Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Statement on Ministry

I wasn't sure if this was something I should share, but I did a Google search and it looks like there are plenty of pastors who share their Statement on Ministry on their blogs.  I guess there's no reason I can't share it; it is mine after all.  This is the one-page statement that I was asked to make to send out to the churches who are seeking a pastor as a part of my profile.  It's kind of comparable to a cover letter, to give people an idea of what I believe ministry is about for me.  

If reading scripture aloud was a full-time career, I would do it.  When I first began preaching, I always received compliments like, “You have a great voice,” and “You enunciate so well.” I was absolutely certain it was a polite way of avoiding a conversation about the sermon itself while still giving a vote of support.  I thought it might be the character of my voice, especially when people would say, “when you preach, I don’t need headphones.”  But then I was taken aback when one person said to me recently, “You must live really close to God to be able to read scripture like that.”
If sitting in a rocking chair next to a newly-widowed woman and listening and laughing together was a full-time career, I would do it.  I believe that the Holy Spirit shows up in the moments when we bring one another into community.  When my daughter was born, we began visiting homebound members together.  Often, we visit an older woman who was a commercial artist before she had a stroke 20 years ago.  I watch Baby Evelyn trace her tiny, uncontrollable hands over the patterns on the woman’s lap quilt, and they seem to get one another—unable to control their hands and unable to explain their discomfort—and I know that in that moment church is happening. 
If making sock bunnies and knitting hats for babies born into poverty was a full-time career, I would do it.  When I served as an intern at Nurses for Newborns Foundation my first year in Seminary, I helped the foundation see how personal, homemade gifts can help new mothers feel loved, even when the rest of society is telling them they should have never had a baby in the first place.  As members of the Body of Christ, much of our work is about helping others to realize God’s grace-filled love.
If teaching other Christians about my favorite biblical heroines was a full-time career, I would do it.  As a part of my Master of Divinity degree at Eden Seminary, I am writing a thesis about the book of Judith, a book of the Hebrew Bible that is not included in the Protestant canon, and how I think the character of Judith can be a female advisor for the Christian faith.  I take scripture seriously, but not always literally, and I believe that learning from scripture is a thrilling, fun, essential, and lifelong adventure.  
If drinking coffee with other new moms and helping them figure out who God is to them now that they have a life to take care of was a full-time career, I would do it.  Or if teaching my best friend (an atheist) what it means to pray was a full-time career, I would do that.  I don’t know exactly why younger people aren’t going to church as often anymore, but I have a few theories.  As the church becomes drowned in a society of advertising and marketing, and as the definition of “social life” evolves, we need to figure out what evangelism looks like.  I’m an evangelist in my own, non-pushy, non-condemning kind of way, and I know that I have been successful at helping others to understand the power of God’s love in community. 
None of those things are careers in themselves.  But one day when I was 18 years old, God called me into ordained ministry.  I believe there is a way that I can put together all these passions in my ministry for the church.  I am excited about the future of the United Church of Christ and God’s Church as a whole. I am excited at the prospect of spending more time doing what I love in the name our awesome God, guided by the Holy Spirit, while learning how to live and lead like Jesus Christ. 

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Reptile Lover

As if this girl hasn't already captured my heart, she's proving herself to be a huge fan of things that creep and crawl, as am I. (One of my favorite stories about myself as a kid is when I captured a baby garter snake and brought it to church with me.  Another is when my neighbor Pat brought his Ninja Turtles over and we played with them and a live toad in my doll house).  We went to visit Stacy at her school and one of her fellow teachers has a large collection of reptiles and amphibians.  Evelyn could not get over the turtles, but she was also quite smitten with the bearded dragons.  I can't wait to catch frogs and salamanders with her.  

A turtle!
Look at that goofy, totally beside-herself smile.  
Hi Friend! 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Graduation Photobomb!

It has been one chaotic week.  Packing and loading the moving truck, graduation parties and other events, my parents were in town, I preached Sunday, had some search-and-call stuff ;-), and Evelyn is becoming quite the busy-body.  

This photo doesn't even begin to touch on
the true chaos of packing ...
I can't believe how much stuff we have!
So, my voice is completely gone and I am beat.  Evelyn and I are chilling today at our friend Stacy's house.  We're staying here most of the time for the next couple weeks before we move into the house in Oberlin.  I'm not one to use the TV as a babysitter, but days like this are meant for PBS, a box of toys, and some cheerios.  Of course, every time Evelyn gets a glimpse of one of Stacy's cats, she's off like a racehorse.  

Well, as long as we've got Sesame Street going on here, I'd love to fill you in on the graduation events.  On Monday night, Evelyn received her certificate for being a child of a graduate at an ice cream social.  They do this each year to recognize that this is a transition for the children of students too, most of them having lived for the past three years in Eden housing.  This year, only 5 children "graduated," but some years there are as many as 15.  
Well, her last name isn't actually Smith, but no harm done. 

She didn't seem to interested, but I must say she totally deserved it.

On Wednesday night, Maic and I left Evelyn with her grandparents who had come to town, and we went to the banquet held by professors for the graduating students.  My sweet husband had contacted his cousin Janelle who is a wonderful clothing designer, and asked her to make a dress for me.  It came just in time for me to wear it to the banquet, and she also sent a beautiful necklace that she made for me to wear with it.  I wish I'd taken better pictures, so you could see the necklace and the belt closer up.  

Well, the banquet was a blast.  The faculty sang a song together, Dr. Robertson told a hilarious story about the faculty as X-Men, and President Greenhaw delivered a brief sermon/speech.  We had a great time.  
On Friday morning, we had a worship service and Dr. Walter Brueggeman, one of the leading Old Testament scholars of our time, delivered the sermon.  It was a wonderful message.  

Evelyn was on the edge of her seat. 
Here is my whole graduating class-- 34 people. 
And Friday night was the real deal!  The commencement ceremony!  With a speech from Dr. Bracke, who retired this year.  I don't have a photo from the actual ceremony at this moment, but here are a couple at the reception afterwards. 

Okay guys, I'm almost done.  Are you starting to understand why Evelyn and I are doing nothing but watching PBS all day?  

On Saturday, a church member and friend, Pat, hosted a small open house for my graduation.  It was really fun-- I have some great friends!  My mom and dad bought me this t-shirt for graduation, remembering my post here. Unfortunately, my mom woke up with the flu on Saturday morning, so she was unable to come.  We felt horribly for her.  She ended up getting a motel room and crashing for 24 hours, and she is doing much better now and was even able to come here me preach on Sunday morning. 
Pat, the host of the reception and Evelyn and I.   That's Grandpa Grace behind us.  
Catherine and Evelyn thought the party was a bore...
...except when the dogs were around.
She loved chasing those dogs! 
A church member brought me this beautiful magnolia blossom.
 It smelled so good!
Finally, on Sunday morning I did my farewell sermon for First Congregational Church of Webster Groves.  They have been so good to me.  The church bought me my first preaching alb, which they presented to me during the children's sermon.

They also had a cake for me in the shape of a Bible! 
Plus, a while back the staff presented me with this gorgeous photograph taken by the office manager,
 Kristi , to whom I had mentioned in passing that I wanted to go up and take a picture of it.  Clearly this photo doesn't do it justice, but it is truly stunning. 
Sunday night, the three of us made our way over to Stacy's house and we just CRASHED.  I was just utterly exhausted.  I went to bed at 9:00.  I really feel like I've been running since the semester began, and now that graduation is over I get a break.  I'm looking forward to a summer of just being with my family, a couple of trips, preaching a few times in June and July, and being prayerful about my search and call process, which is, so far, going exceedingly well.  

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Comfort Cross

Today a member of First Congregational UCC of Webster Groves gave me this "Comfort Cross" as a gift as my time at the church comes to an end.  It's made out of olive wood from the Holy Land and is carved in a way that it fits very comfortably in your hand.  A little later in the day, Evelyn was fussy so I handed it to her and she has taken quite a liking to it, carrying it around and chewing on it.  She used it to beat on a turned over basket for a while this afternoon-- her own little drum.  I know it's supposed to be for me, and pretty soon I'll probably take it away from her so it doesn't get any little baby teeth marks in it, but I couldn't help but love the fact that she loved it.  

I want to be open to how God calls her to serve this world.  I want her to be independent and make her own choices in her faith journey, no matter where that takes her.  But, I have to be honest and say that watching her hold this cross so tightly brought so much joy to my heart.  I hope that she always loves Jesus this much.  

Isaiah 40 is playing over and over in my mind: "Comfort, comfort my people..."

Sunday, May 6, 2012


We are in full-fledged packing mode over here.  The three of us aren't leaving Missouri until June 2nd, but the moving van is leaving with my parents on May 21st.  They're coming for my graduation and it seemed like a better plan for them to fly in and drive the van back than for us to drive 10 hours in two separate vehicles with a nine month old.  I really don't want to rush the packing process and I want to enjoy all of the events leading up to graduation, so I've been trying to do a little bit each day.  Yesterday I rocked at packing and cleaning.  Like, I literally worked nonstop all day, and I think the entire living room is packed and the bathroom is organized in a way that we can still use it but everything's ready to go.  

The memories are starting to flow.  We've been remembering the move out here and how we thought this apartment was the most amazing place in the world.  It was, after all, our first home.  We found the photos we took when we signed the lease back in March 2009.  The apartment looked so huge to us then.  In one of them, you can see a tree out the window that is still there, and we both were amazed by how much it grew.  I guess, to be sappy, we've really grown too.  We don't fit here anymore.  I don't even think that has as much to do with having a baby as you would think, either.  We're just growing.  We're just ready to move on.  But that doesn't mean we can't be a little teary when we say goodbye to our first home.  

This was a huge weekend for Evelyn.  Ever since she figured out how to move those roly-poly knees, she hasn't stopped crawling.  I was really hoping she'd hold off until we were in our new place, because this one is absolutely impossible to babyproof.  Every time I turn around she is going after a cord or a stack of papers or a glass of water.  

Then yesterday she was super grumpy and I put her on my lap for a minute and she looked at me with her "peanut mouth" (as we like to call it when she's crying and her mouth takes a peanut shape) and said, "Maaama."  I almost died.  She kept saying it all afternoon, but not to anything or anyone in particular.  It's not associative yet, but it's still pretty awesome.  I feel so loved.

So this morning I did my daily check for teeth-- the one I've been doing for at least 4 months now-- and she had a sharp little bottom tooth!  It's not really visible, but it's definitely there.  How fun!  People are always talking about how kids grow up so fast and to enjoy every moment, so we are trying to do just that.  Instead of saying, "Slow down!" or "I miss when she used to..." we are trying to really live in the moment, so that we will have no regrets.  We're not going to stop her from growing up, so we need to cherish every different stage of her life.  Whether it's how different we were when we moved here three years ago, or how much Evelyn changes from a Friday to a Sunday, it truly is essential to soak up every moment.  

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Decision; A First Draft

A few days ago I posted a vague status on Facebook about prayers for decision-making.  I subsequently got at least a half dozen phone calls asking if I had a job offer.  Before I go any further, let's make one thing clear: the search and call process is NOT like a normal job search.  The average search is 6-9 months.  The people doing the hiring are church members, so they do not meet on a daily basis to facilitate quick decisions.  So, no, I don't have a job offer.  In fact, at this point I doubt if any church has actually read my profile.  I'm glad to know that my friends/family care about my search, so I'm not trying to say "STOP ASKING" or anything like that, but just want you to know for at least a few months the answer will almost definitely be "no."  

The status was actually about something that probably seems insignificant to the rest of you, but it is huge for me.  I found out on Monday that my thesis was not going to be accepted in its current form.  The reasoning is totally justified.  It needs a lot of work in terms of having a method to organize my thoughts and research.  It's a first draft.  I was offered two options.  1) to do a major overhaul in less than two weeks or 2) to count it as two directed studies so that I can graduate, but not have a thesis.  

Writing a thesis is not a requirement for this degree.  It's something that I did because I believed I had something important to say about the Book of Judith.  While I was trying to decide, I asked myself, "What was the purpose of writing this thesis, and did I accomplish it?"  In writing it, I wanted to tell people that Judith is a part of the Christian story and her character should be known to Christians today so that we can use her to help us understand our relationships with God just as any other character in the Bible does.  My thesis emphasized the way that she is misunderstood through her representation in art, which is why I've occasionally posted some horrific painting of Judith decapitating Holofernes.  What I decided is that I can accomplish my purpose now just as well as I could with a thesis in hand at my graduation on May 18th.  I'm not going to stop telling people about Judith.  I'm not going to stop researching Judith.  I'm not going to stop writing about Judith.  But the fact is, I'm graduating in 15 days.  A moving van is leaving Missouri with all of our possessions on May 21st and we are leaving on June 2nd.  I have two papers and a sermon to write.  I have a birthday to celebrate (today!).  Finding the time to revamp my thesis to the extent that I believe necessary would be exactly the opposite of what so many are encouraging me to do-- to take care of myself. 

So friends, a decision has been made.  Between now and the time I graduate, I'm done working on this.  But I have a beautiful first draft-- 84 pages that are clear about my excitement and passion for this woman.  And I am so proud of it. 

MORE THAN THE DECAPITATION: Painting the Rest of Judith's Story
in Narrative and Feminist Critical Perspective

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