Noticing the Fireflies

Last Friday, October 24, I was honored to give the address at The Memorial Church’s Morning Prayers service. Morning Prayers is one of the oldest traditions at Harvard University, dating back to seventeenth century, and while school is in session it occurs every Monday through Saturday from 8:45-9:00am. These brief yet meaningful services involve a psalm, a hymn, a passage of scripture or an inspirational reading, an anthem by Choral Fellows of Harvard University Choir, and a 5 minute address by a member or friend of the Harvard community. As a Seminarian in the Memorial Church (aka completing my field education there this year), part of my regular responsibilities involve leading Morning Prayers once a week, and usually my days to lead are Fridays. This involves setting up the chapel in the morning, serving as a host to that morning’s guest speaker, and leading the service itself. However this past Friday the tables were turned as I had the opportunity to be the guest speaker. I’d like to share with you my short message from that morning. Truth be told, this was something that I had written a few years ago, but I just had not shared it anywhere since. (If you’d like to listen to the entire 15 minute service, you can click here. My address begins a little after 7 minutes in.)

One July night, a few summers ago, I was driving home along a rural highway in central Pennsylvania. It had been one of those summers with its fair share of wet and rainy days, especially recently. But all of a sudden during this week in July, the heat and sun and humidity seemed to remember its place, and was determined to remind everyone that it was indeed July. That night was especially warm and heavy as I guided my car across the winding two-lane highway that weaved between farmlands and sleepy towns.

As I drove, the last remaining traces of daylight were stretching themselves thin. Suddenly, my eyes were drawn past the racing yellow lines on the road into the darkening, shadowy boundaries beyond the road, where flickering lights illuminated the meadows and fields. Fireflies. Like the heads of tiny, glowing needles in long, bushy pincushions, the insects flickered and shimmered in dark places and green hideaways, seen by their temporary but ever-returning glows.

These mini spotlights accompanied me on my drive through rural Pennsylvania, all the way to my destination. I wondered why I had not noticed these friendly bugs as much on other evening drives. Had the intense heat of the week brought the firefly families forth from their hiding? Or had I just opened my eyes to the simple beauty of these creatures as they danced and beckoned me along my journey?

Like the firefly, how we must seem to an almighty God. We flicker, we shine as tiny beacons of light, of inspiration, reflecting God’s creation of light and goodness amidst our often darkening surroundings. But also, like the firefly, our light is always temporary, never constant, only in and out, on and off. We are, after all, only human; we have the small capacity to experience mere glimpses into the revealing of the beloved community and kingdom of God. A glimmer here, a flash of hope there. Our individual lights often shine at the same time as others, but more often do our lights go out only to let someone else’s shine. I am not a biologist, but I imagine that there is no algorithm or pattern for these insects to flash their lights. They simply shine, then wait their turn while their neighbor shines, then they shine again.

What a sight it would be to see a meadow or a field completely lit up with fireflies, whose light beams are all shining at once, constant and simultaneous! Though, I think, perhaps this is more beautiful: a dark, green-black field of flickering, shimmering fireflies. What if, instead of a fortissimo chorus of simultaneous lights, God prefers the view of a glittering blanket of lights on this earth, each of our bursts of light and inspirations only temporary, waiting, as we flicker on and off, for the beautiful revealing and unveiling of the Divine kingdom?

I don’t know about you, but I am now looking for fireflies. Since that July night a couple years ago, I have had to navigate the unknowns of moving to a new city, adjusting to the life of a full-time seminary student, nurturing long-distance relationships with loved ones, and being open to new connections and experiences. Amidst all of this, I must also be noticing and seeking the flashes of inspiration, the flickering lights that come in temporary but beautiful ways, assuring me that I am on the right road on this journey, heading with faith towards my destination.

Will you notice your fireflies, too?

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Year 2 is Already Under Way!

Well we are already into week 5 of the fall semester and I apologize that it’s taken me this long to sit down and write an update! It’s already been an exciting, unusual, and eventful semester of my second year of seminary at Andover Newton Theological School. I’ll do my best to recap the past few weeks and give you a rundown of what this year will look like!

This year my biggest time commitment and most exciting ministry experience will be my 6 credits of field education, 3 in the fall and 3 in the spring. Basically what this amounts to is 15 hours/week of an internship in a ministry setting. Field education (or contextual education, or ministry formation… whatever you want to call it, different seminaries have different names but they are all the same idea) is arguably the most important experience one can have in theological school, because it gives you practical, hands-on ministry experience with intentional supervision and theological reflection built into each semester. Fun fact: the field ed program at Andover Newton is actually one of the oldest and most innovative programs of its kind, as one of the first to offer on-campus courses associated with field experiences, which is a significant piece of our field ed year.

Anyway, I am so pleased to share that this year I will be completing field ed at the Memorial Church of Harvard University. Located right in the middle of Harvard Yard, Memorial Church is a non-denominational congregation and “space of grace” for Harvard students, faculty, staff, local alumni, and friends of the university. The Harvard University chaplains (there are around 30 chaplains representing multiple faiths and traditions) have office space in this building and the Harvard University choir provides sacred music for the almost all of the services (can I say it is an absolute privilege to hear this outstanding choir every…single…week?). For decades the late Rev. Peter Gomes was the face of Memorial Church and he was known around the country for his outstanding preaching before he died unexpectedly in 2011. Today the church is led by Professor Jonathan Walton, the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church, and by Rev. Lucy Forster-Smith, Sedgwick Chaplain to the University and Senior Minister in the Memorial Church. Rev. Lucy is my supervisor, and full of wisdom and years of campus ministry experience, she leads me and six other seminarians/interns serving the Memorial Church this year.

The Memorial Church of Harvard University

The Memorial Church of Harvard University

My view from the front of the church (obviously on Sunday mornings the pews aren't empty!)

My view from the front of the church (obviously on Sunday mornings the pews aren’t empty!)

The view from the back of the church

The view from the back of the church

Along with helping to lead Sunday morning services, as a Seminarian in the Memorial Church I lead a Morning Prayers service one day a week, help with other special services, serve as a host for guest speakers and preachers, participate in a weekly seminar with other seminarians/interns, meet for one-on-one supervision with Lucy, and complete one or two additional personal projects that take the form of ministry to college students and/or the Memorial Church community. Whew! It makes for a busy week, and that’s just field ed! I’m still in the beginning stages of this experience, trying to learn as much as I can about the congregation and history of Memorial Church, the culture at Harvard, the role of the Harvard chaplains, the flow of worship, and how I fit into it all. Please pray for me as I continue to learn and grow in this exciting and challenging role.

In addition to field ed, I am taking 3 other courses this semester. On Monday mornings I am taking “New Testament Foundations,” which is the basic introductory course for New Testament. Last spring I already took an upper-level NT class, so I have to go back and take the intro course, which should be interesting and important but not one that I am too worried about.

On Wednesday mornings I take a unique class called “Spiritual Practices for Healing and Wholeness.” Like the title suggests, the goal of this class is to both learn about and practice spiritual disciplines like centering prayer, welcoming prayer, lectio divina, Sabbath, and other important practices. The idea is that we as ministers need to have a solid foundation in spiritual practices and intentionally connecting with God if we want to teach and support others to do the same. This is a four-hour class that begins with an hour of yoga each week, which I love. While it might sound like an easy course (and it is graded Pass/Fail), it really is a challenging class and one that will serve each of us in the long run probably more than any other class in seminary.

My third class takes place on Thursday mornings and it is Systematic Theology I. This is one of the few specifically required courses at Andover Newton and if you ask most students, it is one of the most intimidating. Basically systematic theology looks at various theological concepts throughout history and today in a systematic way, how they have changed and evolved, and how various theological perspectives have interpreted them over the years (liberation theology, feminist theology, etc.) At ANTS we take systematic theology over 2 semesters, so Part I is in the fall and Part II is in the spring. This fall we examine four concepts in depth: revelation and authority, human nature, God, and the person and work of Christ. We read theologians from the early centuries of Christianity, through the Reformation, to current theologians. Then we get to decide what we think about these concepts. No pressure, right? 😉

So those are my courses, which along with field ed, should keep me on my toes this semester! However I am super excited to share that I’m also participating in something else this year that has really been a goal of mine since I arrived at ANTS.

This year I am a CIRCLE Fellow. CIRCLE is the Center for Inter-Religious and Communal Leadership Education, a joint initiative between Andover Newton and Hebrew College, the two schools on our little hill. CIRCLE is pretty much responsible for all of the interfaith programming that occurs on our campuses, and it’s run by Rabbi Or Rose who is the Director of the Center for Global Judaism at HC, Celene Ayat Ibrahim-Lizzio who is an Islamic Scholar in Residence on the faculty of both HC and ANTS, and Dr. Jenny Peace who is the Assistant Professor of Interfaith Studies at ANTS (my advisor and the person whose work really drew me to ANTS in the first place.) The CIRCLE Fellowships go like this: we apply in partnership with a person of a faith different than ours, and we propose a project for the year that will engage students at ANTS, HC, and members from the surrounding community in interfaith learning and relationship building.

This year as a CIRCLE Fellow I am excited to partner with a bright and sweet woman named Basma, who is a Muslim community member and PhD student at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt. Her family moved to Boston for her husband to complete his PhD at Brandies University and they will return to Cairo in a few years when he is finished. However in the mean time I am so excited to get to know Basma and to work in partnership with her this year! As Fellows, our project is an interfaith peer group called “Portrayal of the Religious Other in Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Scriptures.” In a discussion group made up of students from HC, ANTS, and folks from the community, we will examine passages from the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Qur’an that involve or portray a person of a different faith, what we can learn, and how we respond as people of faith. We will meet once a month, and our first gathering is next Monday! In addition to the learning and discovery that will take place in our peer group, all of the CIRCLE Fellows meet once a month for professional development, getting to know each other, and learning from our directors. Just this past weekend we all gathered at Celene’s home in New Hampshire for a retreat in which we ate delicious food, practiced storytelling with one another, and prepared for the exciting events in the year ahead.

So… that’s my semester! Of course, there are always other things going on, such as continuing to write monthly articles for State of Formation (find my most recent articles here), preparing for my upcoming Border-Crossing trip to Myanmar in January (click here to learn how to support this opportunity financially), resuming my part-time job in our campus dining hall, and continuing to meet once a week with my prayer group for a time of mutual support and holding one anther in prayer. There have also been some recent events related to our school and our new president that have truly shaken our students, faculty, and staff, in addition to many, many more people beyond our campus, and for certain reasons I am not ready to share about it on this blog. However if you could please keep Andover Newton and our leadership in your prayers, it will be needed and felt more than you know.

As always, I am so thankful for you, taking the time to read this and sending along your words of encouragement as I dive into the second year of my theological education. I have to keep reminding myself that seminary is a special time, and I will probably never have a community and an educational environment like this again in my life. While some days I wish I could fast forward to the day when my degree is completed, my student loans are being paid off (!!!), and I’m serving God in a ministry that is challenging and rewarding, I always need to remember to give thanks for this day, for THIS day, and the many lessons and life experiences that I am blessed to receive.

And just because I think it’s so cool, I’ll leave you with this, something I read in one of my books for systematic theology this week:

“To live in Christian hope is to live in the expectation that by God’s grace things can change, disease and death do not have the last word about human destiny, peace is possible, reconciliation between enemies can occur, and we are called to pray and work towards these ends.” – D. Migliore

Amen, and amen!

Leadership & Being Faithful

I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. – Joshua 1:9

It can be exciting but also challenging to begin a new adventure: moving to a new place, starting a new job, and meeting new people. But as people of faith we trust that wherever we go, God will be there. This summer I, along with several other young adults, had the opportunity to put our faith into action through the Ministry Summer Service program of the Youth and Young Adult Ministry Office.

At the beginning of the summer I was a little nervous about what this experience would have in store. In June all of the MSS interns began our internships with a five-day orientation at the Church of the Brethren General Offices in Elgin, IL. At one point each intern was asked to share something about which we were nervous or anxious. I remember sharing that I feel such a strong pull towards college chaplaincy and campus ministry…and I was afraid that my experience in MSS would change the direction of my call to pastoral ministry! While that would be exciting, it would also be challenging and sort of scary to imagine a change like that. (But the Holy Spirit works like that, doesn’t she?) Well now that my 10 weeks of MSS is over, I can hardly believe it went by so quickly. And I have nothing but positive things to say about my experience and about pastoral ministry as a whole.

As I’ve shared before, I was blessed to serve at the Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren in Elizabethtown, PA. Looking back, one of my most important lessons this summer was finding confidence and trusting in my authority as a young, female minister. This was something that my MSS mentor, Pastor Pam Reist, and I discussed at the beginning of the summer, and it was a repeated theme throughout my experience. As a personal project, I lead a book discussion for a group of 8 women on readings from the interfaith anthology Women, Spirituality, and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power. This small group was truly a blessing, and it was made up of women from all areas of life: a twentysomething newlywed, young mothers, women with children in college, retired women. Each of these women defined leadership in a different way yet our conversations revolved around the feminine aspects of leadership and what women bring to the table that is unique and needed. So even though I am always seeking to improve in my abilities as a leader, my 10 weeks at ECOB was an affirming exercise in finding my place of authority and confidence as a minister and learning to trust in that authority more each day. (To continue in this personal exploration, I recently purchased Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors by Christine A. Smith, a book about women in ministerial leadership. It’s on my To-Read List.)

Pastor Pam and I after my sermon on July 27. I was blessed to have Pam as my mentor.

Pastor Pam and I after my sermon on July 27. I was blessed to have Pam as my mentor.

Yet almost or perhaps most importantly, I learned that pastoral ministry, being invited into people’s most special and vulnerable times, is truly a privilege and an honor. This summer I was present for and participated in an anointing before a surgery, two funeral services, post-surgery prayers, end-of-life blessings in a nursing home and a hospice, communion both in worship and for a shut-in, and many other moments of vulnerability, connection, and community. The pastor has a unique role in the Christian community and I firmly believe that if I were to serve as a pastor of a Brethren congregation, it would be both a challenging and rewarding ministry. In the end, I must only seek to be faithful to God’s call, wherever it might lead me.

I am thankful for Ministry Summer Service and the gift it offers young, emerging leaders in the Church of the Brethren.

P.S. By the way, I did preach over the summer as part of my internship experience. If you’d like to listen to my sermon from July 27, the link is here.

Walking the Path of Nonviolence from Boston to Myanmar

“Life always begins one step outside of your comfort zone.” – Shannon L. Alder

Even though the summer is not yet over, I’ve had January on my mind recently. Why you ask? Because I have some exciting news to share about January 2015: I have been accepted for a two-week intensive course called “Walking the Path of Nonviolence in Myanmar: Buddhist and Christian Approaches.” This opportunity to study in Myanmar (also known as Burma) is made possible by connections of Andover Newton Theological School, and I will travel with two faculty members and 10-15 other seminary students, spending a little over two weeks learning about interfaith relations and nonviolent resistance in one of the poorest South Asian countries.

We will primarily learn in Yangon (Rangoon) at the Myanmar Theological Institute and their Peace Study Center and Judson Center for Interfaith Relations. The readings and life of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner, will be a rich source of inspiration for our immersion. Additionally we will spend time at the Pwo Kayon Seminary, a seminary of the Karen people, one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the country. And finally we will stay a few days and nights in a Theravada Buddhist Monastery sharing in the life of the monks there and practicing Vipasanna insight meditation.

Overall this promises to be an unforgettable experience and the most unique and challenging course in my theological education. Of course it will include uncomfortable, unusual and difficult moments, but this opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone will most certainly add a depth to my seminary experience that I am unlikely to gain anywhere else. I am early anticipating January 2015, but in the meantime I have some important steps to take.

Throughout the fall the students and faculty of this course will meet to prepare for the trip, discuss how to prepare and what to expect, and make sure all of our paperwork and travel information is organized. We will read books and articles about the history of Burma and relations with Buddhists and Christians in this part of the world in anticipation of our experience. In addition to preparing for this immersion physically, spiritually, and mentally, we must also prepare financially.

This course involves an additional course fee that includes airfare, lodging, meals, travel in Myanmar and other expenditures. While there is some financial aid available through Andover Newton, I do have to cover a significant portion of the cost, and as you can imagine, being a seminary student isn’t exactly a lucrative career.

Would you prayerfully consider supporting me as I fundraise for this immersion opportunity? Any financial donation, large or small, can bring me one step closer to experiencing firsthand the walk of nonviolence in Myanmar.

If you feel led, click here to support this once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity: https://www.youcaring.com/seganosmyanmar

A friend of mine recently heard that I would be traveling to Myanmar to study nonviolent resistance among Buddhists and Christians, and she responded, “The more people we have in the world studying nonviolence, the closer we get to actually achieving a culture of peace.” I wholeheartedly agree. Thank you for thoughtfully and prayerfully considering making a donation to support this unique and unforgettable opportunity.

Wheat Thins & Crappy Juice

Today I helped Pastor Greg with a pastoral visit and home communion. I’ve been on several pastoral visits and helped to serve communion in worship, but this was my first experience bringing the bread and cup to an elderly member of the church who is unable to attend weekly worship anymore.

Her home was just a few blocks from the church building, so with our minister’s manuals and communion kit in hand, we walked through the bright afternoon sun to her doorstep. As we sat and chatted with this 95-year-old woman, she told us about her adventures in fixing her refrigerator and the weekly visits from folks who bring her Meals on Wheels. Her memory was remarkable; I had heard from other members of the church that she was pretty sharp, and today I could see it for myself.

When it came time for communion, Pastor Greg brought forth a small bottle of Mott’s grape-apple juice, and she offered some crackers that were easier for her to swallow than the church’s bread. Greg stepped into the kitchen and emerged with a familiar yellow box: Wheat Thins. He read the opening words and recounted the words of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel, “This is my body, given for you.” Holding the crackers, we broke them together. I read Jesus’ instructions, favorites of the Brethren, “Do this in remembrance of me.” With the tiny cups of juice in our hands we partook together, and closed in prayer.

It was a simple service that took no longer than 5 minutes. The Wheat Thins were…Wheat Thins. The juice…well, honestly Greg and I thought the grade-apple juice tasted more like sugar water than anything else. But even with crunchy crackers and a crappy cup, I still feel thankful. I am thankful to be in a church that’s pretty low maintenance when it comes to the elements of communion (transubstanti—what?). I am thankful to sit in fellowship and offer a simple service of Christian faith to a woman who was grateful for the company and the communion. But most importantly I was thankful for the ways in which God takes our ordinary things of life and turns them into items of blessing and promise.

I’ll probably never look at Wheat Thins in the same away again.

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!

 

Finals and Future Plans

Happy May! It’s amazing how fast each semester goes by, especially when life keeps you on your toes. I am right in the midst of finals right now, and even though technically there is just one week of “finals” in the campus calendar, it seems like “finals” really lasts about three weeks. Between end-of-the-semester projects, presentations, group work, and of course, papers and sermons, most of us have been invested in final assignments for quite a while now

About two weeks ago I had an assignment for my 20th Century Sermons class that asked us to write and give a sermon “of the future.” In addition to that unusual assignment, I also worked on and submitted a 3 part sermon series that tied together the various learnings of the semester. For my Understanding Interfaith course, I wrote a paper on how I have come to understand “interfaith” as a result of life experiences and our class: personally, historically in the United States, theologically, and practically. Right now I am completing a Christian social ethics paper on how abortion is covered (or not covered) in the Affordable Care Act (woof, I know), and my last remaining assignment is an exegesis on Mark 7:24-30, the story of Jesus with the Syrophoenician woman, for my New Testament course.

So that’s what my past few weeks have been about. I should be finished this coming Thursday, because that is when Jason is coming to visit for several days! I am so excited to spend time with him when I don’t have any assignments or schoolwork to worry about! I do have to stay until graduation because of my job in the cafeteria. We are catering all of the events during the week of commencement: retirement parties, receptions, etc. But the day after graduation Jason and I will pack up a few of my things for the summer and drive back to Pennsylvania.

“What will you be doing in Pennsylvania for the summer?” I’m glad you asked! I am very excited to share that I will be participating in a Church of the Brethren program called Ministry Summer Service. MSS is a program for young adults to explore working in a ministry setting (a congregation, district office, camp, or national program). Normally this is an internship program for college students, but I am very grateful that Becky Ullom Naugle and Mary Jo Flory-Stuery, the directors of this program, are allowing me to participate as a seminary student. I have been placed at the Elizabethtown Church of the Brethren and pastor Pam Reist will serve as my mentor. I am extremely excited about this chance to serve a vibrant and welcoming congregation, and with Pam as my mentor I will have exposure to preaching, pastoral care, worship planning, pastoral team meetings, and strategic planning, as well as any other opportunities that arise over the summer. It will be such a breath of fresh air to be surrounded by the Brethren again, after nine months in New England with hardly any Brethren in sight!

The summer will also involve exciting things like serving as a volunteer Youthworker at the Church of the Brethren National Youth Conference (NYC) in Fort Collins, Colorado, as well as preparing for and celebrating my sister’s wedding on July 12! It really is going to be a summer full of opportunities and blessings, and I am so grateful.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention something exciting that occurred within the last few months. For a few years I have been subscribing to a national blog by and for interfaith leaders called State of Formation. This blog is a program of CIRCLE, the joint interfaith initiative between Andover Newton and Hebrew College, and the writers are seminary students, rabbinical students, graduate students and other activists who are committed to building bridges across religious and ethical lines. I am pleased to announce that I have been chosen to be a 2014 Contributing Scholar on State of Formation! This means that I will be writing and posting about one entry per month, related to interfaith work, public discourse between religions, leadership in a pluralist society, and other related topics. So far I have written two posts that have been published, one about why I am committed to making interfaith connections, and one about my family heritage that informs my call to ministry today. Check them out if you’d like! I’ll be sure to cross-reference any new posts that I write for State of Formation here on Agape Latte.

So that’s what’s been going on with me lately! I share these things not to brag or put myself up on a pedestal, but rather to stay in community and conversation with all of you who are supporting me, whether that is through your prayers, your encouraging notes, your phone calls, or your financial gifts. I am so very grateful for the privilege of studying at Andover Newton, learning more everyday about my faith and my call to ministry, figuring out how to be an authentic follower of Jesus but also remaining open and welcoming to the diversity of faiths and worldviews that coexist in our world. It is a beautiful place, friends.

Despite the many things that I am grateful for and the many ways that I seek and find God in this place, it is also good for me to remember these words from Mother Teresa. Perhaps you need to hear them too:

God doesn’t ask that we succeed in everything, but that we are faithful. However beautiful our work may be, let us not become attached to it. Always remain prepared to give it up, without losing your peace.

Thank you again for reading, and may we seek to be faithful, together.