Pastor Rudy: It has been a wonderful tool. All over the world, I have met friends and evoked fear and it has been one fun ride. I ain't lying. It's been fun.
Bishop LaTrelle: You point to something that-- oh, go ahead Pastor Juanita.
Pastor Juanita: No, no, I was just responding to him.
Bishop LaTrelle: You speak to something profound because the place where of course we ought to have the least judgment, the body of Christ, is often where we have the most judgment. I recall when I was still pastoring in the local church, and I showed up one Sunday in jeans, okay, a T-shirt. Folks thought I was going to change before I went into the pulpit. I did not, because it was part of the sermon. It was a sign act if you will. It was part of the sermon. The folk humored me and whatnot, but one lady came up to me, one of our senior saints of the church came up to me. She said, now, Pastor, that was nice. Don't do that next Sunday. Okay? Don't do that next Sunday. You really are hitting on something.
It isn't just the folk beyond the walls of the church where we see that judgment. It's too often embedded in who we are as the people of Christ, which then affects our ability to build these relationships, to build these bridges. I know you talk about in your book, breaking through these stained glass windows that not only have obscured our vision, kept us blind to some things, but also don't allow people to look in. We've talked about what the church needs to do to ensure it's not taking the Black church for granted. We've even talked about LGBTQIA inclusivity. How must we be relevant to be able to be in deeper relationship with our young people? That group that everybody claims they want, but I'm not sure is willing to do what's necessary to really form relationships with.
Pastor Rudy: Yes. My dissertation focused on the intersection of Black millennials and institutional religions. I think in that, what we should begin to do is look at gathering imperatives in a more flexible way. We should think about how the expression of people coming together can differ from Sunday morning at 10:00 or 11:00 to any day of the week, any time of the day, and what that contextual experience resembles. Sometimes the goal is fellowship, sometimes the goal is instruction, sometimes the goal is support. Anytime we're together between instruction, support, and fellowship, we can manifest the body of Christ.
What I have found in many of my millennial colleagues is that they have found it in yoga classes, they have found that fellowship and even instruction in yoga classes. They have found that fellowship, that support, that instruction at brunch. We have to begin to look beyond the traditional framework of the hour. Now, Bishop, something else we've got to do, and that is we've got to take a look at our assets, evaluate what we consider an asset even our locations, even our buildings, and determine how we are utilizing those structures, those buildings, those assets for the ultimate mission. Sometimes it requires taking a little risk. I'm going to give you a case in point.
Here we have taken the sanctuary and we realized that there are four, or five days a week that sanctuary doesn't get used, we have given the sanctuary a name. We call it the We Serve Theater. Now we have gone to the marketplace and we have established a partnership with a bookstore, a bookstore of color. That bookstore now, when they host their author talks, they host their author talks in our room. Now, when people come into that room, in many cases, it's the first time they've been in a church without feeling judgment in their lives. They come into the room, they sit, they listen to the author, they look around. I don't necessarily recommend this for churches in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, but we sell a little wine at ours. The monetary benefit of that wine plus the liberation of the spirit as a result of that consumption is just something else. I'll give you a case in point. Last week, Jada Pinkett Smith came through to do a book talk.
Bishop LaTrelle: That's right.
Pastor Rudy: First thing she said was, regardless of why y'all think I'm here, I'm not here to talk about Tupac or Will. I'm here to talk about how Broken Jada is putting her life back together.
Bishop LaTrelle: Amen. Amen.
Pastor Rudy: All right? 500 people who paid $40 a piece to hear her say that benefited the room.
Pastor Juanita: That's right.
Pastor Rudy: Okay?
Bishop LaTrelle: Yes.
Pastor Rudy: Found themselves in a place of acceptance. Got inspired in the process. I guarantee you, somebody in that group came back that next Sunday to take a closer look.
Bishop LaTrelle: Amen. Amen. Again, by being communally focused in the right way, in a relevant way, you not only serve the community, you're furthering the Word of God. Because again, that's why Christ's body was broken, that we might be made whole - that we might be made whole. It's a both/and. You were able to do a both/and. That's the beauty, I think, of when we really do live our faith. That's the beauty. It isn't either/or. It's both/and.
Pastor Rudy: That's right.
Bishop LaTrelle: That's beautiful. That's absolutely beautiful. I'm just going to say, for those in the Baltimore-Washington and Peninsula-Delaware Conferences who heard what Pastor Rudy just said, Bishop's going to tell you some things I oversee and some things I overlook. All right? All right? Come on now. Praise be to God. Praise be to God. You talked about praying for the babies. You make me think of that song, “Somebody prayed for me, had me on their mind. Took the time to pray for me. I'm so glad. I'm so glad. I'm so glad they prayed for me.” I'm so glad somebody prayed for Juanita and somebody prayed for Rudy, because your lives have become a blessing and a balm for so many.
You model, through your marriage, through your ministry, and through your mission, what it is to be committed servants of Jesus the Christ. I count it an honor and a privilege to have been able to be in this conversation with you.
Pastor Juanita: Thank you for having us.
Pastor Rudy: A blessing being with you too, Bishop. I love you and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.
Pastor Juanita: Don't even try.
Bishop LaTrelle: Amen. Amen. Amen. The feeling is mutual. Amen.