In honor of African-American History Month, Racial Ethnic & Women’s Ministries is collaborating with the Rev. Tawnya Denise Anderson, pastor at Unity Presbyterian Church in Temple Hills, Md., to lift up stories of young African-American leaders from across the PC(USA). Over the coming weeks, Anderson’s blog, “SOULa Scriptura,” will run a special series titled “Our New Day Begun” to highlight the stories of African-Americans who are leading the charge in shaping the church’s future.
Anderson promises, "I’m going to be introducing you to a number of amazing people who have a few things in common: they’re young, they’re Black, and they’re leaders in the Presbyterian Church (USA). These are the people who are currently making both Black history and Church history, which is why I’ve named this feature “Our New Day Begun,” borrowing from a line in James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (a.k.a. the “Negro National Anthem”). Everyone you will meet in this feature is either a teaching elder (pastor, chaplain, etc.), ruling elder (congregational leader), candidate or inquirer (in the ordination process), or otherwise in leadership in their respective congregations and presbyteries. They come from all over the country, minister in a variety of settings, and have some important and thoughtful offerings for our denomination and the whole Church."
Her first post features the Reverend Kerri Allen. Kerri is a PC(USA) Teaching Elder and a native of Saint Paul, Minnesota. She has served in parish ministry previously and is now in a Ph.D. program at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Chicago.
How long have you been Presbyterian?
About 15 years. I accidentally found my way into a Presbyterian church, and I have been Presbyterian ever since. Growing up in Minnesota with a black mother and white father, our family was not welcomed in any Christian churches, and so we grew up in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. This is where we found a church community. We were Christian in other spheres of life. My siblings and I were baptized by a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor and raised in Catholic school. I joke that being Presbyterian was somewhere in the “middle” of these various religious traditions.
What do you most appreciate about this tradition?
Being Presbyterian encompasses two traditions for me: the Reformed theological tradition and Presbyterian polity. I find myself embracing Reformed theology because of the rich theological diversity that exists within the history of the global Reformed Church. For me, the Reformed tradition has overarching themes that thread it together, but within the details there are have historically been many thoughts.
Presbyterian polity, at its best, is about mutual accountability. After a first career in politics, primarily serving as a political appointee in legislative bodies, I’ve found being Presbyterian to be the right “fit” for me.
What led you to pursue ordination as a Teaching Elder?
I was called. I spent years ignoring the call and even “debating” God about the absurdity of being a clergywoman (particularly at the time having a career in secular politics). God tried the small still voice, gentle approach, and eventually She just hit me upside with a 2×4, and I went to seminary. While at Louisville Seminary I was able to see the providential path of my life-long desire and pursuit to live in a more just world within the context of the Reformed Tradition.
When I went to seminary, I was still discerning (or so I told myself) about ordination as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. Seminary was an amazing and difficult time for me. The first week of seminary, my nephew was murdered, and less than a year later, my mother died after extended illness. I remained in seminary during these darkest days of my life because I was upheld and affirmed by my community. My discernment came through the experience of understanding the power of call as a path that we do not walk on our own, but one that is done in the midst of the witness of the saints. At each difficult step, when I received affirmation of my gifts and skills for pastoral ministry, I knew I was on the right path.
Click here to read the rest of this feature on the SOULa Scriptura blog and watch for more in this series during African-American History Month.