Cara has been a person who has been in and out of our lives for years in different circumstances and in different relationships. However, in each case it was evident to both of us that Cara was and is a faith-filled person who has the gifts of leadership and bears ample fruit of the Spirit.
The first time I (Beth) met Cara was in 2004. At that time, I was considering what to do next in my life and a pastor brought Cara and I together to discuss the US-2 missionary program. Cara had been one and the pastor thought this might be a good path for me. This was a time in which my life was swirling with uncertainty and a lack of direction. While sitting with me, a person she previously did not know, Cara gave me not only her full attention but the full benefit of her ability to speak a vision of a God-led preferred future. She spoke from her history but into my life. She had an innate way to both calm my storm and fear of the unknown, while lovingly encouraging me to trust God and to walk into the unknown.
In these hard and uncertain times, Cara’s gifts for offering a calming of the spirit without a contentment of the spirit would be a gift in any conference. Even with someone she has just met, she is able to offer this wonderful mixture of peace and encouragement, and a sense of safety in God over any circumstance. This skill is perhaps more crucial than ever as many who feel God’s call to full-time ministry are feeling burnt out and uncertain if they can continue to follow the call during their own storms and those of external forces. Also, perhaps there has never been a greater need for leaders who can cast a vision that catches others in its excitement.
It would be years before Cara reentered our lives, even as the path she helped illuminate took me (Beth) along a journey that would lead to becoming a US-2 missionary in Mississippi and then eventually returning to East Ohio for seminary and accepting a call to be an elder in the UMC. In this time, Cara was a gentle presence and guide as another younger woman serving in our conference. Her leadership of the Board of Ministry was unique within our conference. As a person in the process, the atmosphere of the interactions changed from one of judgment to one of accountability in love. She did not lower standards to becoming commissioned or ordained in our conference, but through her leadership the culture changed. Within the new and growing culture, candidates continued to be accountable to the Board to engage in the process, but the Board also became accountable to the candidates to offer equal and compassionate interactions. This atmosphere continues now even as Cara has moved on from this position. This indicates not only her ability to lead change but to change culture in a way that it is not always reliant on her and can be passed from generation to generation.
The first time I (Felix) met Cara was at annual conference which was an interesting experience as a non-Methodist. As everyone rushed from meeting to meeting, I often walked with Beth to session. In the busyness, as everyone was rushing around, Beth introduced me to Cara. Cara stopped in the midst of what she was doing to truly meet me. As I was new to this place, to be seen was truly a gift. We didn’t talk long but in that moment she made space for me. As a son of a Disciples of Christ missionary and as an Afro-Caribbean person often in white spaces, I have met many faith leaders around the world and had both wonderful and negative experiences. I can honestly say that Cara possesses what I consider to be some of the most important qualities of a faith leader- she makes space at the table for you and it feels as if her love comes without qualification or a needing to be ‘right’ in some way, whether that is the ‘right’ skin tone, ‘right’ denomination, or any other marker of this world. I realize that saying she does not need the ‘right’ denomination may seem like an odd testimony for her strength for leadership in a particular denomination but I would say that this is a key attribute. The pursuit of being ‘right’ over being ‘good’ as God created us to be has led many Christians down a path of self-righteousness and putting human agenda above God’s. Cara embodies the belief that we were created for goodness, she can see that goodness in others, and responds to that over any human qualifications of who is worth our time, our presence, and our grace.
In the past few years, we have grown closer to Cara. As an interracial couple in an overwhelmingly white conference, Cara has always offered a space of comfortability. In her presence, neither of us ever must act in particular ways and can simply be authentic. Her ability to allow people to be as they are is a gift. No one has to pretend with Cara. They can be broken, they can be angry, they can be filled with joy- no matter what it is, Cara accepts you as you come and offers herself equally as authentically.
Professionally, my (Beth’s) path has also grown increasingly intertwined with Cara’s. I am currently appointed to conference staff. I have had the joy in the last year to work with Cara as a liaison on ministries, and as a dreamer and planner of the vision for the next season of ministry. Cara has offered me guidance in times of struggle in working with other leaders in the conference. She has shown herself open to new ideas and not being stuck in one way of being church. Her ability to vision and to share that vision continues to be remarkable. She has been responsive in helping my department plan and implement ministries to help support clergy and churches in this time. I have seen her work with other leadership being flexible when called for and being unmovable when there were lines that should not be crossed. I have seen her advocate for others, and I have seen her listen deeply and openly to even those who desire to reject her simply based on gender. I have seen her be compassionate and gentle with clergy when they are struggling, and I have seen her lovingly guide them to keep focused on God’s will when they have become stuck. I have seen her, in short, live as a faithful disciple and to lead as one who heeds the call of the Spirit.
Yet more than anything, what we have seen and felt, is that Cara is a woman of deep faith. Her roots are deep and so even in hard times she is grounded in Christ. Being with her is both peaceful and inspiring. We are honored to consider her a colleague and a friend. If she would be called to follow her call into the role of Bishop, we would certainly feel the lose of her close presence. However, like so much of what Cara is involved in, we know that we would be left stronger for our time together and that she would indeed be a blessing anywhere she was called to.