March 02, 2023 | by JB Brayfindley
Editor’s note: People are making history every day in California-Nevada. Throughout 2023 we will be spotlighting clergy and laity who work to make life better for people down the street and across the country. Click here to see the video interview with Micheal Pope.
“People think I’m an extrovert,” states S. Micheal Pope, CEO/Executive Director of Alzheimer’s Service of the East Bay (ASEB) in Oakland, host of a Friday ASEB podcast, Life Is A Sacred Journey, as well as the Conference Lay Leader for the California-Nevada UMC Annual Conference, “but I’m not. I’m an introvert and I love to regroup alone.”
A CALL TO LEADERSHIP
“I don’t know what God was thinking,” states Pope reflecting on her various leadership posts in the church, “but I realize it was God’s nudge to say, ‘You’re hiding. You’re afraid that who you are will bring more pressure and notice to you.’ But at the end of the day, it was a calling because none of those things was I dreaming of doing.”
Since 2016, Pope as Conference Lay Leader attends Extended Cabinet meetings with the Bishop, serves on the CORE team and various committees plus leads the Lay Session of CNUMC annual conference each year. Pope is also the vice president of the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders (AACLL). In 2019, Pope was elected to serve and continues to serve as the Lay head of the delegation to General Conference. The delegation position is continuing past its normal term due to the changes in meeting dates for General Conference but eventually Pope’s leadership will end. Moving forward, Pope is feeling God push her to engage in the process of becoming a Deaconess.
Pope has an overwhelming desire to not just get to know God but to thank God for her life. “God has forgiven me so much,” states Pope sharing that she was not always interested in caring for others and following Christ’s example. “I constantly say, as the conference lay leader of Cal Nevada conference, ‘If you knew me in my twenties, you would not like me.’”
Genderism and racism have been two of three obstacles affecting Pope at work and in the church sometimes colliding together in a ‘double whammy’ effect. “I felt that genderism… it gets you down, it distracts you and pulls your attention away from what you want to be doing,” states Pope. “Racism, obviously, has been a major obstacle sometimes in the way that I feel that I am treated or the value of my information or the value of my life experiences diminished.” The third obstacle, says Pope, is being labeled as ‘holier than thou’ when sharing about her faith and having her motives questioned.
FOOD FOR THE JOURNEY
Generations of women in her family have modeled faith for Pope. In particular, she remembers her grandmother teaching her about Jesus and the importance of prayer, reciting prayers that Pope memorized as a child. An important part of encouragement to this day, family communication continues weekly evolving from a phone call to a weekly Zoom meeting at 2 p.m. Sundays for relatives spread out over the entire country. “We stay connected,” explains Pope. “We have social media, and we use it!” A sense of identity also gives Pope footing along her journey. “Knowing who I belong to both in the secular world and in the bigger creation of the world helps me overcome any obstacle…”
Early in her life, taking a cut in pay, Pope decided to leave her corporate career and take on a position that would allow her to spend time to “be the teacher” for her young son. In this way, she had the time to also correct others’ teachings that were based on implicit biases. “I really wanted to commit to raising children who would be thinkers and who would question--and I knew that my job in the corporate world would not allow me to do that.” With her children grown, she sees the results. “They are so grounded in who they are and why they exist,” states Pope. “I know I nurtured the seed well… and I feel really good about that.”
Working with clients who have dementia at ASEB, Pope has been inspired. “What I have learned that is so magnificent about them is their humanity, their ability to have empathy for each other… all their biases and drama are gone.”
Counseling is important to Pope who has suffered grief most poignantly after the death of her brother. “I was the person that never felt grief. I was the person who kept going, kept going, kept going...“ explains Pope noting that this time “the grief couldn’t be pushed away.” She sees counseling as a tool that everyone should use and not feel guilty about. “Use it as a tool in your life, when you have grief or anxiety, don’t just live with it.”
PLANTING SEEDS IN 2023
For the church, Pope states, “We have to be the healers. We have to move from comfort ministries to challenging ministries that will make the world a better place for women, people of color, elders, and humanity. We all play a role.” Pope referred to the Parable of the Mustard Seed, “Plant one tiny mustard seed… and see if we can grow the Kingdom of Christ.”
As her family legacy, Pope prays that she will have “shifted something a little bit and my children’s children can look at …it will give them the fuel they need to grow in Christ and become people who are leaders in the movement of Christ.”