Monday, June 29, 2015

Virzola Jo-Nan Law chosen to lead historically white church

The Senior Minister Search Committee of Lindenwood Christian Church recently
elected Virzola Jo-Nan Law as their first female and first African American senior pastor. 
Virzola Jo-Nan Law is the first female and the first African American elected to serve in a senior clerical position at Lindenwood Christian Church, a historically white church located at the corner of Union Avenue and East Parkway in Midtown Memphis. The church is deeply rooted in the Memphis community dating back to 1853, before The Civil War raged, when the church was founded as Linden Avenue Christian Church. 
The Senior Minister Search Committee has referred to Law’s election as a “bold” and “historic” move on their part. The vote was unanimous on Wednesday (June 17) to affirm Law as its new senior pastor based on her credentials, past speaking engagements and two sermons that she delivered on June 14. She will assume her pastoral duties on Oct. 4 after wrapping up as Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church’s (Disciples of Christ) associate minister.
“We are extremely excited,” said Adrienne Sloan, chairperson of the Senior Minister Search Committee’s Search and Call listing, the process used to vet candidates. “Not only did we come to a unanimous decision, we agreed to do something different and bold. It was not only a hire…but you’re supposed to be led by God.”
Sloan said Lindenwood’s Board of Directors and the church congregants have been impressed with Law for several years now. In 2012 and each year thereafter, Law was one of seven area ministers tapped to deliver brief mediations on the “Seven Last Words of Christ” on Good Friday preceding Easter Sunday. 
“Pastor Law was one of our favorites,” said Sloan. “We are relatively familiar with her. A lot of people in the church said she’s an amazing preacher and that it would be good if we got her.”
 They now have her as their spiritual leader.
“I dreamed of a multicultural church,” said Law, a single mother of 23-year-old daughter Jasmin Williams. God, she said, had called her as a young child who would oversee a diverse church of mixed-race congregants. 
“To get the call affirmed my childhood dream, my seminary writing and my pastoral vocation. It is a call that God has chosen me to lead a church that would reflect a beloveth community.”
Law has served on the pastoral team at Mississippi Boulevard for 12 years. She’d relocated from Houston, Texas in 2003 to accept her first ministerial position at the church and never looked back. She’d served four years as the church’s youth pastor and stints as campus pastor, pastoral care pastor, pastor of the women’s ministry, pastor of outreach, and finally an associate minister.
“It has evolved like a flower that bloomed,” said Law, who was recommended by a congregant as a potential candidate for the position. 
“It is difficult for women in fulltime ministry in general and for African American women in particular,” she said. 
Women comprised 50 percent of available profiles through the denomination’s Search and Call listing… “so electing to not consider female candidates would have grossly impacted the potential candidate pool.” 
Rev. Dr. Alvin O’Neal Jackson, senior minister at Park Avenue Christian Church in New York and formerly the senior minister at Mississippi Boulevard, noted in a letter to the church: “…what a big, bold, bodacious, beautiful mission, and if you are true to it, nothing short of strong, visionary, courageous leadership and commitment is required.”
Law will replace Dr. William T. McConnell, the “Interim Transformational Senior Minister,” who was contracted in January 2013 to lead the church through its transitional period. He was tapped to replace the church’s last elected senior minister, who resigned the position in 2012. 
Thoughts about race had come up after Law was interviewed, said Sloan, who along with several members of the search committee had considered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote to justify their bold, historic move to tap Law for the leadership position: “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian American is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning, the same hour when many are standing to sing: ‘In Christ There Is No East Nor West.’” 
Lindenwood is a diverse church, said Sloan – “diverse in race, gender, politics, socioeconomics, worship style, and family experience.” She said they’re embracing the church of today and tomorrow rather than the church of yesterday. 

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