Living Ministry

This week, Rev. Dr. Montague Williams recounts his early life navigating Chicago and serving as a cultural translator for his immigrant family. Steeped in church life as the child of a pastor, he didn’t always think ministry was in his future but always felt a deep sense of who God is and what is possible through prayer and connecting theology with people's lived experience.

Season 4: Episode 9

A life of ministry and theological education

Montague Williams is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene and has served in congregational, non-profit, and educational ministry over the past 15 years. His doctoral research offers an ecclesiological proposal that takes seriously the experiences and pastoral needs of youth and young adults in multiracial and multicultural ministry contexts. He has written articles and chapters for several publications and regularly speaks at conferences and retreats about the church's presence and engagement with society. His latest book, Church in Color: Youth Ministry, Race, and the Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. is available wherever books are sold.


Patrick Reyes: All right, Montague, I'm glad you joined us on the Sound of the Genuine. I've known you for a long time. We spent some time in school together. I'm glad that our listeners get to learn a little bit about you. 

Montague Williams: Hey, it's really good to be here. I'm excited to chat with you, Pat.

Patrick Reyes: You know, we spent a lot of time in Boston together. I could talk about what you're up to now, your books, but what I'm actually curious about is if you could take me back to your beginning. Tell me about your people, where you grew up. Yeah. Tell me about yourself.

Montague Williams: Yeah, I grew up in Chicago-land. So in Chicago and around Chicago. My family was really my main tribe. We didn't have a lot of extended family around. My family came to the states from Guyana and my parents were from two different ethnic groups in Guyana.

And so we did a lot of navigating life together, interpreting life together. We were a part of some different churches and different denominations, and I would say church life was also part of our people. As I've moved all over the place, around Chicagoland and out of it, there are people who are sort of like pillars of moments in my life that I'm still very close to. 

Patrick Reyes: When you think about your parents coming to Chicago, what does that look like? Belonging, kind of navigating, being in the United States, what does that mean for you? If you're saying churches is important for your kind of upbringing, what did that look like in your life?

Montague Williams: Well my parents came to the States before I was born, then they left the States. I kind of have a unique sort of background. I was born in Bermuda, as a citizen of Guyana, and grew up in Chicago. We grew up as a family of six, two parents, four kids, and navigating really just had to do with trying to make sense of the world.

You know, in a lot of ways, I think this might be true of children of immigrants, we were often translators. My parents both spoke English, but we were translators of culture. And so part of that was trying to figure out what my parents demanded of us at home and then trying to figure out what society was demanding of us, like at school or like on the block. And it was a lot of translation. So I think the opportunity to do that together created a very deep bond in the family.

Patrick Reyes: Is that where church came in? Is that where some of that translation happened?

Montague Williams: Yeah, church is interesting. You know, my father was a pastor in many different denominations. He was an AME pastor in Guyana, made his way to the states, connected with the Church of the Nazarene. We actually are part of an aspect of the Church of the Nazarene that's not often thought about and it's the black congregations in the Church of the Nazarene. When they came to the States, they actually lived with some relatives who were in the St. Louis area. Ferguson area actually. They got connected there to my dad's uncle who was a black Nazarene pastor. And in that world, they got connected to the black Nazarene life. So even today, I'm very much a part of thinking strategically and creatively with the black community within the Church of the Nazarene.

Patrick Reyes: If this is your upbringing, this is your community, what was a young Montague dreaming to be? Was it a pastor? Like what were your hopes and dreams growing up in Chicago? Maybe it's ‘go back to warm weather?’ I don't know.

Montague Williams: No, not at all. No, no, no, no. I mean, I never in my life thought I'd be a pastor until, you know, the moment I thought I'd be a pastor. You know what? I actually grew up with an interesting religious framework. Like I said, my father, he comes from the communities in Guyana that connect most with black identity.

My mother was formed in the Indian identity, and so I grew up seeing all kinds of religious frameworks through that. As a kid, I never wanted to be a pastor. I actually thought I would be like a news broadcaster [and] at one point I wanted to be a dentist. And if people were like, ‘oh, one day you're gonna be a pastor just like your dad,’ I'd laugh it off or actually be very nervous about that. You know, when you are a child of a pastor, you see a lot of things about the church that really aren't pleasant. You just see more and you get to think about the earthy nature of church and conflicts that exist, and you get to know a variety of leaders that easily throw themselves off of a pedestal. And so I wasn't as enamored, but I did find a deep faith in God. 

When I was about four, my mother went into the hospital to deliver my sister, my younger sister. And making a long story short, my mother went into a coma, like a two-week coma. And my sister was born. But we would visit my mother in the hospital and then every day, my dad and my brother and my older sister and myself, we would just gather in my parents' bedroom and pray for my mom. And she eventually came home.

It wasn't until I was a little bit older that I learned that even the medical professionals at the hospital, they were telling my dad to get ready for a funeral. So there's this story in our family around prayer and healing and possibility that really animated a lot of our lives. So regardless of the denominations that our family kind of touched and all of that, we definitely had a deep sense that the creator of the universe is very much real and present and active and doing something good…and like sees human beings and cares about human beings. And not that there's a formula for how you make healing happen through prayer or anything like that, but that there is possibility that God can do something that could blow your mind. 

The different church spaces we were a part of through my dad's vocational journey and through our own sort of like neighborhood journey, I always held onto a deeper sense of who God is through that experience. And because of that, I was able to find meaning with whatever community we were with. You know, they had a part of helping shape my understanding of God, but those deeper family stories probably did even more so.

Patrick Reyes: I mean, as you think about having this community, this family that's got this prayer life, that has this imagination for what might be possible - when you become, you know, going to high school and off to college and that's not your nuclear group anymore, that's not your like core group, tell me about that process. How do you start exploring what's unique to you?

Montague Williams: I worked at this store through high school. I didn't really do a lot of like the after school stuff that people did. I got a job. You know, and that's part of the family thing too. If you can get a job, you take the job, you do the job. And if you wanna go on a field trip for school, you pay for it yourself. Like that kind of thing. So I worked every day after school and like all day on Saturdays at a retail store, basically. There was this woman there named Val. She was kind of like the store mom, maybe grandmother, really. She just held a sort of authority among all of us who worked there. And she used to say to me things like, “Montague, you're gonna be a pastor one day,” you know? Stuff like that. And this is before I even really started thinking about all that.

I think she just knew I was a Christian and she thought that was pretty cool. I would just say like, Val, stop saying that. Like I'm telling you, I'm gonna be a news broadcaster or I'm gonna be a dentist. And she'd say, “Oh, Montague, you might be on the news someday, but it's gonna be because of your ministry.” Which is so funny to think about, just her framework for me and all of that. You know, she came out of black church tradition and she was very intentionally speaking some truth over my life. You know, she wasn't only just saying, this might happen or I see this happening, but like this is what you need to do, like that kind of thing.

I wasn't like 100% resistant. I used to think things like, yeah, I might be connected to ministry, but it's gonna be a side thing. You know, I would say faith started to become something different for me in my life after my brother died and I had all kinds of questions at that point. Like, what is life? You know, people said things like, “oh, he's in a better place.” And I was 16. He was old enough to be on his own, but still a young person. If people said stuff like, oh, he is in a better place and all of that, I would find myself wondering, like, really? Like, is that the point then? Is that the point of life just to get to heaven? I mean, if so, like why not just all go there now? What's that about? 

I'd find myself asking lots of theological questions. I also found myself in lots of meaningful conversations with peers, like fellow teenagers who had their own tough stuff and we would wonder together. And I think in the middle of all that, I began to see the significance of theological meaning making. Cause I was sensing there's some real destructive theological meaning-making that you could accept and walk through life with. But there's also some really helpful theological meaning-making, like liberating theological meaning-making. Theological meaning-making that can bring a deep sense of freedom that lets you embrace agency in the world, empathy in the world, that lets you welcome sacred encounters in the world and really begin to live the way of Jesus. That, to me, became pretty significant. And so in the midst of all that, I just began sensing there's something about my life that needs to be very connected to digging deep into theology and helping folks engage, what we hope is good news in the world. 

I was at a church service during my senior year of high school. I skipped church at my own church and went to a friend's church. We thought we were pretty cool being these teenagers, going to whatever church we wanted or whatever. But at the end of the service, the pastor who's preaching, he like did an alter call. And at the end of it, he's like God is talking to somebody.

And I can sense they haven't said yes yet or something like that. And I don't even know what the sermon was about, but in my own life I was thinking a lot about this ministry thing. Suddenly I'm paying attention and I'm like, oh, is that me? And he wouldn't let it go. And he was doing this whole thing. Someone hasn't said yes, the spirit is trying to work on someone or something like that. And I was like, that's probably me. So I went down to the altar and I prayed, and then he comes up to me and he’s like, “What'd you pray about?” And I'm like, oh, well I think I just accepted a call to ministry.

And he is like, “Well, now you have to do it, you know.” And I'm like, oh, no! Why did I tell you? And I actually learned not too much later, like within the next year, that he often did that thing. I kind of got roped in, but in the end it's what I was wondering about and sensing anyway. I don't credit that moment as like the moment that I sensed calling, but I do credit that moment as a sort of landmark. Okay, I don't know exactly what ministry exactly means, but I do want my entire life to be shaped by the way of Jesus. And if that means letting go of this whole news broadcaster thing, or dentist thing, or whatever I was imagining is the right fit - if it means letting go of that for something else, like sure. I'm up for it. 

Went off to college, tried out all kinds of majors. Made my first-year advisor very angry cuz I had like four-year plans for six different majors plus sub-plans with different minors. And I was like, I don't know which one to do, can you help me? And she's like, I don't know, just pick one. Yeah, I eventually decided that I would study theology and philosophy. I decided I would do that mainly because the only reason why I wouldn't do it is out of fear that I wouldn't get a high paying job.

I was convinced, and partly out of parental pressure too, like you have to major in something that's gonna give you a high paying job. And so this was my sort of, I guess you can't even think of it as like rebellion against all of that kind of stuff. And I was like, I'm gonna be a religion major and I'm gonna trust that this is a good thing. So some of those little moves are part of, I guess what you would say is, taking the next most faithful step, you know, along the way, 

Patrick Reyes: I mean, as I hear this story, you have that moment with your mom where you've got this robust prayer life where you're discerning, you got Val speaking over your life, you're dealing with loss. You got this pastor who’s, you know, doing an altar call all the time and you hear for the first time, you get through college as a religion major - What do you do after you get out of college? Like what do you do with this now education, kind of a commitment to ministry, you know, what's your next step?

Montague Williams: All right. So while I was in college, I was, you know, like a teenager on a mission. I was at school trying to make some sort of impact. I've heard people say to me like in the last few years, “Hey, are you still like doing a billion things at one time? Cuz that's who you were in college.” And I look back and it's true. I was really trying to make some sort of impact of meaning making. I didn't have it all defined, but here's something that was really life changing for me. So I was in college and, you know, a lot of people were trying to get internships at like big churches. And I was never a part of a big church. 

There in Chicagoland there were a few big churches that everyone was thinking about and talking about. And there was one church not too far from the campus, it was technically a multiethnic church, but it was predominantly Black, African-American and Afro-Caribbean predominantly.

And then there were other groups in there that really did make it a multiethnic space, but it was a multiethnic space that centered on Black experience. I actually had been to that church before in the past. And then people from that church, they were a part of our lives, at different places. And really the church connected the most with my own experiential identity, racial identity, the kind of music and style and spontaneity that connected with my own sense of spirituality. But what's so interesting is, in that college space, in the certain obsessions with certain kinds of churches.

I saw it as like, I don't know if I wanna end up there, you know? But I did feel, like a sort of pull, like that is probably the best place for me in this season. But I also wanted to resist any sort of idea, like you have to be there. You know, I visited one day with a friend and I was like, oh man, this place feels like home. I got back to my dorm and I prayed. I let God know. I was like, look, I don't have a car, so I can't really get there. And this is my prayer - I'm like, God, if you provide a car for me, I will go see how I could be involved there. Without a car, I’m going to one of these big churches that's right around here.

Like it's just how that's gonna be. And so, I kinda let that go and maybe that was me trying to get outta something. But here's what's crazy. A few weeks later my dad calls me - and I'm telling you, I came from a family where you bought everything yourself. Like from very young, from paper route through pet store shop or whatever, you just paid for everything yourself. Like there was no sense of ‘we're gonna buy this for you’ or anything. My dad calls and he says, “I was at this car dealership and I saw this car for sale. If you happen to have half the amount, I'll go half on it with you.”

I'm like, what? Like that's crazy. So we drive out to this dealership. I was like, let's do it. And I did have that saved up. So I'm driving back to the campus. Once again, picture this person. I'm in the car and I'm praying. I'm praying that God would use this car for God's good and God's will. Like that's what I'm praying. I'm in the car praying this stuff, kind of sorta like dedication service, on this road back to the campus.

And then it hits me. I'm like, oh my goodness, I've gotta go check out to see about this church. It felt good, I just didn't want to feel limited. And I knew people who would be like, you belong at this church cuz you're not allowed to really be in leadership in other places. You know?

So I was in this weird sort of resistance with all that, but I was like, you know what, I'll go check it out. I went on a Sunday, met with the pastor, told the pastor that I would be interested in maybe doing like a bible study or something for young people I was like, if you have anything that you need, let me know. He's like, why don't you come to the youth group on Wednesday night? He's like, just come this Wednesday, check it out. So I did. I get there, we do the whole youth group thing, and then towards the end it was a goodbye ceremony of sorts for the youth pastor.

And I'm like, oh, that's weird. And I'm like, I wonder if the pastor realized the youth pastor's leaving? Like, this is his last day, you know? In the middle of that, this 12 year old, he goes, Montague's gonna be our new youth pastor, like that. And I'm like, oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. You know? I was like, oh no. And I'm just like, make sure everyone knows that's not true, you know?

He wouldn't let it go. And he was that kid, he just thought it was so funny. And then after, the pastor comes in, everyone's leaving and he's like, what'd you think? I was like, Hey, I just want you to know, like in case you didn't, like the youth pastor left tonight and one of the kids announced that I was gonna be youth pastor. I was like, that wasn't my doing. Sorry if that creates any confusion. He's like, well that's what I wanted to talk with you about. Could you be here for at least the next five Wednesdays while we figure this out? 

And so I did, and that turned into me being the youth pastor. So I was there for a little over three years. So for the last half of college. And then I stayed in town and did a master's degree because the school had a master's program and it paid half for any pastors in the area. And then if you were an adjunct instructor for a first-year course, you got the other half paid for. So I was like, why not? So I stayed there, stayed on pastoral staff. And the cool thing about this is this is a church that had youth Sundays. So once a month. I was responsible for planning the Sunday morning worship gathering, having young people be involved, and I was responsible for preaching - in this multiethnic black influenced and centered African-American Afro-Caribbean space that was welcoming to various groups. This so home. And that's where I got the opportunity to learn, to preach, to learn to lead. That's where I saw conflict take place.

That’s where I began to wonder about what resources are out there for people who are living ministry like me. A lot of my life was driving around a youth group bus or youth group van, locking up rec centers late at night, caring for young people in very intense situations. Today, like some of them are kids that I’ve, you know, presided for their wedding. So yeah, wildly Church of the Nazarene.  

Patrick Reyes: I mean you go from this like three weeks - I need a car, you know, I wanna serve this church. You serve it for three years. You then get the scholar itch on top of your ministry call to do work, I'm assuming like now, still in youth ministry. So tell me a little bit about that process as you move, the transition out of Chicago and start thinking about, okay, you know, what, what's the next prayer? I mean, I almost feel bad about asking, but like, what's the next altar call? What's the next prayer to get you to the next thing?

Montague Williams: So, was finishing the master's degree there. I took a bunch of stuff at the same time. The pastor of the church was like, whatever you do in that master's program, just let the church be a lab for it. So I was able to take several more classes and get it done within a year - faster than the actual plan because I was in a place that let me integrate it so much. Like I was able to ask questions in my courses based on my ministry life, which is really how I even think theology needs to be done. Doing theology with real lives, real questions, and especially the lives and questions of people who are often neglected - with that being at the center of what we're asking and doing in theology. But yeah, I'm finishing this master's degree, I never was thinking I'd be a professor. So at this point now I'm like, I guess I'll be a pastor, but I once again was thinking, this is gonna be like bi-vocational. Like, I'm done with this master's. I did it, it was covered, but now I need to go do a degree, maybe become like a history teacher or a Spanish teacher or something to like pay for my pastor habit, you know? I got an invitation by a seminary in Chicago to apply for this leadership fellowship. I got a full scholarship to a seminary in Chicago with like a living stipend and all of that.

But then another seminary in Kansas City caught wind of this and they were like, hey, we'll match that if you want to come out this way. And the thing that was cool about that seminary is they would honor all the master's work that I'd already done in my undergrad work, and they told me, they said at the master's level, you don't have to repeat those courses. 

For anything that matches, you can just take something in the area and go deeper, take a more focused kind of thing. So, I decided to go out to the seminary and once again, I accepted a full-time role in a youth ministry setting. So there I was youth pastor on pastoral staff, and because it was a nonprofit, I was also like a program coordinator for the Kansas City Urban Youth Center, which actually sat on this like racial dividing line, historic racial dividing line of the city. We did some cool stuff there. 

Started a community garden, got to like engage like young people in the work of lobbying to try to shut down some payday loan places in the neighborhood. And like, it was so much fun. And I'm like learning this with community leaders. And Kansas City is cool for that reason. It's not like Chicago where there’s an inside - very strong inside and then everyone [else] is like way on the outside and you have to somehow break in. Kansas City just had a different vibe where it's like, if you want into this conversation and you're gonna stick with it, you're in. We were able to do a lot of meaningful work out there. 

When I was nearing the end of my seminary studies, the president of the seminary…you know, talk about mentoring, he was the one who called me and was like, “We can match that. Here's what would be good about coming out here.” And I'm like, how cool is this? I go out there, he then contacts me my first like semester and he said, “I wanna start a Bible study. Would you be willing to lead it with me?” This is the president of the seminary. 

He's like, yeah. He’s like, maybe we'd meet once a month with a group and then in between that you and I would meet for like some planning and thinking. So really I'm meeting with him every two weeks. One with a big group and then one just me and him, and that turned into what is still a life of mentoring. We talked about bible study planning, but really there was so much life.

I was able to bring everything I was thinking about to our conversations. We just all get breakfast and it was very chill. I mean, when you are hanging out with a seminary president at a restaurant booth and he just puts his leg up and just sits back, you know, and it just, and you're just hanging out. It just changes the whole thing. Like it starts to break down what leadership looks like. You know, it starts to break down the assumptions of who you have to become. I was given freedom to just be me, and he would always say like, make it clear like, he's learning from me just as much as I might be learning from him.

I don't know how intentional all that was, but it was life changing for me. And he was connected to all kinds of creative ministry life in the cities that he's been a part of. So anyway, he was my mentor and towards the end of my seminary studies, he says to me, “You need to go for a PhD.” I tell him, who has a PhD, I'm like, I don't know. Like all these people with PhDs are pretty boring. You know, they talk a lot about stuff that they wish they were doing, but they don't do it. I don't want that in my life. I wanna do what I'm doing.

I'm at this youth center, I'm engaged in the city. We're doing creative justice work. We're doing a community garden, we are doing the real thing. Why would I give that up to go talk about it around some, you know, Ivy League tables. That doesn't seem like life. And then the other side of it is, I didn't have any professors who look like me. I only had white professors in undergrad, two master's programs. And so the idea of a PhD also seemed like kind of a waste cuz then the churches would be like, okay, he is probably gonna want too much from us or be too distant from us. I was afraid that I actually, literally would be just too distant.

And then, who's gonna hire me anyway? I wasn't aware of that possibility. And you know, the reality is, I saw up close that schools can be just fine having an all-white faculty and try to offer a theology that's supposed to be connected to the globe and somehow assume that it's fine to have an all-white faculty.

So I'm like, why would I do this? Anyway, he's like, if you don't do it now, one day you're gonna have your life all set and you're gonna think you want to do it, and you're gonna feel like it's too late and you're gonna wonder about it, and you might regret not at least applying.

I was like, all right, I'll apply to get you off my back. So I applied to the one program that I thought fit, at least what they explained on the website, it seemed to fit with how I wanted to do theology - and that's theology that takes seriously what's happening in real life. They named it as practical theology. And so towards the end of my seminary career, I became very interested in this whole conversation around practical theology, cuz it sounded like what I was interested in. And I got in. My wife and I, we got married.

Soon after I finished seminary, we were planning to stay in Kansas City for a year and I would kind of discern whether or not I go out to Boston or maybe apply somewhere else or just stick with my job. We moved her stuff into the place where I was living and as we were kind of hanging out, I looked at her and I say “Hey, what do you, what do you really want to do?” And she's like, “What do you wanna do?” We both like almost immediately at the same time said, “Let's just move to Boston.” We didn't know what job life exactly would look like, but of course in the PhD, that has support.

But yeah, we stayed with some friends for two weeks and then found a place and, even though I had the PhD. situation I also had my whole family pressure as like, you have to get as many jobs as you can. So I decided to get a job at CVS in the pharmacy, and I took some extra roles in movies that were being filmed in Boston. Jenny, my wife, she worked two jobs out there too. 

Patrick Reyes: And now you're a scholar scholar. I mean, you were already a scholar, you were a pastor, you're a scholar, you got books, you're doing research on youth ministry. What is that like now kind of living into this call? You've been through this big formation process of living the life, doing the work, as you said in Kansas City, and then you studied the work, you know, while you were doing your doctoral program and now you're doing both. So what is that like now, kind of living fully into this call?

Montague Williams: What my life looks like is a mix between teaching and writing and researching and preaching. Preaching is a major part of my life. I've found that I'm a better teacher when I write. I find that I have a little bit more understanding of even what I'm trying to teach, when I write. I find that my writing is better when I'm doing research that makes me come alive. I've also had to wade through certain feelings of like, is this real research? Especially if it's like empirical research in theology. There's so many messages, like it's not real unless you're dealing with somebody who said something and died and all of that kind of stuff.

You're just wrestling with their thoughts about something and trying to say something new with their thoughts. Like there is some value in that. And I do that to a certain extent, but I used to really wrestle with whether or not my way of doing theology is valid. I had a friend who, you know, actually, Xochitl, when I was really wrestling with this. I'm like, is this real research? Like, is this theological research? And she's like, Montague it's research. Because if you don't…if you don't do this work, the voices of the people you are engaged with, their voices never make it to the table. They never make it to the theological table. And you're bringing their voices there. And it was transformative for me. 

Another transforming moment for me was, there was the one-year memorial for Michael Brown, and Pamela Lightsey, she invited me out there to be a part of it all. And when we got there, she's like, I need you to be on this panel on creative pedagogy. I was like, I just came out here to kind of be a part of things, but not really be upfront on panels. She's like, “Montague, you are a scholar. They need to hear about your work and you have a lot to offer in this conversation. I need you up there.” And I looked at the panel, it was like people that I admired, you know, people that I would quote and I was into their stuff that they wrote. And I'm like, what? When I was up there, it was like I was in dialogue with folks. I wasn't just…I didn't feel like an imposter. It was like I had something to offer there. That was a very life changing moment for me. I often look back at that and I can't thank Pamela Lightsey enough for that.

The other thing is, while I was there, we did this little trip to the spot on Canfield Drive where Michael Brown was killed. And there was a lot going on in that space. You know, people were doing selfies, people were like dropping off stuffed animals and like, I noticed that people didn't really know what to do there. It was a gathering place. People who were committed to justice were coming from all over the country to that spot but people did not know what to do there. Someone asked me like, Hey, you wanna go in the middle? I'll get a picture of you. And I'm like, that doesn't seem right.

I decided to go in the middle and I touched the ground. And as I touched the ground, I felt all kinds of rumblings in me – groanings, moanings. The story of my brother came back into my view, stories of so many people whose death no one knows about. And I found myself feeling a deep connection to Michael Brown and a deep commitment to always letting my work be very connected to inviting people into that middle space, that space where you're honest about these tough things in life and injustice, and that space where you cannot let go of seeing and sensing that the way of Jesus is tied to justice in these stories of injustice. Like that is where my life will be. And I have tried to let my teaching life be very, very committed to that. 

And through that, I've done pilgrimage work, taking young people to even that very spot and connecting with leaders and, you know, residents, pastors, activists, like in that actual space. But also other kinds of pilgrimage - border work out here in the San Diego/Tijuana area. And I'm looking forward to doing a lot more work in that regard. Yeah, my teaching life is tied to my life as a writer, as a researcher, my life as a pilgrimage seeker and guide. 

I sometimes am amazed when I encounter professors who have all of this stuff that they know they have to get out. Like I have to teach people these things, these are my main points. People have to know this. I don't know if I have that. I am more committed to making sure people have certain conversations and encounters and experiences that continually open up windows for seeing possibility and for being honest.

Patrick Reyes: Montague, one of the things that I always have deeply admired about you, your teaching, your writing, your work. You gave us an image of touching the ground. I feel like your research, your teaching, your theologizing -it is that moment where the hand is on the ground. There's no distance and I'm just so grateful for it. My last question is, you know, I'm curious about, as you think about your own vocation, your own call to do this work and do this work in this way, how much of that is guided by your own sense of call? Maybe it's that teenage self who's sitting there at that altar call thinking about, you know, like ‘are you talking about me?’ I've been thinking about this question internally. This is my conversation with God. And how much has it been the Val's, the Pamela Lightsey's, your wife, how much has been your community that's kind of called you into this work?

Montague Williams: I mean, well obviously my first place of really encountering a vision of ministry leadership is really my dad. And obviously everyone has agreements and disagreements with the way their parents do things, so I could go that route too. But really, I saw my dad do some creative things to engage community through the church for justice. And, um, sorry. Whoa. I'm very thankful. 

My mother, she, um…she passed a few years ago now, but she was kind of unorthodox. Like I said, my mother came from the Indian communities of Guyana, and so she brought faith traditions out of that too, which led her to always question a lot of the assumptions of Western ways of doing Christianity.

And she loves just throwing stuff out there, ideas out there. And I think her influence of never allowing the image of Jesus to be fit inside of a Western box, man, that also stuck with me too. Their first place of ministry in the United States was in Philadelphia, in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Philadelphia in the 80s.

And that shaped them for how they would engage life in the United States. And it shaped us, even though we were in all kinds of places and then spent a lot of life in Chicago, I think their early years of seeking out how they would live and find identity in the United States, it had an impact. And so those are people who I've never met, and they're a part of the community that shapes my calling. I don't think of God's calling on my life as my calling. I think of it as God's calling on my life, but it's tied to God's calling for all of creation. It's tied to God's calling for God's dream, for all of creation, and because of that, I'm always learning more about it. I don't have it tied up. It's a path I'm continually learning about as I encounter new spaces and new people. At these days, I would say a lot of my calling is wrapped up in trying to envision a world with my kids.

When they ask me questions, I try to engage that as like a life project. Like, okay, I might have an answer for you, but what I really want is for us to discern a life that is answering this. That's what I got.

Patrick Reyes: Montague, I'm so grateful for your family, for your community, for seeing you - calling, naming that call over your life. Thank you Val, to the pastor, to the folks in your life who helped you discern to do this work, and to have your hand touch the ground and keep your hands out of people's mouths! I’m glad you're not a dentist. Glad you're a scholar. Glad you're a scholar and a pastor and a friend. I'm just so grateful for you and love you deeply. So thank you. 

Montague Williams: Yeah, same. Same. 

Patrick Reyes: I want to thank you for listening to the Sound of the Genuine and Montague’s story. Make sure to go pick up his book. You can find it anywhere books are sold. I want to thank my team, our executive producer, Elsie Barnhart for putting this episode, and all of our episodes together. And @siryalibeats for his music. Make sure to give us that five-star review. And thank you for letting us help you find the sound of the genuine in you.