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November | 2012 | The 'CURE' for your Vocation

Archive for November, 2012

Greetings friends! After a rejuvenating Thanksgiving break, the CURE is back! This week I wanted to bring you Thanksgiving reflections, and happened to read the blog of one of my great friends here at McCormick, Tyler Orem. He wrote exactly what I was hoping for, and so with his permission, we’re re-blogging his original post.  Tyler is in his second year and is completing a dual MDiv and MSW. He’s also one of McCormick’s great deacons! Enjoy his post!


Before Thanksgiving I had the usual weekly joy of spending Wednesday evening with the middle schoolers of Knox Presbyterian Church, Naperville. We had recently completed a rather dull study by Tim Keller, so I had the freedom to make a stand-alone Thanksgiving lesson. The challenge was how to move beyond the annual “What are you thankful for?” discussion into something that might actually carry some meaning. Thinking about what should be soul-crushing irony in celebrating the cooperation and mutuality between First Nation peoples and European settlers, I decided to have a discussion about how we as relatively new people on the land have given thanks to those who were here before us.

I had my Charlie Brown clip all set up and was prepared to get up on my soapbox to rail against the systemic evils that resulted in the founding of our country and permeate society to this day. In short, I was ready to use my bully pulpit as the middle school leader to teach 600 years of oppression, destruction, and genocide in 20 minutes to a group of pre-teens excited about getting a short break from school.

Within the first 3 minutes I realized that my method was madness. This is a bright group of kids, and they were getting the intellectual gist of it. But my ambitious lecturing was obviously not having the desired meaningfulness. So, I quickly switched to the Charlie Brown Mayflower clip in which the Pilgrims learn agriculture from horrifyingly caricatured “Indians” and then sit down to feast. My goal was to point out how the characters were portrayed and how the tables for feasting were segregated.

Then one of my students raised a hand and said, “It’s like the Native Americans have to sit at the kids’ table.”

With that single observation, every person in the room got it. The sixth-grader gave infinitely more meaning to the lesson than anything I was going to teach. Kids have been relegated to the lesser table all of their lives and have a keen awareness of what it means to be pushed to the side, ignored, and patronized. The analogy for First Nation peoples is surely incomplete and too mild, but it works perfectly to help middle schoolers feel and understand.

My ongoing prayer is that we ever seek to make the table for feasting open and abundant, that there might be enough room at the mesa for all to sit together and share their lives.

In reflecting on this Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my expanding family whose love never ceases to amaze me, for the adventures being lived by my brother and cousins, for friends who regularly join my family, and for middle schoolers who speaker and understand with a profundity beyond me.

Grazie, Naa-ni, Arigatou, and Again I Say, “Thank You.”

Neighborhood Spotlight: Bridgeport

Well, it’s been a busy week and we’re a bit late posting! As part of our monthly spotlight on the neighborhoods of Chicago, I thought I’d share a neighborhood I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in recently – Bridgeport.

Located on the south side, Bridgeport is bordered by the Chicago River on the North and West, Pershing Rd. on the South,  and US Cellular Field (Home of the White Sox!!) on the East. Historically it was the home of the Democratic Political Machine and was home to Chicago’s two most famous mayors: Richard J Daily and Richard M Daily. It was also called one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Chicago by the Chicago Sun-Times in 2008.

Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar

Now, I said I’ve been going a lot recently – the first time to have a date night with my wife. First we visited a restaurant called Pleasant House Bakery. If you’re in the mood for a savory pie, you should make the trip, it’s totally worth it. Right next door was our second stop – Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar. This is one of the best bars I’ve been to in Chicago.

After the initial visit I continued to go to host a theology pub for my field site (Grace Commons). While the theology pub wasn’t successful, I really enjoyed spending time in the neighborhood. The last time was was in Bridgeport I even saw (and was nominally part of) the filming of a pilot for a new Travel Channel Show!

Here are some highlights of the neighborhood:

The aforementioned Pleasant House Bakery and Maria’s Community Bar; The Bridgeport Coffee Company – a coffee shop that roasts its own beans in house!;  Han 202 – a five course prix fix Chinese restaurant getting rave reviews; Palmisano Park – One of Chicago’s many parks, this one was opened in a former quarry and is said to offer incredible sky line views; Let’s Boogie Records and Tapes; Shaller’s Pump – a famous southside watering hole; and Zhou B Art Center – a former factory turned art gallery.

So here’s to Bridgeport – The Community of the Future!

Have a blessed and safe Thanksgiving!

Half way there – what I’ve learned thus far

In only a few short weeks, I’ll officially be half way through seminary. Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far:

  1. Seminary is way harder than I thought it’d be. This isn’t to say I came in thinking it would be easy – I just didn’t think I’d be stretched in some of the ways I have been, and growing isn’t easy. Coming to McCormick I knew approximately where my faith was and where I needed for it to grow. That helped a great deal, but actually engaging in your faith is much more difficult in practice than in your head.
  2. You can’t do this on your own. I’m so fortunate to have a supportive partner, family and church, but I’m talking about more than that. You need people in the trenches with you. Last year I joined a bible study made up of other students, and in that group I’ve been able to address the issues I’ve been having in faith with people. We continue to meet every week, and every week I’m surprised at what we’re able to talk about. I’ve noticed a very different way in which I’m able to articulate my faith, and it’s mostly because of them.
  3. Call changes. Coming into McCormick I knew pretty much what my call was. I was open to it shifting, but I didn’t really want that to happen. But God has met me every step of the way in this place and keeps pushing me to new directions. It’s frustrating. It’s scary. But it happens, be ready.
  4. Preaching is actually kind of fun. And terrifying. This is one area where I thought I would either not have the talent or desire, but I’m in the middle of Intro. to Preaching and have had a blast. It’s actually one of the best classes I’ve taken. Ever. A few weeks ago I sat through 9 sermons and preached one of my own. In one morning. And I had fun! A year ago that would have scared the crap out of me. It was exhausting, but a wonderful experience.
  5. There are some pretty amazing people here. McCormick has folk from all over -from the south side of Chicago to South Korea. And they each have a story to tell. Listen to the stories, because your life will be enriched. I know mine sure has.
  6. Something amazing happens around food. Now, I kind of knew this already. But it’s taken new meaning at McCormick. You see, we eat a lot at McCormick. Ever Wednesday after community worship, at study breaks, at the second floor reception desk, at every event. Food is plentiful. And when food is plentiful, conversation is plentiful. With conversation comes community. And in community we find the Spirit. Brad Braxton used to say “where there is no music, the Spirit will not come.” I’d change that to say, “where there is no food, the Spirit will not come.”
  7. Spending time by yourself is entirely necessary. I don’t like to be by myself. I’m a big people person and need people 99% of the time. It’s because of seminary I’ve found how to do that 1%. Time for personal reflection is healthy and as much as I’ve been against it, have begun to learn to incorporate into my life.

McCormick has been the right place at the right time in my life. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown a lot. I’ve been challenged a lot. But I’m not done. God will continue to work in and through my life while I’m in this place and where ever I go after. Thanks be to God.

I did not plan on being a church planter. And, I don’t mean that in a God-was-calling-me-there-but-I-refused-to-listen-to-God’s-voice kind of way. It was literally not even a blip on my radar. So, when the opportunity came up to be a planting pastor with Urban Village Church, an initiative with the UMC, I really had to think on it.

I began talking with Trey Hall and Christian Coon, the lead pastors of UVC about a year ago. At the same time, they were having conversations with Benjamin Reynolds, a PhD student at Chicago Theological Seminary who had pastored a large African American Baptist congregation in Colorado Springs. I was caught by how they really listened, were responsive, and sought to follow the Spirit’s lead in their own discernment about us as their partners in ministry. I realized that, in a risky endeavor like church planting, it was important for me to know I had passionate, dynamic, and intelligent partners who would not only recognize and value the gifts and experiences that I brought to the table, but also take me seriously as a partner. I didn’t plan on church planting, but once I accepted the call, I became excited. It was the best intersection of my gifts and passions: creative communications, graphic design, organization, seeing the gospel change lives, and having fun.

So, why plant churches in time of mainline decline? The simple answer is that there are people who want to engage questions of spirituality and faith, but they are not finding what they need. Rather than paint with a broad brushstroke, I will speak to the particular context where Benjamin and I are doing our work. In my conversations with folks (most, but not all, of whom were young adults) in the Woodlawn and Hyde Park neighborhoods, I have come across 4 types – People who have:

1)  given up trying to find something in the neighborhood and go somewhere else.

2)  given up trying to find a church and don’t go to church.

3)  settled on a place, but aren’t all that satisfied

4)  been burned or rejected by the church at some point.

Many people are looking for a sense of connection and community; where someone notices when they’ve been away or knows to ask about what’s happening in their lives. They are also looking for a place where their questions are not ignored but taken seriously and engaged; where doubt is not equated with unbelief. Additionally, families are looking for a place where their children can be equipped to think about faith and faithful living that is rooted in the gospel with intelligence and meaning. There is also a unique need that UVC on the south side can address: being a faith community that welcomes and affirms people of color (and their families) across the spectrum of sexual orientation. Finally, our vision for Urban Village as a whole (and particularly on the south side) is to be a multi-racial faith community that does not minimize difference but engage it for the sake of being a fuller expression of God’s kindom.

McCormick was important in equipping me with certain tools in this work:

  • Developing a posture of life-long learning
  • Opportunities for engaging in conversations with people who come from a diversity of backgrounds and life experiences
  • A network of creative colleagues who both support and challenge me
  • Knowledge of ministry in an urban context (particularly Chicago)
  • Public speaking and preaching
  • Supportive faculty and staff
  • Tools for shaping creative liturgy and worship

There are other key tools that McCormick did not (and in some cases, could not) equip me with, so I had to learn or obtain elsewhere:

  • Perseverance
  • Humor
  • Graphic design and marketing
  • Organization/Administration
  • External networks and connections
  • Creative ways to do evangelism/outreach
  • The nuts and bolts of church planting
  • The practice of trying to do church differently
  • Community organizing

Being a church planter is hard work! You have to put yourself out there again and again, initiating conversations with people, risking rejection and judgement on a daily basis. But, I do not regret my decision. There is something very powerful and humbling about the work of planting churches. You get a front row seat in bearing witness to the kind of work that God can do through a broken vessel (moi) to help make the neighborhood just a little bit better and the gospel just a little more present in the world.

This is a brief overview of some aspects of my work as a church planter. If you have questions or are interested in church planting and would like to join Benjamin and myself in this work, feel free to contact me at emcginley@mccormick.edu

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