Rebuilding the People’s Church


(Image via Christians for Socialism)

I recently completed a research project on the ecumenical dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). As a Roman Catholic student at a Disciples of Christ seminary, I am interested in the historical relationship between these two communions and the broader complexities of ecumenism and dialogue across lines of difference. This research interest led me to remarks by World Council of Churches ecumenist Aram I, who serves as the Catholicos of Cicilia and head of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Aram spoke in 2005 to representatives of the Joint Working Group (JWG) dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches. In this dialogue, he offered a challenge to ecumenical workers, urging them to make their work relevant to the Church universal:

“How many churches, clergy or theologians are aware of the work of the JWG? Its work is confined to a limited circle of ecumenists. To address this situation, the work of the JWG must be related to the life of the church on the local level, and must be appropriated by the churches through a process of ecumenical education. Reaching the local churches: I consider this a major task before the ecumenical movement for the years to come.”

 Aram’s call for a relevant ecumenism that speaks to the needs of the local church reminded me of another challenging call to the Church by Sheila Briggs. At the 2000 gathering of the Women’s Ordination Conference, Briggs challenged dominant views of ordination:

“Sheila Briggs, an African American Catholic religious studies scholar, stated that ordination is by its very nature an elitist practice, one that by definition excludes women (and men) who are not highly educated. She asked, ‘when will the poor begin to celebrate the Eucharist?’

Like Sheila Briggs, Roman Catholic labor leader Dolores Huerta challenged the elitism of Roman Catholic power structures in negotiations with the Catholic Conference of California. When César Chavez asked for a priest to support striking farmworkers, corporate interests convinced bishops to take the priest away.

“Dolores Huerta lead a group of farm worker women into Bishop Manning’s office in Fresno and asked, ‘Why did you take our priest away from the farm workers? We’re not going to leave until we get an answer.’ Bishop Manning said ‘I’m going to go now and pray.’ Two hours later, he came back and said ‘I’ve been praying to the Holy Spirit.’ Dolores and the women said ‘We are the Holy Spirit incarnate. We are the poor!’ He thought about it and agreed.”

The words of Huerta, Briggs, and Aram challenge people like myself who are invested in the world of academic theology. They shake our ivory towers, reminding us that God’s transformative reign of global flourishing, peace, and justice will not be brought about by academic elites. The good news cannot be proclaimed on high from comfortable seats of abstract theological discourse. Our theological debates are meaningless if they have nothing to say to the poor and exploited, to lay members of the local church, and to those whose voices and priestly callings are repressed by the Church because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

How can we debate the two natures of Christ without resisting the exploitation of nature itself? How can we examine the intricacies of the Eucharistic meal without working with those who have no food to eat? How can we wonder about the details of God’s embodiment in the Incarnation without demolishing the material oppressions that the United States’ racist warmongering, policing, and deportations inflict on the bodies of people of color at home and around the world? How can we inquire about the metaphysics of Jesus’ healing while our neighbors die because they cannot afford healthcare? In the words of St. John Chrysostom, how can we see Christ in the chalice, but not in the beggar at the church door?

If we believe Dolores Huerta’s words, that the Holy Spirit is incarnate in the lives of the poor, oppressed, and exploited, then we must change the voices we value:

  • Instead of uncritically praising Pope Francis, we must turn to the survivors of clergy sex abuse he has harmed, the women whose priestly calls he has denied, and queer and trans people who have suffered under the church’s oppression.
  • Instead of centering popular Catholic voices who have the backing of hierarchs and celebrities, we must turn to academic thinkers, church workers, and revolutionaries who have faced excommunication and marginalization for questioning the racialized, gendered, and economic power imbalances of our Church.
  • Instead of believing that the Good News can only flow from respectable institutions of Catholic higher education, we must turn to those workers whose union rights have been denied by Catholic colleges and universities. We must turn to those whose neighborhoods have been gentrified by Catholic schools, and to those who suffer under the boot of US imperialism while Catholic colleges allow military training on their campuses.
  • Instead of presidential candidates, priests, and popes, we must turn to the witness of workers and the laity, knowing that “faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17)

We must revive the call of liberation theologians, re-building a “theology from below” that forms the foundations of a “People’s Church.” When it comes to war and the environment, we must stop thinking like Catholic hierarchs and start thinking like Catholic Workers.

When we dare to dream of a liberating future for all of humanity, we must turn to the witness of the People of God enacted through groups like Christians for Socialism, the Movement for Black Lives, the Catholic Committee of Appalachia, and the Poor People’s Campaign. Instead of dancing around controversial issues in the Church, we must fully affirm the lives, loves, reproductive freedom, and priestly callings of women and LGBTQIA+ people.

It is time to break free of institutions that stifle, and to enact God’s live-giving presence against oppression and exploitation in our local and global communities.


This post is by Tevyn East, creator of the Carnival de Resistance (which will be in Minneapolis September 13-27) and was originally posted on  Miriam is part of an ongoing series on badass women of the bible. If you are interested in contributing a poem, reflection, sermon, art, etc on women in the bible for email

Screen shot 2016-05-02 at 11.47.30 AM“So Miriam was shut out of the camp for seven days; and the people did not set out on the march until Miriam had been brought in again.”      Numbers 12: 15

In May of 2012, I entered into an artistic collaboration with Jay Beck, my now husband and partner in producing the Carnival de Resistance. We had established that I would come up to Philadelphia and together we would create works of theater that re-contextualize stories from scripture, based around each of the four elements: Water, Air, Earth, and Fire. Immediately upon landing, we discerned that we would first focus on the voice of water and that I would delve into the story of Miriam, Moses’ sister. Little did I know that this choice would throw me straight into the deep end!

Although not often realized, Moses’ destiny and the destiny of the Hebrew people is birthed in the Nile river in an unlikely alliance between women, both privileged and oppressed, who are ready to defy the cruel mandates of an imperial system. Focusing on Miriam’s experience, within this conspiracy and the unfolding Exodus story, was rich fodder for our water piece. I felt wonder at her euphoric dance and song toward liberation as the Israelites crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20-27). This account is immediately followed by a story of healing and promise and bitter water being turned sweet (a curious twist on her name’s meaning, “Bitterness”). However, it shocked my system as I began working through the later part of Miriam’s grievous story. Miriam is struck with leprosy and punitively expelled from the Israelite’s camp for hers and Aarons attempt to question their brother, Moses’, absolute authority (Numbers 12: 1-15). After Aaron and the entire camp advocate for her restored relationship within the community, we hear nothing more from Miriam until the report of her death. And the sequence is simple – She died, was buried. there was no water. the people were thirsty and gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron (Numbers 20:1,2).


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“The final word is love.”

The following is an adaptation of a sermon preached Saturday, January 30, 2016 at a gathering of Catholic Church workers.  The readings for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time were Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19, Psalm 71, I Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13, and Luke 4:21-30.

As we have been reflecting on vocation today, how fitting our beautiful first reading where, through the prophet Jeremiah, God speaks of how we have been known, dedicated, anointed – even before our birth. Yet implicit in the reading is a recognition of the struggle that lies ahead for those of us who say “yes” to divine call. The antiquated directive to “gird your loins” – which meant to tuck in your tunic so it was out of the way for strenuous activity, especially going into battle – seems to acknowledge that while we have been dedicated and called, that is no promise that this is going to be easy. In fact, it’s going to be tough. Jeremiah says God promises to make us a “fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass.” These are images of strength and solidness, an assurance that amid the challenges and conflicts of mission and ministry, God is unfailingly present to strengthen us.


We see this provision of God illustrated in the Gospel reading where Jesus is caught up in angry, violent conflict after his proclamation of mission. Perhaps we can take heart in the fact that – regardless of challenges we’ve faced in ministry– no angry mob has tried to throw us over a cliff!

Imagine for a moment, Ignatian contemplation style you are in the scene. The people are “filled with fury” and they “rise up.” Imagine their voices, the words they are saying, the way an electric energy of anger moves through the group and a mob mentality forms. They are ready to throw him over a cliff. What is it that Jesus hears and feels as he is caught up in the mass of people leading him to the top of the hill?

What happens next is truly surprising. Luke tells us Jesus “passes through the midst of them and goes away.” How is this possible? It makes me think of Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility – somehow, this man who is the target of so much rage is able to simply walk away and go about his business. Apparently, no one says, “hey, he’s getting away! Stop him!” The way Luke describes it, you can almost imagine Jesus quietly slipping out of the din and commotion, rejoining his community, and continuing his ministry – shaken, certainly, but unharmed from the encounter.

Is there an encouragement and lesson here for us as church workers? Is there is a way in which we can be surrounded by, and even the center of conflict and division, and yet some part of us remains untouched and untouchable? Some core, some center – in Jeremiah’s words is a “fortified city” – that through God’s grace is immune to whatever chaos surrounds us? In Merton’s words, a “hidden wholeness,” some inner place that remains strong and untroubled?

Even when we are discouraged by institutions and people who are supposed to mediate the riches of our spiritual tradition and inevitably fall short, we hold to this deep truth of God with us, active in the world for love and life. Like Jesus, can we “pass through the midst of them” and continue on our way with peace and inner certainty – trusting that we are known, anointed, and dedicated by God for service to God’s people?

Against this backdrop of Jeremiah’s moving words of being known, anointed, dedicated by God, and Luke’s narrative of Jesus’ clash with the congregation in his “home parish,” we can hear Paul’s well-known words about love with new ears. As all ministers know, this reading is a favorite for weddings, often associated with married, romantic love. Yet Paul was writing to an early community of Jesus-followers in regards to their relationships in the ekklesia – the Church – with one another in Christian discipleship. In his own way, Paul is challenging the Corinthians to gird their loins and acknowledging that authentic Christian living in community is hard. There will be conflict. In writing that love “doesn’t brood over injury,” there is an implicit understanding that there will be injury. Love does not rejoice in wrong-doing…but wrong-doing is going to happen. Love bears all things, he writes – and there is stuff we are going to have to bear. This truth resonates with each of us in our unique ministerial contexts. Love never fails, and at the same time, this is going to be hard. Dorothy Day echoed this idea, quoting Dostoevsky, that “love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing, compared to love in dreams.”


“The final word is love.”  – Dorothy Day


I dare to believe that there is a core of strength, a core of love, which is a gift from our gracious and merciful God present in each of us…present in each member of the Body of Christ. We are bearing witness to it in each other as we hear and reverence each other’s stories of ministry and the living out of our “yes” to God’s call. The more that, with God’s grace and the support of each other, we can live from this core of strength, the more able we are to pass through the midst of the tumult – the conflicts caused by assignments of new pastors or bishops, the anxiety of parishes being clustered or closed, the dilemmas created by questions of conscience and obedience, the stresses of financial uncertainties, the scandals of power misused and abused. While we haven’t been nearly tossed over a cliff like Jesus, we have been personally and painfully touched by these realities.

Each of these readings recognizes in some ways the challenges of the life of faith and invites us to lean on God and one another – faithfully proclaiming with Paul that “love never fails.” We respond to these readings by connecting with that inner core of strength. We renew our commitment as ministers anointed and dedicated by God, girding our loins and trusting we are given the strength to live out the call, as broken and beautiful people in a broken and beautiful church in a broken and beautiful world.

About the author: Rhonda Miska ( is a former Jesuit Volunteer (Nicaragua, 2002-2004) and a graduate of the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. Her past ministries include accompaniment of the Spanish-speaking immigrant community, Muslim-Christian dialogue, social justice education, direct outreach to people who are homeless, congregation-based community organizing, and coordination of a community with adults with intellectual disabilities.. Her writing has appeared in appeared in various print and online publications and she is a contributor to Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table (Paulist Press). A native of Middleton, WI, she lives in Dubuque, IA.

Bravely Holding Vision: Reflections from the Road to Woman Priesthood

Bravely Holding Vision is a series written by current Young Adult Catholics blog editor, Sarah Holst. Sarah is in the application process to become a Roman Catholic Womanpriest in the Midwest Region. They currently work as an artist in Duluth, MN. Sarah and her partner Nathan will be leading a workshop on Watershed Discipleship at the National Call to Action Conference this November in Milwaulkee.


Sarah holding space on Ash Wednesday on the Abundant Table Farm.  “Remember you are earth and to earth you will return.”

One of the joys in my life right now is, after a long season of transience, settling into a place where my partner and I plan to be for a long, long time. I relished my years of post-college volunteer work, learning and adventure (shout-outs to Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest and Episcopal Service Corps for providing that for folks like me), but am so hungry to have a home, know the cycle of seasons, start a garden that I will tend to year after year, and perhaps most acutely, make and have friends that I won’t shortly be moving away from and saying goodbye to.

It is a heart-wrenching thing to gather one community after another around oneself and then, as you start to take root and grow, to be yanked out and replanted. As difficult (and sad) as it is to start in a new place again, I am reassured by the fact that this is the last time that I will be newly befriending land, community and story. (At least, according to plan. The Holy Spirit dances in spiraling, changeling ways.) I can’t wait to get past the introductions and into the deeper work, the re-learning and unlearning and being reborn with a place again and again, I can’t wait to take steps beyond where before, I have always packed my Subaru and driven away.

A few weeks ago, in the midst of all of this beginning, I was invited by new friends to a backyard concert of Duluth singer-songwriter Rachael Kilgour’s. With a gentle shock, I found myself sitting on a bench within my new watershed, listening to songs about radical self-love and grace. I listened to Rachael sing and watched the trees move in the breeze behind her.  Suddenly, in this backyard set up with folding chairs and drinks and snacks, I felt like I could cry. It felt like Church to me.

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Where I Find Myself: Mass

This is a post by Julia M.  Julia serves as a Campus Minister at a Catholic college in the Midwest. She’s learning what it means to minister to a community while also questioning many of the practices and traditions of the Church; sometimes it’s quite a challenge! She’s especially passionate about feminist theology and story-telling, particularly as they relate to the integration of sexuality and spirituality. 

I used to joke that I was the only one of my 12 young adult cousins that still went to Mass on my own – meaning without parents encouraging or forcing me. But I’m not sure I can say that anymore. I’m losing interest in the Mass. It’s a beautiful practice that can sometimes be so comforting, reminding me of my childhood, my family, and people that I love. Since my first Feminist Theology class, however, I’ve struggled to sit in Mass without analyzing everything I saw and heard. For a while I thought, ‘oh, its no big deal.’ So much of my daily life included thinking about, studying, and contemplating the Creator. Mass wasn’t the only place I could experience spirituality.

NOR-001This last year has changed things. I’m no longer a student of theology. Now, I minister at a small Catholic university in the Midwest. And I’m the only minister there. We have no priest, no sister, no other lay people working in ministry. Just me. Because of this, a part of my otherwise enjoyable job description was to attend every Sunday night Mass we held on campus.

Let me give a little background: the school I’m at is largely a commuter school with most students either living at home or going home each weekend to work and spend time with family. Many students, then, go to Mass with their families on Sunday mornings or do not attend Mass at all. Very few students ever attended our Sunday night Masses. (I think the most that I ever saw there were 12 students at one Mass.) I love small communities, but this was different. I was a leader and a minister – but not really. There, at Mass, the priest was the leader; he was the minister. I was just there to set everything up for him and put it away when he left. Sundays were totally different than Monday-Friday. During the week, I would sit with the students and talk to them and engage in spiritual conversation and practice. On Sunday nights, I was the priest’s helper. Continue reading

(A Bit Of) My Story

Julia M. is a new writer for YAC Blog! She loves to take her dog for walks and on them you can often find her stopping to smell the flowers and take pictures of the beauty around her. Currently, she serves as a Campus Minister at a Catholic college in the Midwest. She’s learning what it means to minister to a community while also questioning many of the unnamed-3practices and traditions of the Church; sometimes it’s quite a challenge! She’s especially passionate about feminist theology and story-telling, particularly as they relate to the integration of sexuality and spirituality. 

Today a student came into my office telling me she is confused about her faith life. She had a challenging experience lately and isn’t sure what to think anymore. So I begin by talking about the imperfect journey that we’re all on and how we all desire something more, something greater than what we currently have. I say this to reassure to her that the path to finding this is confusing and sometimes even frustrating. And then I ask her to tell her story. And as she talks, I realize that there’s much more than just a questioning of what she believes and how to practice it; her questioning stems deep into her childhood. What she was told in CCD classes and read in the Biblical stories of how she ought to be as a woman are coming back to haunt her. She doesn’t want to be just Eve or Mary. She doesn’t want to understand her sexuality in terms of “no’s” and “don’t do that’s.” She wants to be able to embrace her full self as made in the image and likeness of God and she’s not quite sure if the Catholic faith is enough to do that.

And as she’s talking, I realize that her story is my story. And our story is many other Catholic women’s stories. We need to be able to tell our stories, we decide at the end of our talk, to be heard as believers that deeply care about things, not just as “girls” divided into the “faithful” or “unfaithful” based on our sexual experiences.

So, I come here searching for a place to tell my story. And the story of other women I encounter. But for now, I’ll start with me.

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A Seven-Month Honeymoon Sabbatical

unnamed-1  We got married on August 30, 2014 in a park in Duluth, Minnesota. The sun came out just in time for the service. A butterfly joined us on the altar. A flock of seagulls flew over our heads. We had a mixed gender wedding party, a blessing with Lake Superior water was given by our mothers, friends read from Job and Matthew, John O’Donohue and Rumi, and we printed a special acknowledgment in the program to the indigenous people of the area in regards to use of the Lake Superior Watershed, their home.

Two days later, I gratefully traded gown for canoe paddle and plunged my uncharacteristically golden toenails into the muck of the Boundary Waters, further baptizing myself into my new home and new chapter. We had decided to take a period of time to slow to the world, ground into our new calling in relationship, and explore who we wanted to be in the world, individually and together. It felt like an ideal time to let the ground lay fallow, and re-evaluate as we started a new stage.

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