How does the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry spent her birthday? She attends an ordination service for a remarkable woman minister, of course! On November 30, I celebrated my fifty-third birthday at Cornerstone Church in Snellville, Georgia, participating in the ordination of Kenza Gumbs. It was an extra special ordination for Cornerstone is my church, and Kenza is my friend.
Kenza is the assistant minister at Cornerstone. She teaches Sunday School, preaches once a month, sometimes more, and she can pray fire down from heaven. She has been a member at Cornerstone for nearly six years and has been serving the church almost that long. When I joined Cornerstone just over three years ago, thanks to our pastor, Gwen Brown, I suddenly found myself on Sunday mornings sitting next to Kenza on the platform, sharing the leadership of worship. I was thankful for her presence there for she taught me the little things. She reminded me about having the congregation stand for the reading of scripture. She handed me my white gloves just before communion. She bridged the cultural gap, teaching me Cornerstone’s traditions and African American church customs.
On the day of Gwen’s funeral, Kenza sat next to me as we ate a late afternoon lunch in a large church fellowship hall. That was the day we truly bonded. Our grieving drew us together and continues to draw us together. In the sixteen months since Gwen’s death, Kenza and I have sought to support and care for our new pastor, Charles Brown, Gwen’s husband. We each preach about once a month, and in this past year, a new tradition has developed. Every time I preach—as I walk away from the pulpit—Kenza meets me halfway. She embraces me and speaks words of affirmation to me. Every single time I preach at Cornerstone I am hugged and encouraged by Kenza. Every single time.
On the day of her ordination, I laid my hands on her shoulders and prayed God’s blessings on her as she continues in her ministry at Cornerstone and then I drew her into a hug. It seemed like the only fitting response.
This past Sunday, just one week after her ordination and only days after the grand jury did not indict in the Eric Garner case, Kenza and I headed to the back of the church following the worship service. We stood side-by-side while the praise team sang a final chorus. Then she reached out and put her arms around me and hugged me close.
In the past few weeks as I have sought to express my thoughts about what has happened in our nation, I have found no words. I can’t seem to articulate my feelings of outrage or anger. I have no wisdom to share. No helpful advice to offer. But this past Sunday, Kenza, with her actions, offered me some guidance. She showed me that sometimes the best thing we can do is open our arms to each other and hang on.
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.