Mark Schimmelpfennig (Class of 2009) on vocation and "playing forward"

When I was asked to write about why McCormick has been important to me and how I still feel connected here, I was surprised at the depth of feelings and memories that came to me as I thought about what I would write. One thing I am sure of is that my McCormick experience and what I learned from it will be something I carry with me and play forward to wherever God calls me to go.

When I began my studies at McCormick, I wasn’t even sure of what questions to ask, much less having a clue of where I was going.  From a very early age I knew God had a plan for me, but instead of letting myself be led I spent the next forty years or so rationalizing that the life choices I had made were what God wanted for me instead.

During a particularly challenging nexus of life events back in 2001, I was lamenting to a clergyperson who was a close friend about what God wanted from me and why haven’t I found it yet? His answer really shocked me; “Mark, ever since you were seven years old you have tried to find God and every time you convinced yourself you had, it turned out not to be the case.  You don’t go out and find God, instead it’s God who calls you. God called you a long time ago, and you have spent your life trying to get out of it. I think its time you finally listened.” Tipping point?  Indeed.

That episode sent me on two-year path of discernment, prayer and trying everything I could to convince myself that this really couldn’t be what God wanted.  However, it just wouldn’t go away.  After researching different institutions, I applied to McCormick because I felt that I would be the most challenged by the curriculum and faculty to really examine this journey I was taking.  I needed to know.  When I was accepted, I was scared and excited at the same time.  As I said earlier, I had no idea even what questions to ask, so I decided to go with the empty cup and pockets of the pilgrim, and let God and the Holy Spirit fill them as they saw fit.

I began my studies in 2004, going part-time at first, then full time until I graduated in 2009.  That time was the probably the most intense, fearful, transformative and joyful experiences of my life. There were times I wanted to quit, and times I thought God was giving me too much to shoulder.  However, through the support of the faculty and fellow students, I saw it all through.  My cup and pockets had been filled to overflow.

The curriculum was challenging as it was thought and faith provoking. The ecumenical nature of both the student body and faculty gave me new and different perspectives on faith and made for the best kind of learning and discourse.  I grew in ways I never thought possible and found spiritual gifts that I never knew I had.  McCormick made me dig deep to discern my call, helped me to give it life and voice, and finally called me to both challenge and live it.

One of the best lessons I learned from McCormick is how to use and play forward the gifts I developed there, and how my life experiences are gifts to be used in ministry as well. I learned how to play all of that forward into my Ministry.  I do this wherever I can, and wherever it finds me.

Since graduating from McCormick in 2009, there has been a variety of ways this has happened.   Before I came to McCormick I was in Information Technology, and used my skills to create the McCormick Alumni/ae Association Facebook group, and taught courses on Social Networking for Ministry at the Leadership Education and Development Conferences (LEAD) sponsored by McCormick and Chicago Presbytery in 2010-11.

I am on the Board of Deacons and a Confirmation leader at Fourth Presbyterian Church, and part of the LEAD conference-planning group.  I am also an active member of the Worship Music and Arts committee at the Presbytery level.  However, one interesting place where I found a ministry that I didn’t know was there was through living one of my great passions, sailing.

Sailing has been my summer passion for many years.  I have raced here and abroad, and have many Chicago-Mackinac and Hook races under my belt. I also help teach beginners to sail too.  For me, part of my passion for the sport is how the water is such a “thin place” for me and how close I feel to God when I am out on one of the core elements of creation.

Several years ago, I became involved with the Adaptive Sailing program here in Chicago.  This program helps the disabled learn to sail, and participate in the sport in spite of disability.  My role is that of an able-bodied crewperson.  In short, I am the arms, legs and strength of the crew while the skipper gives me the commands of what he or she wants me to do.

It is an incredible privilege to work with these courageous, wonderful people and I am truly blessed to simply be a part of it.  Unfortunately, physical disability still has a strong stigma in this society but these people prove that wrong.  My ministry comes through being able to use my sailing skills and physical ability to help show that these people are as healthy as you or I in mind and spirit.  Physical disability should be no barrier to inclusion either. To serve those who through their courage, passion and faith serve notice to the rest of us that this is the case, is a blessing indeed.


- by Mark Schimmelpfennig (Class of 2009)