As the senior pastor of a historic church located just a mile from the White House, Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli ’92 knew her congregation would be deeply impacted by the 2016 presidential election. Foundry United Methodist Church had a rich tradition of social justice activism, and many members were worried about the possibility of divisive policies. 

Gaines-Cirelli began exploring the role of the church in fighting injustice in divisive and troubling times. Within months, she had helped found Sanctuary DMV, an organization that works to protect immigrants and marginalized communities in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) area, and established a Sacred Resistance Ministry Team at Foundry. She also wrote a book, Sacred Resistance: A Practical Guide to Christian Witness and Dissent, that was published in 2018. Hillary Clinton herself praised the book, writing that it was “a timely, important book for anyone searching for hope, strength, and meaning in troubled times.”

“In her tenure as senior pastor of Foundry UMC, Ginger has led the congregation to be active in critical justice issues of our day. Whether it relates to Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ equality, immigration reform, homelessness, or any number of other issues, Ginger shows up to speak truth and remind others of our moral obligations to the human family,” says Amy P. McCullough, lead pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Baltimore, Maryland.

Dawn M. Hand, former executive pastor and chief of staff at Foundry, recalls gathering on Capitol Hill with Gaines-Cirelli and church members to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. “Members of the media interviewed Ginger. She offered statements lifting up LGBTQ+ persons as individuals, couples, and families of sacred worth. She spoke about the church’s call to be in ministry with all of God’s people. She shared about the humanity of LGBTQ+ folk having the same rights, the same opportunities, and the same access to liberties afforded to all people,” she says. “This is honoring the well-being of humanity. This is what Ginger does so passionately.”

A religious studies major at Southwestern, Gaines-Cirelli received her master of divinity from Yale University. After serving other congregations in the D.C. area, she was named Foundry’s first female senior pastor in the church’s 200-year history in 2014. She serves on the Board of Ordained Ministry for the Baltimore–Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church, which unites more than 600 churches in the region, and was an editor of The CEB Women’s Bible. In 2018, Gaines-Cirelli received a Washington Women of Excellence Award from Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser. 

“Ginger embodies the very best of what Southwestern represents,” says Farley Snell, former Southwestern chaplain and professor emeritus of religion and philosophy. “She is a recognized national leader and part of a network of progressive clergy working for inclusiveness and social justice. By the way, she was the brightest student I have ever worked with in my 27 years teaching at Southwestern.”

“Each time I have visited Ginger and met her friends, colleagues, and members of her congregation, they all tell me how much they value her and the work she does,” says JoLynne Reppond, Gaines-Cirelli’s sister. “She means something to each of them for their own reasons, but nonetheless, they see her as a shining light in their world. Perhaps I could summarize my perception of her impact on others and her community by borrowing words from The Wizard of Oz: ‘A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.’”  

For her devotion, her achievements, and above all else, her heart, the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to honor Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli with the Distinguished Professional Award.