(Photo: Courtesy of Rozella Haydée White)
Rozella Haydée White is a ministry professional called to help young adults as they explore questions related to faith, identity, vocation and leadership. Rozella lives out this calling in a variety of ways – as the Program Director for Young Adult Ministry for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA); as a travel guide who leads people on “Sacred Travel Journeys,” helping them transform their heart, mind and soul; as a blogger who writes about mental health awareness, particularly among young Black women of faith; and as a social change agent who pursues faith-based approaches to social justice.
I first came across Rozella’s work on Twitter (where else?) and was instantly drawn to her commitment to working for change and transformation using faith as a foundation. More than that, I love that Rozella is someone who has found ways to incorporate varied gifts into a purpose-driven life.
I reached out to Rozella to ask her how she incorporates faith into her work. As a ministry professional, that might seem like a question with an obvious answer. But the journey Rozella shares about understanding how her faith makes up the foundation of what she does in all aspects of her life is helpful for any artist or changemaker who draws on faith to motivate their work. Here’s what Rozella had to say.
What role does faith play in your life as an entrepreneur and creative person?
I work for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (the denomination) and my main job is to direct ministry for young adults, people between the ages of 18 and 30, nationally. So my work and my faith are inextricably linked. In my tradition, we have a way of talking about what we do in terms of living out our daily lives. We talk about vocation as this place where God calls us; we use our gifts and our passions and we connect needs that are present around us. We also say vocation is not something you do but it’s also who you are – you have a vocation to be a partner, a vocation to be a parent, a vocation to be an educator. So for me, faith is all over and is the reason why I do what I do.
And all of the projects and endeavors that I engage on the side come from that same place. It’s a matter of thinking about how my gifts and passions are being called into being to actually meet a need or walk alongside folks in a particular way.
Has that always been your perspective?
Broadly, it has always been my perspective, even though I didn’t live that out until early young adulthood. I was raised in a home that was a faith-based home. We were always engaged in church and faith-based community opportunities. But I did not have any desire to work in the church. I went to school initially to be a lawyer and thought about church as something that was ancillary. All of that changed when I actually encountered life and things kind of happened – dealing with mental illness, dealing with family, dealing with major familial and educational transitions – and it led me back to a faith-based summer camp where I used to work. I started to go deeper into what I believed and why I believed it. [Then] opportunities started presenting themselves that were connected to my faith. It wasn’t until basically I hit rock bottom – all the plans that I had for myself fell apart and I had to go back to the drawing board and figure out what I was doing – that I recognized how my faith was a part of who I was and it undergirded all that God had been calling me to do.
How did your faith help you overcome that “rock-bottom” period?
One of the reasons I work with young adults is because I feel like behind early childhood, young adulthood is the next hugely formative time in people’s lives where so many transitions are happening and so many things are going on – questioning one’s identity, questioning one’s values, figuring out one’s purpose in the world. And so all of that was happening for me. Because I was connected to the faith-based community, I ended up working for the church as those things were happening and it caused me to go deeper into understanding my faith. I started to question and challenge and really think critically about what I said I believed and how that connected during the times of suffering I was experiencing. Because I was working in ministry at the same time that I was having some of these transformations and breakthroughs, it caused me to put the two together in a particular way.
Do you have conversations with other artists or changemakers who do not work in ministry? How do they incorporate faith into their work spaces?
There’s a huge desire for many of my friends, and myself, to be where people are and connect with folks in authentic ways. I have friends who are faith-based people who may not work in the church. For my friends that are in the science fields [for example], there’s tension because so much of that community has a complicated relationship with God or a higher power, I think for valid reasons. When you’re dealing with science and logic—faith is the opposite of that. So they find themselves in those places trying to hold fast to what they believe even as they try to communicate also that they are expansive.
I tend to run in progressive circles, by and large, and my denomination is left-of-center in many respects. We would be the people of faith who say God created science and God created faith and the two can interact together. So I feel like my friends in science are trying to be that bridge.
I think about that too with friends who work in the political realm. So much of what they encounter is about the individual – manipulating and getting people to do what you want them to do. I think it’s a constant battle [for them] in some of those spaces to live out their faith and hold fast to the beliefs that undergird them as they are in spaces that don’t come from the same operating values.
What advice would you give those friends or others on allowing their faith tradition into their creative or business lives?
One of the things that I am realizing as I get older is the need for us to be in community – not just community from a social perspective, but community that holds you accountable, that supports you, that uplifts you and that you also do the same for. I always encourage folks to not be isolated. If there are things that are important to you, form a community or connect with a community. It could be two people, one person, three people, a small group, a church – but be connected to something outside of what you’re doing that continues to encourage that.
The other thing I always tell people, and I practice this myself, is the importance of ongoing self-care. How is it that you are evolving in your awareness of yourself and what you value? Are you hearing from other people – whether a coach, a spiritual director, a therapist – as you are engaging in some of these issues? If it’s important for your faith to be in the forefront of what you’re doing, then how is it that you’re paying attention to yourself and your personhood as you’re continuing to develop?