9 Christian Women Shaping the Church in 2024 | Sojourners

9 Christian Women Shaping the Church in 2024

From top left to bottom right: Crystal D. Cheatham, Rev. Sue Park-Hur, Rachael Clinton Chen (and baby), Bethany Rivera Molinar, Brandi Miller, Kendall Vanderslice, Chanequa Walker-Barnes, Elaine Enns, and Rev. Mae Elise Cannon. Graphic br Candace Sanders/Sojourners

Each year at Sojourners we celebrate Women’s History Month by honoring the work of Christian women who are guiding the church to become a place of deeper welcome, justice, and wholeness.

The women in this list are fierce and kind, thoughtful and active, joyous and rooted. They are mothers, sisters, daughters, aunties, cousins, nieces, and friends. Their work spans a multitude of fields — they are peacemakers, academics, preachers, bakers, community leaders, podcasters, psychologists, and theologians — yet they are all connected by their Christian faith and vision of a more just world.

This year, we asked each woman to reflect on what she’d share to encourage her younger self, as well as offer a prayer or blessing for 2024. May we all be encouraged by their words and reflect on how we might encourage all the women and girls in our own lives.

Rev. Mae Elise Cannon

Rev. Mae Elise Cannon is the editor or author of several books including A Land Full of God: Christian Perspectives on the Holy Land and Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age. She is ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church and serves as the executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace. Cannon has a doctorate in American history with a minor in Middle Eastern studies focused on the history of American Protestant engagement in Israel/Palestine. In addition to several master’s degrees, she holds a doctor of ministry in spiritual formation looking at the spiritually transformative process of learning to love your enemy.

What would you say to your younger self to encourage her? Know with confidence that which God has called you to do and to be. Do not be discouraged by the impediments and roadblocks in the way, but be obedient to the call of God on your life. He will be faithful in providing a way forward, in breaking down barriers, and in making straight your path as we pray “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” God will make a way.

A prayer for 2024: O, God of the universe and Jesus, Prince of Peace — mobilize your people to be bold and courageous in working diligently and calling for an end to violence, war, and genocide around the world. May the body of Christ be united in our call for peace and justice, and may our efforts bring healing and hope to those who are most traumatized, marginalized, and oppressed. Heal us, restore us, and transform us as you bring healing and comfort to the world.

Crystal D. Cheatham

Crystal D. Cheatham received her master’s in creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles. She is the founder and CEO of Our Bible App, the creator of two books: The Deconstructionists Playbook and Queer Hands of God, and the producer of the podcasts Lord Have Mercy and On God’s Campus: Voices from the Queer Underground. Crystal and her work have been featured in ESSENCE magazine’s Woke 100, Teen Vogue, PBS, and more.

What would you say to your younger self to encourage her? I would tell young Crystal that her biggest fear cannot be loneliness, but rather living in a world that is bent on her complacent isolation. Do the work. Find your people, and then make space for others.

A prayer for 2024: Dear God, bless this mess. We have made a mess of your Creation. Even so, when I look out at the untamed wonders of the natural world, I see that you have made even that seemingly chaotic space organized — an organized chaos. Please grant us that grace, to know that you can and will make something beautiful of this mess we have made of ourselves. Amen.

Rachael Clinton Chen

Rachael Clinton Chen is a trauma practitioner , preacher, and pastoral leader. She serves as the director of teaching at the Allender Center at The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology and is a co-host of the Allender Center Podcast. She holds a master of divinity from The Seattle School and is devoted to addressing the harm of abuse — especially spiritual abuse — at the intersection of trauma, healing, embodiment and spiritual formation. Rachael lives in Philadelphia with her husband, Michael; stepsons Jamison and Silas; and daughter, Evie.

What would you say to your younger self to encourage her? Darling girl, you burn bright and beautiful, and your gifts are not an abomination, disgusting, or too much, so sing the songs of God that shake you. Someday you’ll find a healing community that will help you make sense of all the trauma you bear, so look for signs of grace along the way and know that mom and dad will support your call to ministry at every turn. Practice being human-sized and faithful in the small, because days will come that require great courage and vulnerability. You are beloved.

A prayer for 2024: Groaning God, laboring to birth life in impossible places, teach us how to groan and how to birth. Steady us with your nurturing, nourishing presence, and root us in your death-defying power of Spirit and beloved community. In your wisdom, righteous fury, and fierce kindness, embolden us to contend with injustice, to comfort the brokenhearted, and to be made new again and again and again.

Elaine Enns

Elaine Enns has worked in the field of restorative justice since 1989, first focusing on victim-offender dialogue in the criminal justice system, and more recently looking at how restorative solidarity applies to historical violations, including issues of intergenerational trauma, healing, and decolonization. Elaine trains and teaches throughout North America, and her latest book, co-authored with her partner, activist theologian Ched Myers, is Healing Haunted Histories: A Settler Discipleship of Decolonization. An ecumenical Mennonite, Elaine was born and raised in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and lives in Southern California where she co-directs Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries on traditional Chumash land.

What would you say to your younger self to encourage her? Now that I know I am a seven on the Enneagram, to my teenage self I would say: “Don’t party so hard. Work to understand what you are trying to avoid or mask in your family and community system.” To my 20-something self: “Try to understand how you are captive to perfectionism and work toward accepting you will make mistakes. Moreover, as a wise elder once told me, ‘Failure is where discipleship begins.’” To my middle-aged self: “Your commitment and passion to gospel-work is good; I encourage you to strive for better balance, spend more time resting, playing, singing, dancing, and above all listening to children, nature, and elders.”

A prayer for 2024: Thank you, God, for the women whose hands have held and helped me and passed on stories of faith. I am particularly grateful for Liz McAlister who taught me, “For activists, the most apostolic duty of all is to keep one another’s courage up.” Amen.

Brandi Miller

Brandi Miller is the host of Reclaiming My Theology, a podcast seeking to take our theology back from ideas and systems that oppress. Through the podcast and her work at Quest Church in Seattle, she offers practical and embodied pathways to imagine a Christian faith free from violence, hierarchy, and oppression.

What would you say to your younger self to encourage her? Your twenties are hard. They are a time for character formation, loneliness, and discovering who you are. The work that you do in your twenties will carry you, with character, into your thirties with more maturity, compassion, kindness, and self-love, if you do the work now. It is ok to try and be bad at things — trying and failing is not an embarrassing thing, but a necessary one. You cannot know yourself unless you explore, stretch, and fail.

A blessing for 2024: May you know the Creator who breathed life into you and called you — in all of what it means to be you — very good. May you be blessed in the discovery of your authentic self and experience acceptance, affirmation, and transformation of God as you are ever becoming.

Rev. Sue Park-Hur

Rev. Sue Park-Hur is the director of racial/ethnic engagement for Mennonite Church USA. She is a co-founder of ReconciliAsian specializing in conflict transformation, restorative justice, and trauma healing for Asian immigrant communities. A pastor, church planter, speaker, and an educator, Sue’s passion is to see the church living out the shalom of the gospel.

What would you say to your younger self to encourage her? Beloved, you have experienced much pain, suffering, and death so early. In the process, you have grown strong, reliable, and responsible. But it’s okay to show your weaknesses and fall apart sometimes. Learn to be tender to yourself. Go slower, take rests, and receive hospitality without guilt. Ask for help without shame. You are loved. You are held. You are already whole.

A prayer for 2024:

God who is close to the brokenhearted,
Christ who is acquainted with grief,
Holy Spirit who translates our groans and intercedes for us, come.
There is so much violence and carnage here.
God of life and resurrection, do your thing.
Enter our sanctuaries, streets, and soils, and breathe your life upon us.
Give us glimpses of what you’re doing in the unraveling,
and reconnect us to you and to one another.
Awaken us from the paralysis of fear, and help us to move.
Grant us bold and embodied faith that propels us to join your work
of restoration and sabbath for all your creation. Amen.

Bethany Rivera Molinar

Bethany Rivera Molinar is a fronteriza Chicana living and working in El Paso, Texas. She is the executive director of Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach, a holistic, asset-based, Christian community development nonprofit organization working alongside their neighbors to empower youth, support families, equip leaders, and strengthen community in the Rio Grande neighborhood. Bethany is deeply passionate for Ciudad Nueva to be a place where community-led work unfolds and community members are actively engaged and accessing their gifts, skills, and resources to collectively lead toward a vibrant and thriving community. Bethany is on the national board of the Christian Community Development Association and serves with prophetic strength and innovative leadership within local, regional, and national women of color faith circles.

What would you say to your younger self to encourage her? Brown daughter of the desert, child of the sun, dweller in nepantla, you are wholly made in the image of God just exactly as God created you. It is not in spite of but because of who you are and where you are from that you are uniquely equipped to be a part of the radical unfolding of God’s kin-dom. It’s okay to treat yourself with gentleness and tenderness. Rest and work, and rest again.

A prayer for 2024: Creator, Sustainer, God-With-Us: Recall to us your image wholly present within each person around us. Remind us that “the darkness is as light to you” because you are everywhere, already working in and with people and communities before we ever encounter them. Awaken us to the suffering of our neighbors so that, like Jesus, we are moved to accompany one another in radical solidarity. Amen and amen.

Kendall Vanderslice

Kendall Vanderslice is a baker, writer, and the founder of the Edible Theology Project — a nonprofit working to connect the Communion table to the daily table. A graduate of Duke Divinity School with a master of theology, Boston University with a master’s in gastronomy, and Wheaton College with a bachelor’s in anthropology, she has committed her life to the study of food and community. Kendall is the author of three books: We Will Feast: Rethinking Dinner, Worship, and the Community of God; By Bread Alone: A Baker’s Reflections on Hunger, Longing, and the Goodness of God; and the forthcoming Bake & Pray: Liturgies and Recipes for Baking Bread as a Spiritual Practice.

What would you say to your younger self to encourage her? Young Kendall was anxious about so much — hungry for a full life, eager to create delicious and beautiful and meaningful things, and convinced it was up to her to bring it all to fruition. I wish I could tell younger Kendall that the path ahead will look nothing like she expects, and it will include twists and turns she could not possibly plan for, but that God will be faithful to guide and faithful to provide. I would encourage her to slow down, enjoy the journey, and stop trying to rush through the uncomfortable bits — those are the moments where community will come together and live out God’s love in tangible ways.

A prayer for 2024: Creator God, you made us all with two basic needs: the need for food and the need for community. Two needs that you so delightfully meet when we gather with loved ones at the table. May we taste your goodness in the sweet burst of strawberries, the bite of arugula, and the creaminess of brie. May we know your provision in the people around us who show us your love. May we witness your healing in the conversations we carry — the laughter, the tears, the joys, and the fears expressed over a meal. Amen.

Chanequa Walker-Barnes

Chanequa Walker-Barnes is a prominent psychologist, theologian, and author whose work focuses upon healing the legacies of racial and gender oppression. She is a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary and the author of Sacred Self-Care, I Bring the Voices of My People , and Too Heavy a Yoke.

What would you say to your younger self to encourage her? You are more capable, more admired, and more loved than you know. Don’t shrink yourself and hide your gifts. Step out into the light and let the world see who you are.

A blessing for 2024: May God’s blessings shine upon us even in the darkness. May we embody the peace, love, and justice that we hope to see in the world. And may we each abound in the wisdom, support, and resilience that we need to face what comes in the year ahead.

To see who we’ve included in past years, check out the links below.

8 Christian Women Shaping the Church in 2023

10 Christian Women Shaping the Church in 2022

11 Christian Women Shaping the Church in 2021

10 Christian Women Shaping the Church in 2020

11 Women Shaping the Church in 2019

2018’s 10 Christian Women To Watch

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