The first time I attended St. Luke’s I was terrified. I grew up in churches that tended to say very little about my biggest struggles and questions in life, where I was never challenged to come out from behind myself. I knew that there was something wrong in that, because I sensed a tremendous power in the Christian tradition—it’s just that church never helped connect that power to the reality I was living. My first Sunday at St. Luke’s frightened me because it asked me to confront the possibility of showing up with all of myself in church. As Brene Brown puts it, St. Luke’s asked me to “enter the ring,” to practice my faith, and to let myself be changed in the process.
The Holy Spirit elbowed me to jump in, and I worked at St. Luke’s as Intern for Community Arts from August 2012–May 2013. Part of what I learned at St. Luke’s was the nuts and bolts of leading in a congregation. I designed an interactive arts booth for the neighborhood festival, guided reflections on the intersection of faith and art, and planned the Easter Vigil service. I had failures and successes, but as you all encouraged me to put myself out there my sense of vocation was changed. I put down an ambition to study religion at a safe distance as a professor and experienced a call to the struggle of leading religious community in an ambiguous world as a pastor. My year at St. Luke’s ended in a way I couldn’t have anticipated—with me joining the congregation and beginning the candidacy process for ordained ministry in the ELCA.
That call has shaped the last four years of my life, bringing me to some unexpected places—first to rural Nebraska and then to an affluent congregation in Houston, Texas—Memorial Drive Lutheran Church (MDLC) where I began in April. As I attempt to lead this congregation towards authentic and integrated lives as Christians in our community, St. Luke’s is always on my mind. It introduced me to some of ministry’s greatest challenges—tensions between pursuing God’s mission and maintaining institutions. It wowed me with awesome ideas—like an Easter Vigil that draws on the arts (I got to introduce MDLC to its first Easter Vigil this year with dramatic readings coordinated by a member who works for a local theater!). But most importantly St. Luke’s formed some of my deepest values. At St. Luke’s I learned what it means to be both rooted in tradition and relevant to real life, to be a church committed to the neighborhood around it, to be a church which gives permission and empowers its lay people. Maybe most importantly, I learned that I could be a pastor while remaining who I am—that faith and real life can come together, both in church and in me.