Pastor Toni

My Anglican adventure began when I left home to go to a foreign country called Durham, North Carolina.Foreign to me, because I am from East Los Angeles. I grew up surrounded by the stories of a loving family and an eclectic neighborhood’s influences of the ’60s. In the words of the spiritual, “My soul looks back and wonders; how I got over.” The fabric and the aroma of everybody’s Sunday Soul food cookin’, always accompanied by a euphony and cacophony of sounds.

My Upbringing

My spiritual rearing and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord at eight years old was paramount. I grew up in a Baptist/Pentecostal home and was mentored by the family preachers, prayer warriors, and, musicians. As a young child, I learned how to distinguish my voice, their voices, and God’s voice. This distinction would prove to be helpful when I moved forward into adulthood. My upbringing gave me a solid foundation that prepared me for the future.

In addition, the preparation for my Anglican journey included personal training in the areas of music and preaching.

As a young teen, one afternoon, my grandmother (who directed the Senior choir at church) placed a sacred choral work and conducting book in front of me and said, “be ready to direct the choir, Friday night!” She then walked away.

Of course, I did, and I had a great time. Little did I know that I would perform this task as choir director a few more times! I conducted my first orchestra at twenty-one years old at my university.

Furthermore, as a teen, I accepted invitations to speak at numerous Youth conferences. And I always sang, everywhere I went.

Ministering and Teaching Music

Several years ago, while teaching high school algebra, I accepted an interview for one of the largest churches in Los Angeles County (some 15,000 members). I was hired as Minister of Music to teach music in their church school and to lead a hundred voice choir.

As in other church positions, whether in the area of music or teaching/preaching the Word of God, I pressed hard into the Word of God while depending on the anointing of the Holy Spirit to rest on me, especially when touching so many lives.

After I completed my Master’s in music education, I was accepted into a Ph.D. program at Indiana University in the area of Ethnomusicology. At that time, I knew that I had to pay attention to the prophetic pastoral call on my life. Then everything fell apart.

I no longer had a teaching job, so I called a relative to pray for me and she asked me to send my resume to her. I sent her my resume and the following week, I had two music job interviews in Durham, NC.

Once I got into the classroom, however, I did not like teaching in their school system. So, on a dare, I filled out an application to Duke Divinity School. The registrar at Duke called and asked me to come to a visitor’s day.

Duke Divinity School

When I drove on the campus, I knew this was where I was supposed to be. I was accepted into their M.Div. program right away.

Toward the end of my first year, one of my professors said, “You know, the Episcopal Church needs you!” My immediate reply was: “I do not need them!” But my professor would not relent: “We need strong preachers like you.”

Later, near the end of the school year, the presence of God met me in my office. The passage in Ezekiel 37 spoke to me clearly: “Will you prophesy for me?” I said yes. Then, an admonition: “Stay out of all politics. Just preach my Word.”

I was favored by the Rector who believed I would do well in the church. After I was confirmed, I taught one of the confirmation classes, and I began the ordination process as an aspirant in the Episcopal Church in Chapel Hill, NC.

New York City

After graduation, the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee made the decision to send me to the General Theological Seminary in New York City.

I lived on campus at General. As seminarians, we were given many assignments, including serving at Trinity Wall Street Church on Ash Wednesday. This was shortly after 9/11, and it would involve imposing ashes on the hundreds of people who came.

My heart was deeply moved as I stood there in that place for almost three hours. I thought my heart would burst during the ashes, tears, and prayer. I am a priest, I said to myself. The office of pastor I will do, another yes, to God.

Closed Doors, Open Doors

While waiting on the Holy Spirit to open an Anglican door for ministry, an unexpected door opened to pastor two UMC churches in North Carolina. I pastored for a short time there, before returning home to Los Angeles. Often, I would watch God work with these wonderful people.

My Anglican journey has required a lot of faith. Little did I know that saying yes to God would involve and invite hurt, rejection, and misunderstanding. But, as a result, I have gained joy, strength, discernment, godly wisdom, love, patience, and compassion.

The twists and turns of the Anglican journey continued, but my soul was anchored in the Lord. I continued to submit applications and respond to interviews to churches in the South and on the West coast.

At last, reality struck me that those doors were not going to assist me on my quest. Unfortunately, there were some who made it very clear that there was no room in their churches for someone “like me”—an African American and a female.

Finally, I wrote a letter of introduction to Archbishop Robert Duncan. I wished to be heard by the head of the church, I wished for him to know that I exist. Five years ago, I voiced my concerns to him. I felt rejected for being an African American and a woman.

Archbishop Duncan immediately replied. He expressed his concern and spoke of St. John’s vision in Revelation of a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language—a vision that cannot come soon enough. His letter is dated March 5, 2014.

Yet again, the Lord has opened a door. On August 11, 2019, I will be installed as the Rector of St. Paul’s City Church in Murrieta, CA. Now I would say to Archbishop Duncan that the first leg of the relay, my Anglican adventure, has begun!

A “Bapticostal” African American Anglican

Oftentimes, people ask me: “How in the world did you get into the Anglican Church since you are an exuberant ‘Bapticostal’?!”

I laugh and say to them: “Have you taken time to prayerfully read or sing the liturgy of the church?”

A celebratory worship experience and style is a part of the fabric of my soul. And our Anglican liturgy is very rich! At times, it is almost like listening to a polyphonic choral work by Palestrina.

Finally, perhaps you’re wondering why I’ve returned to and remained within the Anglican tradition, despite the difficulties I’ve faced as an African American woman.

Part of it is the richness of the liturgy that I’ve just mentioned. Part of it is my theological commitment to orthodoxy.

But, ultimately, in spite of the mess I’ve been through, I never gave in to the negative talk or looks because I love the body of Christ and this section of the body called Anglicans.

Throughout my Anglican adventure, I very clearly sensed God’s call to “GO,” especially when facing persecution or suffering. What if Jesus had changed his mind because the people were so cruel? 

I was not sent to join a club but to be a healing presence everywhere I go. Growth takes place out of great suffering, and I continue to grow.

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