Faith Put to the Test

Wandering in the Wilderness: Danny Givens and Marea Perry

First Recorded

May 28, 2015


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Danny Givens underwent a spiritual transformation and was eventually ordained as a Christian pastor while serving a 12-year prison sentence. In this conversation, Givens joins friend and colleague Marea Perry to discuss his journey and ministry as a Black pastor working in the Unitarian Universalist Church. 

This story was produced by David Dault at Sandburg Media, LLC.

This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives. The interview was recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

Danny Givens and Marea Perry

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Marea Perry: So, how do you describe yourself as a pastor?

Danny Givens: Oh, I got saved in prison and started preaching and was ordained in prison during a 12-year prison sentence. So, that really impacted my life.

Marea Perry: So what do you think about your life now as an older man?

Danny Givens: I would say now life is I'm adjusting. Life is about acclimation. Went to prison at 18 and got out right before my thirty-first birthday. So I've been home for seven years. And so I can assimilate well, I can adapt well.

The challenge and struggle for me, and this is really a part of my pilgrimage, is finding out ways to discover me, to discover that enemy without fear—without questioning or doubting, but just really being able to look in the mirror and just authentically be myself.

Marea Perry: Do you remember a time when your faith was put to test?

Danny Givens: Yeah. Yeah. My faith was put to a test when... I would say about two years ago. Two years ago I went through one of the roughest years of my life. It was harder than going to prison.

I was going through a divorce, and two weeks after moving out of my ex-wife's house, my little brother dies in my arm at 33 years old. About a month after that, I get a letter from the place where we were renting space from my church, saying that it was no longer financially advantageous for them to rent space to us and they couldn't accommodate our needs. And we'd been great tenants, but I needed to find a space. And so it was a year of significant loss on so many different levels.

I felt like I was wandering in the wilderness, like going from place to place asking different churches. I actually had visited nearly 30 churches in 10 days, got down to the wire.

And, used to go on night walks in my neighborhood and would walk past this particular church. As I went walking past one particular night and looked over and saw that the church looked different. It was just beautiful on the outside. It had this real, it was just a fountain out there. It was lit up. It just looked amazing. I said to myself, "I would love to worship there."

And at that time, I was living at home with my mom and we would have coffee every morning. And we woke up and had coffee and she said, "You should go visit that white church over there." So I walked over there and walked in and walked to the front desk and saw my god-mom Marcy Mann and was like, "What are you doing here?" And she looked at me, says, "What are you doing here?" And she said, "I work here." I said, "Well, I'm looking for a place to rent for our church." And she turns to Barbara Hubbard and Lisa Friedman and says, "This is my godson, the pastor that I was telling you about."

And that's when my faith was put to the test, because now here it is. I'm a pastor of a Christian church that has walked into this Unitarian Universalist church. I'm a young black, urban pastor. Don't look anything like your typical normal pastor. I have some different backgrounds and beginnings and palms up and transparent. And here's this church full of white people who have this love that's out of this world. And I'm fearful and wondering, "Are they gonna judge me because I'm going through a divorce or as a pastor? Or are they going to judge me because I have a criminal background, I served time in prison."

Marea Perry: So how do you continue to do that? How do you continue to be you, doing this work?

Danny Givens: Being me is living authentically in who I am and being honest with those that I love and that are around me. And I realize God has a plan for me.

It just clicked in my mind like, "God, I'm in prison. I feel like I'm busting hell wide open. And you have a plan for me still. You're thinking about me and I..." I got saved. And the next day I was on the yard teaching Bible study and praying for people.

And I just wanted people to know that love, but it wasn't an easy journey because a lot of people weren't, especially in prison, weren't readily accepting of my change and my transition. Because I went from being like the predator to now I'm saying I want to be amongst the praying.

I believe the future holds, for me and for Above Every Name, I believe it holds promise as positioning the ministry that God has committed to our trust and to my trust to be an agent of change.

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