Although the weather patterns here in Los Angeles, CA are struggling to fall below triple digits, the fall season has arrived! Recently, I had the privilege of sitting down with CCDA member, Angela Lee, Executive Director of Harambee Ministries to talk about the new season she has entered for 2022. In this conversation, Angela shares wisdom of how she got to this moment, reflects on her experience in CCDA’s Women of Color Executive Coaching Circle, what wellbeing means to her, and how it is transforming work rhythms at Harambee Ministries.
Hi Angela, Tell us about you and share a little about how you got to where you are today?
I am a wife, mom, sister, pastor, friend, and reconciler. I have been in non-profit work most of my professional career. When God called me to full time ministry at 19, I had no idea what that meant because I had never seen a woman of color on a pulpit or in a leadership position at church. One of the questions I asked God was, “How Lord?” My time in non-profit work began as a summer Camp Counselor at Boys and Girls Club, and continued at YMCA. Fast forward a few years later, I got into bivocational ministry where I was a Youth Director at a church, then became a Youth Pastor at Saddleback Church, which is what brought me to California and also where I met Pastor Albert Tate during a conference. Conversations from that moment eventually led to serving on staff at Fellowship Monrovia for 5 years.
During 2021, I had a mental breakdown. Pastoring in 2020 and into 2021 and giving birth during that time took me to a place where my therapist and mentors led me to stop because I was not well. I was able to take a 4 week sabbatical from my role and responsibilities at Fellowship Monrovia. During the sabbatical I spent a lot of time resting, in prayer, and being with the Lord. In that time, a holy discontent rose up in me around the uncertainty of what my next step in ministry would be. I had been passionate about racial reconciliation, and I knew that the next step would be justice oriented, although I loved my church and Pastoral role. I came back to my role and responsibilities and was faithful to what God had said, which was to keep being a truth teller.
A few months later, the holy discontent rose again, and after fasting and praying the Lord said three things to me: Fellowship Monrovia is home, your time on staff is over, turn to Harambee Ministries. Wondering what that even meant, the next week, I happened to have a one on one with Pastor Albert. In that meeting with him I shared what God had said to me (disclaimer, Pastor Albert at that time was the acting Executive Director of Harambee). Pastor Albert’s jaw hit the floor because he had been praying for an Executive Director for Harambee. After a month of praying, I received the job offer to begin in January 2022. And scared out of my mind, I accepted!
You were recently a part of CCDA’s Women of Color Executive Coaching Circle. What was the experience like and what were some takeaways from the moments and space?
Shout out to Mayra Macedo-Nolan who encouraged me to participate. One of the things I am still tumbling with is around something Dr. Booker-Drew said to us. She said, “be careful of the words that you say after I am. Because you are speaking of the divine that is in you”. This idea has brought me to my knees and caused me to reframe how I view myself as a leader. For most of my life I have known that I am a leader with intellect, capacity, and God-given wisdom. I grew up in a faith practice that shunned that kind of certainty and it was seen as pride and arrogance. It caused me to make myself small for years. Since hearing and digesting this idea, one of my key takeaways is, I am enough right now. I’m not too Black, too old, too young, too Latina, too loud, or too anything because God saw fit to knit me this way in 1986 to become who I am right now. Since those things are true, and if I am to believe that I am made fearfully with respect and care, and made wonderfully with awe and admiration, I can live into that and not feel shame for embracing and acknowledging it. This reframing has burst my world, leadership, and confidence wide open because it felt like I shedded decades of insecurity in my leadership that had been planted in me.
Since CCDA’s upcoming conference theme will be around wellbeing, how do you prioritize wellbeing, and what does it mean to you?
Wellbeing is the practice of me remembering that I am a whole person, mind, body and spirit. Remembering that God created me to work from a place of rest and not for a place of rest. And if we reflect on Psalm 23, it says that we are led besides still waters and pastures, not after I’ve worn myself out or worked my 40 or 60 hours. The implication is that when I abide with Jesus, the invitation for rest and care is there. In the last 18 months, I’ve had to undo so much bad theology. For me personally it’s meant weekly therapy, moving my body not from a place of punishing my body but as an act of gratitude 3 times per week. My body has carried and birth two whole babies, lived through traumatic experiences and it is still functioning. Every time I move my body I dispel lies about what society says it should be, such as being over sexualized or hidden. Moving my body in gratitude also unlocks pieces of my anatomy that God has gifted me like serotonin and hormones that help me to stay as closely aligned to the spirit as I can, because I can fully sit and enjoy the peace and love that I miss in my depressive state.
Wellbeing too means tending to the wellbeing of those around me, those whom God has given me to steward. I think about my staff a lot, and feel deep conviction for caring for their souls. Since I took this role, I have built in two sabbath weeks in the year, and pretty soon we will be alternating Friday’s off to have a 32 hour week without a detriment to the pay twice a month. Since I feel God has commissioned me into this leadership role, what does it mean to be aware that I now have power and influence to give care and create space for wellbeing?
When I think of our bodies as a temple, I think about the instructions God gave Moses to care for the ark of the covenant in the Old Testament, because that’s where the presence of God was going to abide. Fast forward to the New Testament, Jesus gave his life so that we could be temples. If God cared that much about a box, how much more does God care about the created, and creation?