Back in June, Kellie Brown and Jenell Chavis sat down to speak with Kim Ince for Between the Pew, a podcast produced by AAM. They discussed her journey to Christ, to the PCA, and to DC and to get a glimpse into how she has navigated the challenges that have arisen along the way. Kim is a member of Grace Mosaic Church, PCA, in Washington, D.C., and is studying to become a licensed counselor. Most may know Kim as Irwyn Ince’s wife, but she is a force in her own right.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Kim did not grow up in the church. Her only experience with church was her mother’s parents’ church, a very Hellfire and brimstone Church of God in Christ where they believed if you didn’t get saved in their church, you weren’t saved. Women also had strict dress codes, not wearing pants or makeup or jewelry. She remembers consciously thinking to herself at the time of what struck her as a legalistic environment, “If this is what God is like, I don’t want any part of God.”
When Kim and Irwyn wed in 1992, neither were believers. Both came to Christ when they moved to Maryland in 1995 after attending New Bethel Baptist Church, where Kim’s cousin was a faithful member. With no community in Maryland and just three years into their marriage with one child, they thought New Bethel would be a good place to meet people.
New Bethel Baptist is a historically black Baptist church in Washington, D.C. founded in 1902. At the time, Walter Fauntroy, a younger associate of Martin Luther King Jr. was the pastor. Kim recalled her time there with fondness, “I loved, loved, loved that church.” She described the experience as a typical black church experience: typical hymnal, people standing and raising their hands, call and response, choir and choir robes, white-gloved ushers walking down the aisle to take the offering, different weeks of the month assigned different colors for attire. In fact, one of the first things she took note of when first attending was their attire, especially the women. She thought, “They’re wearing pants. Women are wearing pants. They’re wearing makeup. They’re wearing jewelry. And it looks like these people are generally happy.”
At New Bethel, the two started attending a young adult Bible study. While reading and studying through Genesis, the Lord first captured their hearts. They became Christians around the same time and were baptized—dunked in the baptismal pool—around the same time. They wasted no time getting started serving the church.
Joining the PCA
Their earliest formative and foundational experiences with the church were deeply rooted in the black church tradition. That began to change three or four years in when Irwyn began listening to R.C. Sproul and thinking about ministry. Kim was independently listening to Charles Stanley and that was where she was growing spiritually.
As Irwyn became more ‘Reformed-curious,’ Kim initially didn’t think much of it nor was it something they really discussed. However, when his search for Reformed seminaries brought them in contact with Kevin Smith and his church in Bowie, Maryland, Kim began to think maybe there was more to it than she had originally thought.
At the same time, they started talking about leaving their Baptist church. Because even though it was great for them, they weren’t growing, and they hoped for more depth from the sermons. They weren’t sure from Sunday to Sunday what they would get—a Bible message or a political one. They wanted, and needed, more. So, they made the jump from their traditional black Baptist church to a PCA church plant of forty to fifty people in Bowie that met in a school cafeteria.
Kim describes her landing, which could have been quite a shock, as rather soft, “Kevin and Sandy just loved on us. Brought us in, showed us the good, the bad, the ugly of pastoral life. You know, what it means to be a pastor and all that stuff. So, for me, coming into the PCA wasn’t really traumatic. We had a soft landing in the PCA. Because my first experience of a PCA pastor was black.” Although only 1.2% of pastors in the PCA are black, Kim admits, “I really don’t have any experience—PCA experience—with white pastors.”
Regardless of what church Kim has found herself over the years in the PCA, the experience of her children was foremost among her concerns. “My biggest fear was the kids falling through the cracks and grow to resent the church.” While she was able to cobble community together during difficult church seasons at Bible Study Fellowship and Parakaleo, her kids usually had to do the best with whatever was offered through their church. Often being tapped to lead worship and seeing their father’s hard work not appreciated, the Ince kids’ experience in the PCA left much to be desired.
A Pastor’s Wife
One of the factors that seemed most to influence Kim’s experience of each church she attended was the role that she played. While Irwyn was pastoring, the pressures of the role and the isolation it came with were difficult to weather. As a pastor’s wife, when church got messy, she could feel the distance others put up before her. At other times, like right now, as just a normal congregant, she could speak more freely for herself.
The various PCA churches Kim has attended have run the gamut of feeling like safe, inclusive, spaces where she felt celebrated and valued. They had varied levels of diversity as well. In some other spaces, diversity felt like a box to check off, or a show to put on, and lacked humility and real efforts to understand different perspectives. In her current congregation, Grace Mosaic, a part of the Grace DC network, Kim shared, “Mosaic, to me, feels more like a black church even though I think the majority of people that go to Grace Mosaic are white. But to me, it feels as close to the black church experience that I have experienced since New Bethel.”
When asked about her experience as a black woman in the PCA, Kim shared, “In my context, I feel valued. There are enough women of color in my context, in my church, in our church, in the broader Grace D.C. network, where I don’t feel isolated. But I know that that’s not the case for the majority of our black women in this denomination.” To help with the feelings of isolation many people of color may experience in the PCA, Kim recommended they attend LDR, a conference for people of color in the PCA. “That’s why LDR is so great, right? You get to meet other women of color from around the country.”
Her encouragement to other black women in the PCA? “Get connected to other black women. I think that’s the only way you’re going to be able to survive. And don’t feel guilty about seeking that out. And don’t let other people make you feel guilty about seeking that out.”