Ordained to Honor, Heal, and Hold Diverse Communities

Julie Todd is an ordained United Methodist (UM) minister, the John Wesley Iliff Senior Lecturer in Justice and Peace Studies at the Iliff School of Theology, social activist, aromatherapist and herbalist. History suggests that Todd was destined to be a clergy person. Both her father and her grandfather are UM clergy. From the age of seven to 18, she was educated to seek justice at Rolling Ridge, a New England UM camp and retreat center, where her father was Director.

I had the beautiful experience of living and working at this camp for elementary, middle school, and high school camp in the summers. Because my father, in particular, came from a long line of social justice Methodists, he recruited camp counselors who were social-justice-oriented. The assumption at the camp was there is no personal holiness without social holiness. There is no redemption without working for the liberation of all people. So it’s no surprise how I ended up.

Among her many ministries, she is one of the leaders of a social justice healing collective, Crescent Moon Healing, in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

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We are a social justice community because we share an ethos that there is no individual healing without community healing. As a collective we work together to provide community rituals whereby folks come together for a variety of reasons. Or we are present within community events to bring grounding, spiritual centering and creating containers for social justice folks in this small city to find healing together. [W]hen I say Community healing, [I am] recognizing there are many forms of injustice and oppression work within this community, as there are within all communities, which impact our health and well-being or our ill health.

Todd lives and works in a diverse community that calls for her leadership in new and creative ways.

[Lawrence] is about 78% Latino. [It is] primarily people who descend from Afro-Caribbean, Puerto Rico, [and] Dominican. Increasingly there are Central Americans and folks from those countries. The majority of those folks (more than 50%) are under the age of 25. So we have an extremely young community. Our public schools are run by the state. It is one of the top three most economically impoverished cities in the state, I believe. So we have this share of obvious matters of justice.

She often stands in gaps where other faith leaders refuse to go.

We try to be as present as we can to provide solidarity and rituals that help people to move through some of these things, in particular young people. So we provided leadership for an Orlando vigil because of most of the faith leaders in our community that were asked to provide leadership would not do so because of its relationship to LGBTQ people. From a faith perspective, they were not willing to do so, so we did.

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After the prayer vigil, people expressed new needs. So Todd, once again, sought ways to help meet the need.

Out of [the prayer vigil] grew an LGBTQ open mic. [W]e are in leadership to provide queer folks who are under the age of 25 a space to express themselves and to create meaning. I couldn’t be more honored to be around them and to just show up and shut up.

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I asked Todd how she defines her ministry.

I would describe it as Christ-based but on the margins of Christian institutions. My own sense of redemption and liberation has always been and continues to be born of and nurtured in a Christian understanding. However, in this community, in many communities, that tradition has done so much damage to people and has been in many cases understood in ways that people do not feel welcome. I often do not use the language, almost any longer, of the Christian tradition in order to meet people where they are.

However, after three years of being here, it is only now that people are coming to know that I am an ordained United Methodist clergy person and that I am a teacher at a theological seminary. They have no idea. Then they see my email and it says, “Reverend Julie Todd.” They’re like, “Wow!”

A lot of these folks have been raised in Roman Catholic and Evangelical communities and are really trying to understand how I am bridging those different ways of operating. People are really asking me much more organically about traditions of Christian faith and the Bible. It’s coming from a place of curiosity.

I asked her if the reason they are opening up to her is because she loved them first.

I want to say I loved them first. I hung out with them first. It’s this whole thing of showing up in community. Showing up, listening and awareness create these baseline opportunities to begin to develop solidarity in community whereby any kind of trust might be built. Then you develop trust across any type of difference.

If they came in knowing I was a minister they would be like —. That was not traditional or strategic on my part.

Dr. Vincent Harding was always encouraging me not to put labels on the things that I do. He would always say he was a follower of Jesus Christ. And knowing that is the ground from which I work, it’s increasingly clear that being able to define something or name something is not helpful.

I am finally doing the ministry that I was called to do in a sense. That includes the online teaching, Love Prevails, herbalism and aromatherapy. These are nourishing of my own faith commitment and deepening my ability to connect with other people in ways that are empowering.

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