For The Rev. Michelle Higgins, Activism And Pastoral Care Go Hand In Hand
For the Rev. Michelle Higgins, pastoral work shares deep ties with social justice activism.
“Jesus calls us to care about the physical,” said Higgins, who is the first Black woman to permanently lead the congregation at Saint John’s Church (the Beloved Community) in north St. Louis.
“I’ve seen the impact of systemic divestment from not just the area but the people who live there,” she said. “I've seen the association with poverty to lack of ability to contribute to the economy. I've seen the assumption that erasing Black skin, erasing Black people, is the only way to guarantee public safety. I’ve seen how police basically make equal Black folks and danger, Black people and crime.
“And I know that unless more believers, people of faith, take serious God's mission — which is to see humanity empowered and liberated — unless we take that more seriously, then it won’t be worth it to work for something outside of the Earth.”
Higgins joined St. Louis on the Air to discuss the meeting of faith and activism, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones' election and the push for LGBTQ inclusivity in the church.
The urge to speak up for the LGBTQ community came when Higgins witnessed the impact of the AIDS epidemic as a child.
“Many of our queer beloved were lost to HIV and AIDS,” Higgins said. “I remember the authors of beloved gospel songs passing away without support, without someone holding their hand and singing them into glory, as we say, because they were queer, because they had AIDS.”
As she got older, that feeling tied into her spiritual calling. While admitting that there is still so much further to go, Higgins said the church has made big strides toward inclusion.
“In many ways, it is because of a generational reconciliation. There’s more generational community in church,” she said. “You see older folks [and] younger folks learning from each other, pushing through arguments, but knowing that deep down, all of us have to humble ourselves to a higher power.”
In addition to Higgins’ role as senior pastor at Saint John’s Church, she is a co-founder and chair of Action St. Louis, a director and founding member of Faith for Justice and a member of the Movement for Black Lives. She holds a master of divinity from Covenant Theological Seminary and has been a church choir director and vocalist for more than 20 years.
“St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.