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February | 2012 | The 'CURE' for your Vocation

Archive for February, 2012

As the number and size of many churches in the mainline denominations decline, student enrollment at seminaries has been flat or in decline and many seminarians are considering alternate forms of ministry as they do their vocational discernment and post-seminary planning.    A number of our students choose to do their field education placement in an agency or faith-based ministry rather than in a congregation,   because they are thinking more intentionally about non-traditional forms of ministry.   Those who are in dual-degree programs, such as the M. Div./M.S. W., often do two field placements – one in a church setting and the other in an agency setting (thus satisfying the requirements of both the seminary and the educational institution where they are pursuing the social work degree)

Faith In Place is one such ministry.  Begun in 1999, it was initially a project of the Center for Neighborhood Technology and its goal was “to gather religious leaders in the Chicago region in dialogue, prayer and action on issues of environmental sustainability.”   The Reverend Clare Butterfield, an ordained pastor and trained attorney is the founder and Executive Director of Faith In Place.

She offered some good suggestions at a panel discussion held on campus last semester.  From her perspective as the director of a non-profit, faith based entity, Rev. Butterfield spoke about what it takes to start and sustain such a ministry.   The following summarizes the points she made; they provide some “go with your gut” guidelines if you’re considering any form of entrepreneurial or evangelistic ministry (which could, of course,  include a new church start — but more about that in another blog).

  1. Follow your passion; if you don’t love what you’re doing you probably won’t succeed.  Starting a new ministry is not for the faint of heart or easily discouraged.  So think long and hard before you take the plunge.
  2. If you can’t start your own ministry; hook into an existing organization, if one already exists, and find ways to add your gifts and skills to the mix.
  3. Define your ministry and mission carefully, and then stick to it.  If it’s not your mission, don’t do it.
  4. Evaluate the effectiveness of your ministry regularly.  Part of an ongoing evaluation may include letting  go of programs that aren’t really working.
  5. Learn to “play well” with others.
  6. When you volunteer your time, be realistic about who may be getting paid for what you have offered to do for nothing.
  7. Stay positive about your ministry in public (you can grumble all you want in the privacy of your own office).   Donors and potential donors will tend to walk away from you if they sense your negativity.
  8. Have a group of friends with whom you can honestly talk with about the downsides and stumbling blocks you are experiencing in your ministry.
  9. Find security (and pleasure) in things other than your job.
  10. Recognize your blessings every day.

“Bless Her Heart:” It’s no longer just a Southern thing…

Good afternoon CURE readers! We’re back, on an unusually warm and sunny day in February. Now that you’ve gotten sick from all your valentine’s candy, and I’ve bought all the leftovers at half off, it’s time to get down to business. I read a book.

Yes, a real book. I know, we read so many of them for classes, but I don’t consider those as books, per se, more like appendages to my classes that not only give me headaches but paper cuts as well. Ouch! So, over January, I picked up a few books to read through before the ultimate in Presbyterian bonding happened (J-term Polity), and one of them was quite good. In fact, I’d say I learned a bit from it. So here it is, the good, the ugly, and the weepy of being a woman in ministry…

On New Years Day, I found myself relaxing and enjoying one of my only days of freedom as I finish my senior year of seminary. Between being a CPE extern at a large hospital downtown, taking a full load of classes, working 2 part-time jobs, finishing ordination exams, applying for residencies, visiting family for the holidays, and attempting to have a social/dating life, I spent my New Years day reading a book while watching the snow fall on and off in what has been an incredibly warm Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. I can only imagine what February and March have in store for us (future seminarians, get ready, because this WILL become your life too).

Now, as a seminarian, reading a book is no easy or surprising task. We read all the time. We read books on theology, pastoral care, evil and suffering, exegesis, children’s ministry, interfaith dialogue, and so on. But this book was a little different. There are lots of books out there for seminarians and clergy alike that are meant to help us out. Rarely do we actually get to finish them with our busy schedules; so, this time, I decided to read one of these books instead of consuming the traditional collard greens and black-eyed peas that most opt for on New Years Day. I am, after all, from the South. So it’s already a staple part of my regular diet. I think I am okay in skipping one day.

Image courtesy of Chalicepress.com

Bless Her Heart: Life as a Young Clergy Woman is a book written by Rev. Ashley-Anne Masters and Rev. Stacy Smith. Both ordained ministers in the Presbyterian Church (USA), they sat down with the Young Clergy Women Project and put this book together. It’s a collection of stories from women in ministry, from all different denominations and places, and at some point, if you’re a woman in ministry, you can resonate with atleast one of these stories. If you’re like me, you can resonate with pretty much every one in some way or another. It’s not just stories, but it’s also Scripture (I mean, you gotta have Scripture, right?). It’s melding together the realities of being young, female, and working in the ministry: a male-dominated field.

Now, this is not a male-bashing book. Let’s get that out of the way right about… now. Got it? Good.

It’s about sharing stories about women working together. Women working as new mothers. Women working in large and small congregations. Women working in first and second calls. Women dating. Women working in ministry.

Personally, I resonated with chapter 1 the most, “Pedicures for the Pastor.” Once I was told that my hairstyle was not acceptable for preaching because I had bangs and shorter hair. My bangs were taking away from seeing my forehead and my short haircut was making it so you could see my studded earrings. Apparently, no one could hear my beautifully exegeted and delivered sermon because of these things. Really?! Yep, it happens. But then chapters 3 and 4, as a young and single woman, were the two I found most enjoyable.

Chapter 3, “Romancing the Reverend: Singleness, Sex, Divorce, and Dating,” was where I literally laughed out loud. Why did I laugh, you ask? Well, because in the section entitled “The Chaplain of Match.com” was all too familiar. Yes, my dear readers, I took, like so many other seminarians and clergy women, are on online dating sites (well, thanks to those sites, no longer…). Why, well exactly what it says in the book. What man or woman grows up thinking, “Hey, I want to date a female pastor one day and be a pastor’s husband/wife?”

None. And if they do, you might want to think about who you’re sitting across from at the table on that first date. (I went on one of those; run for the hills ladies, run fast when you meet them and do not look back.)

Chapter 4 was just as promising, “Hemlines and Homiletics: Hair, Makeup, Clothing, and Other Body Issues.” We all can look at numerous magazines and television shows and websites and realize with some form of clarity that women are sexed up in lots of ways. You have to be thin and toned like Sandra Bullock, or you can’t be like Beyonce if you go out with anything but makeup and high heels on, or you have to have hair like Sacrlett Johansen’s; it’s all over the place folks! Bet you didn’t think that was in the pulpit too. But it is. Women are scrutinized by other women (and yes, men) all the time. A pastor should look a very specific way and if it doesn’t conform to the image that a person has in their head, then you must be doing it wrong.

The chapters after this and before the ending are completely worth reading as well. Now, I can’t relate to being a working mom or as someone who even wants children, but lots of you can. So read.

The last chapter, “Struggling for Sabbath: Time Management and Finding Balance” was a good note to end on. Looking at how we balance being good enough pastors and also good enough individuals is really important. But it’s so easy to focus only on being the best pastor for our flocks that we forget that we’re our own person and we have to take care of ourselves. There’s no one set way to do it, but there are different ways and it’s our own responsibility to find it for ourselves and get some control going in an ever uncontrolled world.

So there you have it. My New Years read. Was it worth the $15 bucks? Yes. Every penny of it. Grab a few tissues (cause some parts will make you cry for various reasons), grab a cup or two of coffee, and find your favorite college sweats and a comfy place to sit and read. You won’t feel bad that you did, but you’ll feel bad that you didn’t before hand.

Once you’re finished reading, you’ll be compelled to tell your own story, and guess what? Ashley-Anne and Stacy even thought of that too. Check out their website here to share your own story. You won’t regret it.

Until next time our faithful readers!

Peace~ Shelley D.

Meet a Professor, Adjunct Jessica DeCou

Good afternoon folks! On this warm winter day I thought it’d be nice to bring you something fun. Over January Term I took this super cool class called “Theology and Pop Culture,” taught by Adjunct Professor Jessica DeCou. Our class was a pretty lively bunch from all different backgrounds (diversity? at McCormick you say?) and it was truly a pleasure learning from Jessica and all those in the class. Because I had so much fun, and I think Theology and Popular Culture is a subject worthy of attention by seminarians, I thought I’d introduce you to Jessica and have her explain why her field of study is such a big deal (plus lots of fun clips for you to watch!)

Wes: Tell us who you are and a little about yourself.

Jessica: I am a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago Divinity School, completing a dissertation on Karl Barth’s theology of culture and its import for the study of popular entertainment.  My hobbies include watching TV and … um…

W: What got you interested in theology/pop culture?

J: Remember Scrooged (Love that movie, by the way – Bill Murray is a rock star), when the Ghost of Christmas Past brings Bill Murray to the realization that most of his childhood memories were actually things that happened to kids on TV?  That’s me.  As a kid, I spent most of my time with TV (“television: teacher, mother, secret lover,” as Homer Simpson so rightly put it).  After school, I’d do homework while watching reruns of Three’s Company and Bosom Buddies, then later I would watch reruns of M*A*S*H or The Rockford Files with my grandpa.  To this day, I still remember the prime-time schedules for certain nights of particular seasons (e.g. 1986 CBS Mondays, 1987 NBC Thursdays, 1988 NBC Saturdays).  And, as an adult, I’ve found that there is a relevant TV theme song for every life lesson (how much better would the world be if we all just embraced the theme to Diff’rent Strokes – God bless you, Alan Thicke).

Being raised by two Pentecostal preachers did not inhibit my love of popular culture.  At church, my grandma would often take popular songs from her youth and adjust the lyrics to turn them into gospel songs.  My mother and aunt would do the same on their sheet music for love songs of the 70s and 80s.

Growing up in this kind of environment meant that I had to think theologically about popular culture from the start.

W: Here’s a three parter – You taught a class this past J-Term entitled “Theology and Pop Culture.” What does theology have to do with pop culture (or vice versa)?

J: We are all consumers of popular entertainment (and those who claim they aren’t are lying).  And so, in today’s media-saturated environment, developing critical tools for engaging pop-culture is essential not only for theologians and clergy, but for all who seek to understand the relationship between their faith commitments and their responsibilities as cultural consumers.

Moreover, I strongly believe that popular culture has unique contributions to make to human flourishing, such as encouraging play and fellowship (but I better not spoil the whole plot of my dissertation just yet).

W: What made you want to teach this class?

J: It is every doctoral student’s dream to teach his/her dissertation.  I’m just grateful McCormick was willing to give me the opportunity.

W: Why at McCormick?

J: An ongoing problem in academic theology is that this kind of work is often not very useful or relevant to clergy or their congregations. Working with the Louisville Institute has really helped me to recognize the need for regular, meaningful conversations between theologians working in the academy and theologians working in ministry (and, yes, I believe every minister is also always a theologian).  The eventual objective of even the most theoretical research is to have some practical import for the “real world” –  all theology must be, in some sense, practical theology.

So, I felt that the best way to make my own work relevant was to try to develop a course on the subject specifically with ministry students in mind.  In other words, I was hoping that the course would be just as much a learning experience for me as for the students.  And that’s exactly what happened.  It was pretty great.

W: So you’re a tv buff – what is your favorite show (or shows) on right now?

J: Too much to choose from.  Let’s see…

Breaking Bad (AMC) – because it’s not only the greatest drama on TV right now, but I also like to think of it as the darkest comedy in TV history (I was going to link to an example, but I thought better of it).

Community (NBC) – because I love me some Troy and Abed (Only YOU can help prevent Community’s cancellation6 Seasons and a Movie!!).

Parks & Rec (NBC) – because Ron Swanson, that’s why.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX) – because of the implication (better not link to this one either…).

Southland (TNT) – because it sometimes gives me nightmares.

Louie (FX) – just because.

Justified (FX) – because it has the best villains on TV.  FACT.

Mad Men (AMC) – because we’re all supposed to say we like it, even when it’s boring (what?).

Cougar Town (ABC) – because penny can is the best game ever.

W: If you could only watch one tv show for the rest of your life, what would it be?

J: The questions keep getting harder!

Only one?!?!?!?!

I suppose I would probably end up choosing Deadwood (since I still watch it all the time and can’t seem to tire of it).  But I’d also have to consider something more silly and fun, like Better Off Ted.  Or maybe even Lost since, unlike the other two short-lived series, it has 120 episodes to choose from, although far too many of them feature Jack and/or Kate (they’re the worst!).

W: In class it was pretty apparent you really like both Louis C.K. and Jimmy Fallon. In a fight between them (we ask the same thing about super heroes, so why not comedians?), who would win?

J: Hmm…  Are we talking UFC, WWE, professional boxing, or just a street fight?

Jimmy Fallon’s got a lot of speed – he’s energetic and nimble.  But it seems very possible that Louis C.K. has a vast emotional caldera that could erupt at any moment.  With that in mind, I guess I’d say:

UFC = Louis C.K.; WWE = Fallon; Boxing = Fallon; Street Fight = Louis C.K.

W: Back to theology - last October you wrote an article on Zombies – what exactly do Zombies have to do with theology or religious life?

J: Zombies are an odd case – they elicit creativity and playfulness in a way unlike any other mythical/literary creature.  You have people enacting make-believe zombie apocalypses, making Amazon lists for surviving the real deal, writing legal codes for the protection of (or abolition of) zombie rights, and so on.  My favorite was the couple who killed a zombie in their wedding photos.

Surely, then, this phenomenon has theological significance, right?

So, I guess the reason I wanted to write about them was because I wanted to understand why they stimulate these very constructive human attributes.  I still haven’t figured it out, though.  My best guess is that, by forcing us to consider questions of enormous existential/ethical/theological/philosophical significance (e.g., what it means to be human, what it means to live and to die), they elicit an appreciation for human life and incite people to (as Barth would put it) “seize our limited time as a unique opportunity.”  Just a theory…

A big thanks is in order to Jessica DeCou! Thanks for having this chat and for coming to McCormick to share your research and your awesome video/game making skills! For those of you who are now craving more from Jessica, read another article from her about Karl Barth and Craig Furgeson.

Have a great weekend!

The “New View” from Christine’s Corner — February 2012

It’s a brand new year and with it comes the opportunity, even the necessity, to think creatively and intentionally about the church of the future. What will it look like? What will ministry look like? It’s on our minds a lot; in fact, McCormick’s new president, Dr. Frank Yamada, has themed the activities of his inauguration (and his inaugural address) “The View from 2040.”

These next years are critical ones if our churches, governing bodies and seminaries are to successfully adapt to a future that is rushing toward us. How do we face the reality of the changes that are taking place? How do we facilitate theological learning and practical ministry skills so that today’s seminarians are equipped to lead churches and faith based organizations of the future? How do we tutor them in organizational redevelopment as well as in the art of creation and management of churches and entities that we may not yet have envisioned?

Seniors Jon Philips, Megan Cochran, and McCormick Graduates Kimberlee Frost, and Nick Redmond: examples of the future of our church.

How do we continue to hand on the faith in a society where increasing numbers of people (especially young adults) are unchurched and not all that interested in what we have to offer?

McCormick and many of its sister seminaries have already begun this process, as we examine making changes in our curriculum. The curriculum review committee has brought a number of key questions before the faculty, staff, and board of trustees. It has invited denominational executives and clergy from both the PCUSA and other denominations to tell us what they think seminary education needs to do to most effectively train new ministers AND what they wish they’d learned when they were in seminary.
The curriculum review committee will be taking some of these same questions to our students and alums. Out of that mix will come initial plans and programs for the coming decade which will, we believe, keep McCormick relevant and on the cutting edge as we provide theological education for the future. It will help us continue to evolve as a place that proclaims the gospel and effectively provides its community with the academic, spiritual and practical tools that will be needed to successfully promote ministry and mission in 2040 and beyond.

Over the next weeks, I’ll be exploring some of the ideas, proposals and questions I’ve been hearing in a number of different venues. I don’t claim to know the answers; but I hope some of these blogs will provide food for thought, and expand our collective understanding and hopes for the future. Mostly, I hope these musings will challenge us to listen for the new ways that God is speaking to us of the things that are happening in our midst and how we may be called to respond.

Stay tuned………

Good evening friends!

Today has been an incredible day at McCormick – we had the inauguration of Frank Yamada as president. All those in attendance can attest to the fact that it was an incredibly powerful service. We’ll be bringing you news on that Tuesday, so stay tuned for that.

But first!

Ryan Wallace recently went with a group of clergy, seminarians and other religious leaders to the Illinois capitol to lobby for raising the minimum wage. I asked to write this blog, and it stands as a testament to the McCormick community’s continued presence in promoting justice for all of God’s children. Written below is his account of the day and why it is an important issue to fight for:

It’s safe to say that 4:45am is earlier than I want to wake up most days. But this past Tuesday, that is precisely what time I (willfully) rolled out of bed. I had a good reason though. I was on my way to meet up with about 70 others to catch an early train down to the Capitol in Springfield to lobby for SB1565: a bill to raise Illinois’ minimum wage. After all, minimum wage workers all over the state wake up even earlier than 4:45 every morning to start preparing the breakfast and coffee we grab on our way into the office a few hours later, so maybe I owe ‘em one.

At 7am sharp, our train pulled out of Union Station. After some bagels and coffee, we got down to business. We had but a few short hours to teach crash courses in minimum wage reform and lobbying. Our train car was filled with a veritable potpourri of folks—clergy, minimum wage workers, nuns, lawyers, community organizers, lobbyists, and even an economist—but we all shared in the common goal of raising the minimum wage in our state. However, in order to pass the bill, we’d need more of an argument than, “$8.25 an hour isn’t enough to live on” (though there’s no doubt that statement is woefully true). We’d need the facts to back up our moral and democratic argument that no one who works full time should qualify for food stamps. We knew we’d need to have answers to pointed questions like: How will businesses be affected by the wage raise? Won’t raising the minimum wage cost our state jobs? How can we pass a raise in the minimum wage during an economic recession?

Fortunately, we did our reading ahead of time…

First, a recent national study comparing job growth in bordering counties with differing minimum wages has effectively proven that increases in minimum wage do not negatively affect job growth. Additionally, several other studies have demonstrated that raising the minimum wage actually saves businesses money (by reducing employee turnover and thus the cost of training new employees), generates new revenue for businesses (by increasing worker productivity), and creates a better work environment (by significantly elevating employee morale).

From an economic standpoint, there is also strong evidence that suggests we should raise the minimum wage. It’s been estimated that raising the minimum wage would generate over $2 billion in new consumer spending in Illinois over the next four years. Raising the minimum wage means putting more money in the pockets of low-income families who will turn around and spend that money every month (because they still won’t make enough to put it into savings), primarily on goods and services in their own local communities. In fact, some economists project that this new consumer spending could create as many as 20,000 new jobs in Illinois over the next four years.

If that’s not convincing, I imagine most of us would agree that minimum wage should, at the very least, grow at the same rate as our economy. However, as our economy has expanded, minimum wage has lagged behind. If minimum wage had simply kept pace with inflation over the past forty years, it would be over $10 an hour today.

While in Springfield, we collectively visited the offices of all 59 Senators and every last one of the 118 Representatives, delivering to each a scroll with the signatures of more than 200 faith leaders from around the state supporting an increase in the minimum wage. Many of us were even lucky enough to catch some of the legislators and sit down to chat about the reason for our visit to our state’s capital. We then gathered in the rotunda of the Capitol for a press conference featuring clergy, sponsoring legislators, workers, and experts, all attesting to the fact that the time is now to stand up for the lowest paid workers in our communities.

Many of us were also able to track down the legislators from our own home districts. Whether our Senators are co-sponsors or opponents of SB1565, we wanted to let them know where we as constituents stood on the issue. We hope you can join us for our next Springfield excursion, but until then…

Find your Senator, ask where she/he stands on SB1565, and let her/him know that you support SB1565 to raise the minimum wage in Illinois to $10.65/hour over the next four years.

Thanks for sharing this story with us and for standing up for minimum wage workers!

See you next week!

Inquiry Into Ministry is not for the Faint of Heart

Good afternoon all you McReaders! We’ve had quite the excitement here at McCormick finishing our first week of classes and also hosting some perspective students over the weekend. We ate, talked about vocation and call, ate, talked about what ministry is, ate, and then we took them through the city of Chicago to eat more. Yes, friends, it was an exciting weekend. If you follow us on twitter, or are friends with us on Facebook, then you’ve gotten to see some of the things that have been going on. But, just in case you missed anything, here’s a little photographic recap.


First, we kicked things off with a stellar worship service lead by McCormick Senior, Megan Cochran.

Senior, Megan Cochran, preaches on the book of Ester and listening for silence.

Next, we moved into a welcome and introduction with soon-to-be-inagurated President, Frank Yamada.

President Frank Yamada welcomes our prospective students to McCormick.

Next, we moved into our programming for the evening. We chatted and talked about vocation and discernment.

JC moving us into "what exactly is vocation and call?"

We polished off the night with dinner for the prospectives, cooked by some of our very own wonderful students!Then we called it a night so we could do it all over again tomorrow!


Breakfast was served and Tabitha came in to chat with us about just what goes on with the financial side of things when it comes to seminary.

Tabitha saying, "Show me the money!"

Next, Deb Kapp gave a presentation on Urban Ministry and the possibilities that lie in wait for students in the city of Chicago. it’s your own living laboratory for ministry!

Deb Kapp explaining urban ministry and Chicago as our "living laboratory!"

But not before we enjoyed some delicious doughnuts from Chicago’s own Doughnut Vault in the west loop.

Fresh ginger doughnuts from the Doughnut Vault in the west loop.

Next, we moved into some mini classes with some of our professors here at McCormick and we finished off the morning with moving into lunch: Kim chi for all!

Professor Ted Hiebert teaching a mini-class.

Students dig into Korean food for lunch!

After lunch, we did some spiritual practices with Sergio, one of our first year, MDiv students.

Making artwork about answering our call.

Next, we got to hear from a panel of faculty on why they taught at McCormick and then from our panel of students about their time there and advice for those discerning ministry.

Dr. Joanne Lindstom, Dr. Sharon Ellis-Davis, and Dr. Bob Cathey.

Student Panel.

We closed it all out with some finishing touches and then, of course, worship. Is there any other way to end?

Closing out worship services.

Whew! Well, that was a whirl-wind!

Happy Unusually Warm Thursday!

Last December, a few members of the McCormick community were invited to sit and have a chat with Different Drummers, a web-based program produced by CBS here in Chicago.

Lets have a look: Click to view (link opens in a new window!)

Melva Lowry, Angela Ryo (whom you might remember from a post last September), and Dean of Students Christine Vogel talk about what specialized ministry is and why it’s important. McCormick has a long tradition of preparing students for all aspects of ministry, including parish and specialized. Through McCormick’s unique degree programs, which include Master of Divinity, Master of Theology, Master of Theological Studies, Master of Arts in Discipleship Development and Master of Arts in Urban Ministry, students gain the tools necessary to become successful in anything and everything God is calling them to do!

See you next week!

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