Growing up in Dayton, OH, Aqueelah Ligonde was surrounded by family and friends of all ages. Each Sunday she attended the Baptist church that her family belonged to, soaking up nuggets of wisdom and guidance from the longtime members. Now at 44, she is sharing those gifts with others.
“Growing up, my whole life was intergenerational. It was never a term back then, but older people walked alongside all of us,” said Ligonde, who discovered her love for youth ministry at only 13 and in 2018 shared her thoughts in the book, InterGenerate: Transforming Churches through Intergenerational Ministry.
“I have three brothers and one sister, and my mom loves kids,” said Ligonde when asked what inspired her to pursue youth ministry. “The work of my pastor also led me to youth ministry. He saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself.” She added that Pastor Daryl Ward is still her mentor and “spiritual person.”
Rev. Dr. Ligonde, an ordained Presbyterian clergywoman who recently attained a D.Min. from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, has dedicated her life to youth through coaching, speaking, workshops and delving into their lives in whatever way she thinks will make a difference. She has worked with organizations like Princeton Seminary Institute For Youth Ministry and Youth Specialties, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Urban Youth Workers Institute and Racial Ethnic Young Women PCUSA Mission Agency, and she has also served on the Executive Board of GenOn Ministries, an organization dedicated to intergenerational relationship and trained with the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative.
But to each unique experience, she brings passion, creativity and optimism.
When she arrives at IGNITE this October, Ligonde said she plans to bring a balance between fun and “something that will stick.”
“I don’t take myself too seriously. I hope I can help people relax so that they can hear the message better. I hope the kids will come with an openness to roll with me. For me, there always has to be interaction. That might come from my Baptist roots,” said Ligonde who jokingly told me that even she’s not sure what hairstyle she will have at the event in two months.
“I love to change my look,” she said.
For Ligonde, she said she’s looking forward to “hearing a variety of voices, paying attention to what the Holy Spirit has.” “ I’m sure everything will line up beautifully,” she said.
Ligonde’s journey after graduating from McCormick Theological Seminary in 2002 led her first to Alexandria, VA, in her search for a place to do youth ministry. Then when a church in Jamaica, Queens, was looking for a youth minister, Ligonde seized the opportunity, staying there for 12 years.
“We did great work there, but I was looking for something other than working for a church,” said Ligonde who recalled how she found Ministry Architects at the top of an internet search. Six years later, she is still a staff consultant for the organization who works with churches using the philosophy that both creativity and structure can work in tandem in ministry.
She works concurrently for Ministry Incubators, an organization that helps creative individuals, organizations and faith communities transform innovative ideas for ministry into sustainable social impact enterprises and is the transitional pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Far Rockaway, NY.
A few years ago, Ligonde wrote a blog called “The Three R’s of Engaging Teens,” in which she wrote, “It is not easy engaging teens. Sometimes we feel like we have to have some kind of formal to be attractive and appealing. In my many years of working with teens, I have found that there are three realities that ring true when trying to engage teens. I like to call them the 3 R’s—relationship, real and relevancy.”
Ligonde’s commitment to youth is relatable, relevant and real. Her chameleon-like hair, penchant to laugh easily and ability to move forward with her ears and eyes wide open make the connection to youth an easy and cohesive one.
When she’s not helping people bolster their ministries or grow in their faith, Ligonde is working toward improving the spiritual, physical, mental and social health of youth, with a focus on young girls, women and ultimately the family. She applies this focus as a volunteer retreat leader for junior and senior high school students for Holmes Presbyterian Camp and Retreat Center or teaching a free fitness class for Shape Up NYC.
No stranger to IGNITE, Ligonde was the keynote speaker at Next Gen Ministries’ IGNITE Youth Leaders Day in 2018 when she spoke of taking care of the soul while serving as volunteers or staff in ministry.
Some say that the meaning of the name, Aqueelah is “wise,” while others say, “bright and pleasant gift from God.” For Aqueelah Ligonde, both meanings apply.