Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Cassandra Henderson.
Cassandra, tell us about your ministry journey, the places and ways you have been serving and are serving.
My journey in ministry has felt like driving on a winding road through various terrains, and at times, it has also felt like a rollercoaster with steep hills, loops, twists and turns. In any case, it has been quite a ride and one heck of a journey. To say that this experience is unpredictable is putting it mildly. Responding daily to the call to love and serve while simultaneously trying to remain available for God’s unlimited use is quite the undertaking. That sacred responsibility is coupled with the task of figuring out what it means to be me—an artist, a woman, an African American, a parental guardian, a daughter, an activist, an advocate, a peacemaker, a caregiver, a pastor, an educator, a scholar, a friend, and a Baptist woman in ministry.
I have been blessed to serve every age demographic, gender and sexual orientation identity group, the privileged and the marginalized, the incarcerated and the free, the sick and the well, the dying, the living, the grieving, the thriving, the abused and the abusive, believers and non-believers, interfaith communities—everyone. I have found my voice and the courage to use it along the way. I’ve learned so much about myself, about people and about God and I know that I am barely scratching the surface. This has been a ride to remember, and a journey I will never forget.
I am honored to have been licensed in a small historic Baptist church in the bay area, to have served as the assistant pastor and be ordained in the globally historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, and to now be serving in a thriving church plant in Smyrna, Georgia at The Breakthrough Fellowship. I have seen ministries in their various stages of development and have gleaned so much from each place I’ve served. I am immeasurably grateful for these experiences.
I suppose someone could call me a multi-vocational minister. I’m currently serving as the children’s and youth pastor at The Breakthrough Fellowship. I’m the theatre director at The Weber School, a private Jewish High School in Sandy Springs, Georgia, I co-host The Table Live, a podcast and online interfaith forum with a fellow ministry colleague and friend. I drive for Uber and Lyft, and I am a freelance writer, editor, graphic designer, photographer/videographer, media and web-related marketing strategist/consultant. When I list it all, it definitely feels like a lot, but all of it is simply just ministry.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
God is my source of joy, in life, in love, in ministry. I’ve experienced so many moments of elation. I am passionate about working with young people and with cultivating leaders. I love being creative and innovative—trying something new, taking a leap of faith and learning how to fly, how to fall with grace, or how to get up after a crash landing. I am a builder by nature. So, I love to start with a blank canvas and see the ideas God gives me come together in a way that surpasses anything I could have imagined or done on my own. It’s amazing every single time and it absolutely takes my breath away.
I am admittedly an outdoors person and an introvert. I have found great joy in being in nature and being in quiet solitude—left alone to speak with and hear from God, or simply sit in the presence of God. These moments give me better vision, listening skills and wisdom for the work of ministry by ministering to me.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Some of the challenges I’ve encountered have come from seeing beyond the veil of church. It’s been very disappointing to encounter so much dishonesty. Witnessing so many Matthew 23 clergy who may preach a good word but fail to bring that word to life. They speak about justice but fail to be just in their dealings. There is a huge disconnect between the spoken word and the lived word. The preaching moment is often about getting a shout, applause, or a press conference but beyond that, it’s a show. No substance. The genuine concerns for the people are relegated to photo opportunities and “optics” rather than genuine care, service and love. That’s been a challenge for me. I don’t expect us to be perfect, but I often wonder why it seems like such a challenge for us to be honest—about where we are, who we are, and what we’re really about.
Another challenge is the giant pink elephant in the room, which is patriarchy. It’s real, it’s alive, and the worst part of where we are today is that people “say” socially acceptable things and implement policies that limit the full expression and support of women in ministry. There still are a number of churches that won’t let women preach, pastor, be licensed, ordained, or sit in the pulpit. Women (often in the Black church) are chastised for our attire and accessories. There’s the issue of inequality when it comes to pay and responsibility (more responsibility for less pay). Bullying is real as is harassment by other clergy and parishioners.
The final challenges I will lift here are related to sabbath, self-care, and healthy boundaries. I’ve struggled constantly with this. It’s hard because ministry is demanding and I have often chosen poorly. I’ve said yes to the church and no to my family more times than I care to admit. The no-brainer response, of course, is the reverse. I’m learning how to take breaks and not feel guilty about it. How to say no and keep it moving, and how to set healthy boundaries that respect my time and sacred life spaces. As bonkers as it sounds, I’m learning how to have “real” vacations where I don’t respond to texts, emails, calls and I don’t allow other people’s emergencies to become my own. In essence, I’m reclaiming my time, my vineyard, my life.
What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is discerning a call to ministry?
Run. Run like the wind—in the direction of your call. Don’t be afraid. Don’t limit yourself. Your ministry doesn’t have to look or sound like anyone else’s. Ministry is infinite in its manifestations. There is something that God wants to do through you. Be open to it. The world is waiting for what you’re being called to do, but they won’t wait forever. Just remember, it’s a calling and an invitation, not a right. So, make your decision. Trust God and live your “yes” with everything in you.