A few months ago, Pastor Erik asked me to write an article to share with the St. Luke’s community about myself. As a seminary student, this request is fairly common, probably to prepare us for the call process. Each time anyone tells their story it is a bit different, sculpted by our experiences and expectations, our hopes of building deep connections and our fears that we will not represent ourselves in the most faithful way.
I grew up in a blue-collar household in Cleveland, Ohio. I was raised to work hard, love Jesus, and to treat others with respect. My parents showed me that sometimes treating people with respect means taking steps that others may not be able to take. Such steps led us to being a foster family to an African American boy in a racially biased town. Even before first grade, I had learned that talking to my friends about my black brother carried very different weight then talking about my white sister. I learned about the injustice of deaf ears and that when telling our stories we should always consider our audience.
Such lessons continued when at the age of fifteen I was diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disorder. It was a challenge to learn how to explain to others what it means to live with a chronic condition, and I discovered the sacredness of bonding with people who share similar life experiences as me.
Five years ago, I was working as a part-time children’s librarian and finishing up my undergraduate degree from Ashford University. I had plans on attending Kent State University to obtain Masters of Library Science so that I could get a full time job as a teen librarian. The economy hit Ohio like it did the rest of the country, and I suddenly found myself without a job.
A friend was leaving her position at Pilgrim United Church of Christ to attend Ashland Seminary for a Masters of Church Music. She suggested I apply for her job to tide me over until I could get back into the library world. Within two weeks of being hired as a part-time secretary, I knew I would never go back to libraries again. Within six months, I was Pilgrim’s Director of Church Operations, overseeing their finances, outreach ministry, non-pastoral staff, and building.
Pilgrim taught me a great deal about what it means to be brave in faith. Pilgrim is a prominent congregation in the UCC, and has history of transforming their denominational doctrine, particularly in relation to LGBT and domestic violence issues. My life experiences helped me develop a habit of staying quiet to avoid controversy. The Pilgrim community helped me re-discover my voice, and it was through service in that community that I learned God was calling me into a life of ministry.
It is not a coincidence that I discerned my calling through service. It was once I stepped outside of myself that I could appreciate the gifts that God had given me. It was only when I put a part of my heart on the line that I could realize I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. It was only in stretching myself that I could understand that through my faith in Christ, there is no limit to the depth of love I can feel towards others.
God called me into ministry through service and by stretching my expectations. I now have a new habit of listening to where I am called. I listened to God and applied at St. Luke’s even when my seminary friends told me it would be hard to balance this position with my education. They were right, it is hard, but God speaks to me through my service and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I have learned more about my pastoral identity while working for St Luke’s then I have in any other environment.
God also calls me into places that are new and foreign to me. Last year, God called me to New Orleans, where as a Fund for Theological Education Fellow I learned how to work ecumenically in environments of natural disaster.
This winter, God called me to Louisville to the Academy of Preachers National Festival of Preachers. Out of 123 seminarians, I was one of four Lutherans and one of handful of women asked to get up behind the pulpit and preach the good news. That experience prompted my appearance in a four-week interview series by Peter Wallace on Day1.org with three male preachers. The festival also resulted in several of my articles being picked up by national publication websites, and my sermon under consideration in a compilation book.
In January, God also called me to El Salvador, where I spent ten days as a delegate in a post-genocide country.
Next week, I will be moving for twelve weeks to New Hampshire where God is calling me to complete my CPE training, an ELCA requirement to become a pastor.. I know no one in New Hampshire. I know even less about living in a small town and providing care to Ivy League med students and their patients, but I know I need to go. I need to be brave in my faith and maintain my habit of following that tug within my stomach that is God’s direction in my life.
Looking ahead to the next few weeks, I am sure there will be moments when this leg of the journey will be hard. I am sure that I will be stretched in ways that I cannot begin to understand, and that I will be transformed in ways that I cannot begin to imagine. Just as I am sure that change is coming, I am also sure that God is calling me to remain in service with the St. Luke’s community.
I will be continuing to complete work for St. Luke’s remotely while I am in New Hampshire until I return to Chicago in August. Please do not hesitate to email me at office@stlukesLS.org. I also invite those interested to follow my CPE and seminary journey through my blog at www.aliveingrace.wordpress.com.
Our relationship with one another is merely at it’s beginning, and I am excited and eternally grateful that God is calling us to be united in ministry together.