Whirlwind: Ministry at Elizabethtown COB

Hello! It has been about a month since my last post but honestly it feels much longer to me! May and June have been busy months, so I could very easily take a lot of space and time to recount all of the specifics, but I’ll do my best to focus on some of the highlights.

After all of my finals were completed and all of the events around baccalaureate and commencement were catered (and cleaned up!), Jason and I took the trip back to Pennsylvania. The first few weeks of the summer were pretty packed full of visiting friends in Huntingdon, preparing for and celebrating my sister Jaynie’s bridal shower and bachelorette party (which were a lot of fun!), and then a much-needed and relaxing Memorial Day weekend with my family. The “vacation” didn’t last long, however, because at the end of May I was flying off to Elgin, IL for the orientation to my summer ministry internship.

In my most recent post I explained a little about Ministry Summer Service. In short, it is a 10-week long ministry internship for young adults in the Church of the Brethren. Because MSS is a program of the Youth and Young Adult Office, all participating interns and mentors attended this orientation, which was held at the Church of the Brethren General Offices outside of Chicago. I was pretty excited to attend this orientation because 1) I had never been to the General Offices before, 2) I wanted to meet the other young adults who were serving in ministry settings over the summer, and 3) I was ready to get this ministry experience started!

Walking the labyrinth was one of our spiritual practices during orientation

Walking the labyrinth was one of our spiritual practices during orientation

Our time in Elgin was just outstanding. In all there are 9 MSSers (interns), serving in either congregations, summer camps, the General Offices, or as part of the Youth Peace Travel Team (another really awesome opportunity for Brethren young adults). This was a great group of Brethren students, from all over the United States, who were funny, excited, and truly interested in connecting with and supporting each other. The orientation itself was quite busy but very fulfilling. We had sessions on Brethren theology, exegetical text study (one of my favorites), preaching and worship, spiritual practices (another one of my favorites), and ethics of leadership in ministry, to name a few. We also were given the special opportunity to be guests at many of the homes of our denominational leaders, which was really a unique and wonderful gift to us as interns. Halfway through the week our ministry mentors arrived and together we discussed work profiles and personalities, expectations of each other, and what we each were looking forward to over the summer. Then, after many hugs (and almost as many snapchats and hashtags), we each departed for our ministry sites! (MSS Orientation was featured in the most recent Church of the Brethren Newsline. Read about it here.) My mentor, Pam Reist, and I flew back to Harrisburg on Wednesday, June 4th and my first day at the Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren was on Thursday, June 5th!

Before I share about some of the ministry opportunities I have already had so far, I must say a few words about the people I’ll be learning the most from this summer. As I mentioned, my mentor is Pastor Pam Reist, who is just an excellent pastor and wonderful role model for ministry. She has been at the Elizabethtown COB for about 6 years, and she co-pastors with Greg Davidson Laszakovits, who has been serving as pastor for about 8 years, I believe. Additionally, the Etown church (ECOB, as they call it) has a third pastor and director of music, Josh Tindall. These three make a great team, and from what I can tell so far, I am going to really benefit by gleaning from their collective wisdom.

So! It’s already been a whirlwind of ministry so far, and I can’t believe it’s only been almost two weeks. (A whirlwind of ministry… is that a thing? Can I make it a thing?) Even though I spent my first Thursday and Friday at the church during office hours and met a few people here and there, on Sunday, June 8th I was officially introduced to the congregation during morning worship. ECOB is one of the larger churches in the denomination, and they average around 250 in attendance on a Sunday morning. That is HUGE, compared to what I’m used to! So you can imagine my excitement (and nervousness) looking out into the congregation and anticipating all of the new people I will meet and work with (and also wondering how many names I will be able remember of the course of a summer). Thankfully everyone I have met, either at worship or at other events, has been very friendly and gracious, even if I ask their name more than once! That Sunday morning I dove right into to ministry responsibilities, by helping Pam serve bread and cup communion during worship. It was Pentecost, so we prayed for and celebrated the presence of the Holy Spirit among those early Christians and among us still today.

This is the beautiful Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren

This is the beautiful Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren

Inside the sanctuary

Inside the sanctuary

Since that first Sunday morning, I’ve been on the go: a film screening at the church of Girl Rising (about the significance and long-range benefits of educating girls and women in the developing world), pastoral team meetings, a church board meeting, a worship planning retreat, preparing and presenting a short drama during worship this past Sunday in place of a sermon (written by Pastor Josh and presented by each of us pastors!), just to name a few. I am also helping with Vacation Bible School later this week and I have a few ongoing projects to work on. I don’t feel the need to share in depth about many of those experiences and responsibilities, but I do want to share two stories from ministry experiences in my first few weeks that I found to be especially meaningful, and I hope you will too.

The first story is from last Monday afternoon. I accompanied Pam on a pastoral visit to a local hospice care facility. I know that for many of you pastors and seminarians this is a frequent occurrence, but this was my first pastoral care visit. The elderly woman we visited was weak and not conscious, very close to the end of her life, but her husband had been caring for her in her illness for many, many years. As we spoke with her husband, we heard stories of his childhood and their life together, and we realized that he alone had been her primary caregiver in these final years. He had a great smile and loved to have people to talk with, I think. Yet I could barely find any words to speak when we heard how he cared for her. Each day he performed simple yet deep acts of love for her, acts that were tinged with a sweet pain. He tried to provide her favorite meals to eat, such as tomato bisque, yet he knew that she barely had the energy to enjoy them. A true pastoral presence, Pam patiently and kindly discussed options for memorial services with him, and before we left we prayed with him and his wife. Amidst her heavy breathing and the beeps of the monitor next to her bed, we asked for God to draw near. We prayed that the presence of the Spirit would surround them and that they would be comforted by the assurance of God’s love. As we prepared to leave, with tears in his eyes he grasped our hands and thanked us for coming. What a powerful moment in time, to sit and listen and just be present with a family who knows that death and heartache are just a few hours or days away, yet being hopeful and trusting in God’s presence which promises that death will not have the final word.

Another meaningful moment occurred last Tuesday evening, during a meeting of the church’s Peace Group. The group was working their way through a six-session series on being a Living Peace Church, a program designed by On Earth Peace. Tuesday was their sixth and final session, and Pam asked me to lead the Bible study portion of the session. I was happy to do so, however the Bible study wasn’t the real highlight. At the start of the session, Pam asked the 10 or so people in attendance, many of whom have been members of ECOB and this Peace Group for several decades, to share some past and present stories or examples of how this faith community has lived out the peace witness of the Church of the Brethren. The responses were incredible! One person remembered protesting the Iraq/Afghanistan wars in Harrisburg, the state capital; another recalled hosting a group of Russian Orthodox visitors while a group of angry evangelical Christians gathered outside the church building to protest. One woman shared that, during the Vietnam War, the congregation sponsored a Vietnamese meal to raise cultural awareness in the community. Others remembered Vacation Bible School curriculum about peace and justice, and a clothing drive for Syrian refugees. Again and again the stories poured forth and the excitement in the room grew, and all at once I felt inspired and overwhelmed and filled with gratitude for the prophetic witness of this faith community. Deep in their bones this congregation has felt the stirrings of Jesus’ message of peace, and they take it seriously! This summer I am so grateful to catch a glimpse of how God’s Spirit moves in and among these committed and passionate people of faith.

The Peace Memorial Garden is a beautiful spot just steps from the church. After the death of a loved one, families can choose to inter ashes in this garden.

The Peace Memorial Garden is a beautiful spot just steps from the church. After the death of a loved one, families can choose to inter ashes in this garden.

It’s just been a few days but already I am feeling at home and grateful. This is a new experience for me, pastoral leadership in a congregation, and even though it will only last 10 weeks, I have a feeling that God’s Spirit will be at work in and among each moment and each person I encounter, helping me to learn and grow in ways I never have before.

P.S. On a side note, I am also still writing for State of Formation, and my May post can be found here, if you are interested. It’s called the Syrophoenician Woman: Possibilities for Healing Across Borders:  I (really, really) condensed one of my final papers into a post that examines a passage of scripture through a border-crossing lens. My June post is still in the works, but I’ll be sure to share it on Agape Latte. However you can always choose to sign up for the State of Formation newsletter to receive recent posts from emerging faith leaders who care about interfaith connections. Thanks for reading!



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