Doing Ministry with Angela Yarber

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By Barrett Owen
Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber entered McAfee clinging to these four aspects of her calling. Upon graduation in 2006, she began a Ph.D. in Art and Religion at the Graduate Theological Union at UC Berkeley knowing that McAfee had affirmed these four distinct parts of her calling. Today she serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Wake Forest Baptist Church at Wake Forest University where she also teaches as an adjunct professor at WFU School of Divinity. Between her first class until now, Angela has lived into these creative callings due in large part to her time at McAfee.

It's no secret that McAfee celebrates calling women to ministry, affirming their talents in preaching. Such was the case for Angela. She brought with her to the pulpit a lifetime in the performing arts, combining her deep love for research, translation, and feminist theology with the “stage presence” that makes her thrive while speaking in front of others. Prior to her time at McAfee, Angela was always told that she was a good preacher, but she felt as though it would be arrogant to claim such a title. Taking advantage of preaching classes at McAfee and throughout the consortium of Emory and ITC, Angela learned that her gifts in the performing arts were not mutually exclusive from her calling to preach. So, when faced with the decision to choose between teaching full-time as a professor or remaining in the pulpit upon the completion of her Ph.D., Angela decided to continue preaching. Recognizing that entire communities of women and LGBT people have remained voiceless in countless churches, Angela knew that she had a responsibility to preach on behalf of those who have been marginalized and oppressed. It is the charge of the ancient prophets, the history of her Baptist tradition, the feminist-theological-imperative, and the calling of Jesus to radical inclusivity that she learned about at McAfee that empowered her to lift her voice and speak in bold exclamations.

While McAfee has had quite a few preachers graduate, Angela may be one of the few artists and dancers to receive an M.Div. Acknowledging that the proclamation of the Word—the preaching event—isn't limited to speech alone, Angela embodies the Word and paints the Word in her worshiping life. Since graduating from McAfee, Angela has danced professionally in Omega West Company in California, while also serving as an Artist or Dancer in Residence with the Alliance of Baptists, Baptist Peace Fellowship, Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, and the Sacred Dance Guild. She has also had an array of exhibitions of her paintings in California, Georgia, and North Carolina. In fact, her most popular show, “Holy Women Icons” is currently up at Woven Soul Gallery in Winston-Salem, NC.

After learning about the diversity of women in religions life around the world, Angela began painting icons with a folk feminist twist. These icons hang throughout the country and one is featured each month in an article Angela writes for Feminism and Religion. Writings such as these are an important part of the fourth aspect of Angela's calling: scholarship. She has vivid memories of honing the craft of academic writing in research classes with Beth Perry. By the time Angela began her Ph.D. program she could write Turabian footnotes in her sleep! Under the guidance of Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Angela wrote a thesis that laid the groundwork for her forthcoming book, Dance in Scripture, which is scheduled to be on shelves in 2013. Similarly, the combination of taking an independent study with Graham Walker and traveling throughout the Middle East with METS solidified Angela's deep interest in dance as a form of interfaith dialogue. Who knew that a beginning research paper would evolve into Angela's first book, Embodying the Feminine in the Dances of the World's Religions, which was published in 2011?

Angela also has a third book that is under contract and scheduled to be published in 2013, The Gendered Pulpit: Sex, Body, and Desire in Preaching and Worship. While the intersections among dance, the arts, and religion are at the heart of Angela's research and writing, this third book really encapsulates much of her lived experience as a clergywoman. The foundation for much of this occurred in the holy space that is the classroom. Whether it was knowing that there was another feminist in the room with Karen Massey as a professor, or as an ally in the admissions office with Libby Allen, or in the many women who became her closest friends along the way, Angela knows that she stands on the shoulders of spiritual giants as she steps into the pulpit each Sunday. At McAfee her voice was affirmed and as she moved across the country to continue her education, she learned how to use her voice to speak on behalf of those broken and bound. Now she refuses to be silent!
All four of these seemingly disparate callings—preaching, painting, dancing, scholarship—accompany her into the pulpit, as well. Not only this, but her time at McAfee joins her in the classroom when she teaches seminary students how to live into their callings. To this day, Angela's most meaningful academic experience is the theological pedagogy internship Graham Walker arranged with Tina Pippin at Agnes Scott College. What she learned about libertory pedagogy and trusting her gifts and personality has not only aided her as a professor, but also as preacher.

On a weekly basis Angela finds herself preaching from the pulpit, teaching in the seminary classroom, painting or showing her work in galleries, and dancing in the grips of God's liberating joy. In each of these places she knows she is not alone, but that a community of colleagues, professors, mentors, and friends stand alongside of her. In each of these places, the people that make up McAfee School of Theology are there, too. For this, she could not be more grateful.