Senior student Peter Shin led us in worship this week entitled, “May Day.” The worship began with songs of praise and then Peter offered us a reflection on Matthew 14:13-21, where Jesus fed thousands from the offering of a little boy’s food. Peter connected the story to Korean missionaries, saying that God used their one small life to encourage a movement of the Korean people to where they are today–home to the largest churches in the world. Peter likewise encouraged us to allow our one small life to be available to Jesus. As it was May 1st, Peter also told us about the history behind the French derivative of the distress call Mayday, ”venez m’aider” meaning “come help me.” Oh this May Day, may we be a source of rest and comfort for those who need simple bread and fish.
Ethics Professor Reggie Williams led us in worship this week entitled, “Jesus Began to Weep.” The choir offered many powerful hymns, and Scripture was read by guest artist, Peterson Toscano. Peterson went through the story of Lazarus’ resurrection and Jesus’ weeping from the Gospel of John by asking us all to assume the positions of those involved. We attempted to be downcast like Lazarus’ family at his death and hopeful like Mary as she saw Jesus on his way. It was a unique and intimate way to “read” through the familiar Scripture to prepare us for Reggie’s words for the day.
Reggie then discussed the ways Jesus’ radical empathy pervades the “deaths” we see in our daily lives.
We at McCormick are pretty busy – we’re in classes, some of us work full or part time, some of us have families, and then there’s church. We work hard. But we also play hard. Once a week we set time aside to forget about all the stress of our daily lives to come together for a time of fellowship and fun - Study Breaks.
Study Breaks are put on by Residence Life, but they’re not just for residents. Even the Board of Trustees comes and hangs out when they’re in town. Study Break is a time for us all to get together and have fun. Each week has a different theme – in the middle of winter, when we were all so very tired of the cold, we had a beach party, we recently had a St. Patrick’s Day party, etc. We have lots of food, soft drinks and beer. Sometimes we play video games, sometimes we have dance parties, sometimes we watch movies, and sometimes we just relax with one another.
Dean of Students Christine Vogel led us in a family-style arranged worship this week entitled, “Holy Waste.” Worshipers were arranged by table and at the end of the service, the Eucharist was partaken within our individual tables and presided by Joanne Lindstrom, our Director of Field Studies and Experiential Education.
Senior Lora Burge led us in a creative worship this week entitled, “The Road Back.” Filled with songs in both English and Spanish the worship modeled Lora’s creative interpretation of this familiar Lucan text. She broke down the story (popularly known as the Parable of the Prodigal Son) with poetically personal interpretations of the older brother’s, the younger brother’s, the Father’s, and Lora’s individual “roads back.” Lora challenged us to keep going on the road, whether we identify with the runaway younger brother or the immovable older brother. We ended worship by uniting the prayers of our own “struggles on the road to Jerusalem” with ribbons near the communion table.
Last week a group of four McCormick students, including myself, got in a car and drove to Charlotte, NC. Not only were we hoping to escape the Chicago winter, we were also registered to attend the Next Church conference.
What is “Next Church?” Stated simply, Next Church is an organization of PC(USA) pastors and lay people who want to be in conversation about what the church and faith in Jesus Christ looks like in the present age, and with eyes to the future.
In theory it sounds great. I was so pumped for this trip. I went to college in Charlotte, so being back in one of my favorite cities in the country was a huge bonus. The future of the church plus college friends, nothing could be better!
But I was sorely disappointed.
Beginning with opening worship in the massive (and ultra “traditional”) 1st Presbyterian Church sanctuary, I began to feel like something was missing. The music used masculine and other alienating language for God. The service felt exactly like what is driving people away from mainline churches. Something was missing.
The theme for the conference was “born again.” One would think that such a theme could go one of two ways: either in the common fundamentalist sense or progressive reclaiming of the fundamentalist sense. Somehow it did neither. In reality it did nothing and went nowhere. Something was missing.
It didn’t take long for people to begin taking notice. Some noticed the age disparity – most attendees were older. Some noticed the racial disparity – almost all attendees were white. Some noticed that the ideas being shared were either old ideas in new packaging or great new ideas but provided no context for successful implementation. People were noticing. It was clear – the “next” church should not look like this conference.
There was one highlight on the first day – the presentation by Broad Street Ministries in Philadelphia, PA . This was the one time during the conference I wasn’t given a laundry list of the great things happening at other churches. With this lecture I was welcomed into a powerful discussion of how a ministry was established in a real context, I was told of the real problems the pastor faced and introduced to someone who could provide a second perspective, and then told how the pastor was able become successful. And they used real world examples to keep us engaged and to help us see how what they did could translate to different contexts. It was something I could use.
One of the main reasons I attended the conference was to get involved in a workshop entitled, “Get In the Game: Forming and Re-forming Faith Communities.” You see, I feel called to church planting, so it makes a lot of sense for me to participate in a workshop about forming faith communities. I entered the workshop tired and weary – I was already so disappointed, I only wanted this one thing to go well. But it wasn’t my lucky day. We started by being introduced to some folks who work for the PC(USA) in various capacities, including for the 1001 Worshiping Communities initiative. We then watched 4 videos of new worshiping communities. From the videos we could only get a sense of what those communities are about, nothing about how they began or what it took to launch. Nothing. The final part of the “workshop” was to break into small groups and share our visions and what we think we need to be successful, and what is standing in our way. This was partially interesting. I got to hear a couple of really intriguing ideas, and for that I am thankful. After the workshop I spoke to some of the leaders, some of whom I’d had previous encounters with that went very poorly. In my past experience with these leaders, when I attempted to share my vision, or at least the beginning of the formation of a vision, I was treated as though I wasn’t worth their time. They were condescending. This time was no different. Although I came with different questions, questions that I acknowledge could not have been answered right away, I was treated the same. I was made to feel like I was being a burden on them just for wanting to speak to them. I again left conversation very discouraged. The next church should not be one which provides such little support.
Day 2 provided one other highlight (besides good preaching). McCormick’s president, Frank Yamada, sat on a panel on leadership. The panel, and Frank in particular, challenged the attendees to rethink how they think about leadership in the church, about failure, and importantly, about race. Sadly, many of the attendees skipped out on this portion of the conference to eat lunch.
We left early in order to try and beat a snow storm, and had to miss out on what could have been one of the most rewarding parts of the conference – regional meetings to talk about what’s next in our own local contexts.
Part of my frustration with the conference may be that as a seminary student I’m already in discussion about many of these issues. McCormick, as a seminary, is also on the cutting edge of talking about what’s next, to the topic is something I’m comfortable with and already have a lot of ideas about. For those who’ve been out of seminary for longer the discussion might be totally new to them, and I’m sure it was a meaningful experience coming from that context.
I look forward to hearing what’s to come for Next Church in the next year. The future(s) of the church is an enormously important topic, and one that deserves more attention.
This past Wednesday the McCormick community was blessed to have 3rd year MDiv student Jeff Kline preach, with our president, Frank Yamada, presiding. The passage Jeff preached on was the Prodigal Son – Luke 15:11-32.
It’s time that I, Norae, take the controls of CURE over from Wes and introduce you all to the amazing four-legged folks at McCormick. Up this time: Thumper Lily Goldfish!
Norae: Tell us your name and breed?
Thumper: My name is Thumper. Well, Thumper Lily Goldfish. My human is only responsible for “Thumper.” Something about being playful and looking like a gray rabbit sometimes. My foster mom gave me a middle name and Goldfish is more like an alias. You can call me Thumper. I am a gray tabby cat.
N: Who is your human?
T: My human is Lora Burge. I let her stay in MY apartment and she feeds and pets me.
N: How did you get her?
T: That is a funny story. I’ve lived with a few humans; all linked to seminaries in fact. What can I say, I’m only drawn to especially smart humans! When I was little, a few years ago, I showed up on my first human’s porch in an awful snow storm. It’s scary being a little and alone in a few feet of snow! So he took me in. Then my second human took care of me for awhile and thought I was pretty cool. She convinced my first human that I should live with her. What can I say, I’m an amazing cat and everyone wants me to grace their home. I had to live with my foster parents and their lovely cats for awhile but it was ok and they took good care of me. Now I’m back with my second human again and we have a good time.
N: What’s your favorite place to be in your apartment?
T: My chair in the window. It’s sunny and warm and I can watch the birds out the window.
N: What’s your favorite place out of your apartment?
T: I don’t much love going outside. I rule the apartment–why would I want to go outside? Though sometimes I like to make a run for it. Sadly, I get stuck in the hallway and haven’t figured out how to get any further.
N: What are you favorite treats?
T: I liiiikkkee treats. Can you bring me some? I like the tasty green ones. And sometimes the little chewy chicken ones.
N: What do you prefer: wet or dry food?
T: Dry food. What is wet food? I’m a very thirsty cat though. My human gets annoyed sometimes because after I drink my face and chest are pretty wet and then it leaves spots on her papers. She doesn’t want to pet me when I am dripping for some reason. Small price to pay for a good drink of water.
N: How many toys do you have? Which are you favorites?
T: How do you define toy? I have some of my own: a few mice and some balls for me to chase around. But I like to climb in bags. And books and papers are fun. I don’t understand why my human doesn’t want me to play with those and lay on the warm thing with keys that make fun noises and a bright thing that I can rub up against. Also, I like to hang off things hanging on the walls and doorknobs–I’ve been known to open or close a door on occasion.
N: How else do you like to spend your days?
T: Sleeping, playing, climbing on things, and things I don’t want to admit to my human. I also love watching “Plaza Sesamo” on Saturday morning with my human.
N: What is something everyone should know about you?
T: I am known to some as a catdog because sometimes I act like a dog. When my human comes home (and a few other select humans), I run to greet her. Apparently, dogs do that. I do it to get extra pets and treats. Whatever. It’s worth it.
N: Final words of wisdom?
T: Nap as much as you can. Play and eat in between. If needed, lay on your human’s books, papers and tables to get plenty of attention and treats. That’s about it.
There you have it folks! See you next time!
This past Wednesday’s worship (2/20) featured the preaching of Senior Katie Hartwell. She preached this week in connection with the student advocacy group Women in Ministry’s performance of the Vagina Monologues, held this past Friday night.
Katie preached on a passage in scripture controversial in many traditions: 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, “Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
It might seem an odd choice as it was in connection with an event denouncing violence against women, but Katie wanted to shape a conversation.
“What is important is what we have done with this text, and what we continue to do with it … This text has been used to oppress women, to keep us silent and uneducated. Many women have found their voices in the church, seeking ordination, seeking change, to live out the Scripture that in Christ there is neither male nor female. This battle has not been won … Ordaining women is one way to give women a voice in the church, but it is not enough. The ordination of one woman does not give all women a voice … 1 billion women have experienced violence. 1 billion. That is 1 in 3 women who will be raped or beaten in her lifetime … How many of our deacons, elders and pastors have been raped or beaten? 1/3 of the women in our pews each Sunday are suffering through or have survived violence. And what are we doing about it? As a Church? As a denomination? As individual congregations? What are we doing? Are we promoting their silence? … We wash over the parts of Scripture that we don’t like, the texts that even the best exegesis struggles to make sense of. We pretend they don’t exist … Imagine reading this Scripture, the Word of God, … as a woman who has been abused, is being abused or will be abused. Are we just hoping that our parishioners are not reading the bible on their own?”
Katie’s sermon was a call on all to think about who we silence and who we stick up for, a reminder of the horrible reality that our church has faced and has often ignored.
Who are you allowing to speak?
Happy Wednesday McReaders. Today we have a special treat – the return of CURE extraordinaire Shelley Donaldson! Shelley graduated last year and has moved on to bigger and better things, but I’ve asked her to continue in our series of relationships in seminary from her perspective as an openly gay woman. Here’s Shelley:
Being a gay woman in seminary at McCormick was pretty great. Mainly, because I was able to learn that there were bigger issues for me than that. And it was a safe space. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was hard sometimes; and trying to find a job in the PC(USA) after seminary was even harder being an openly gay woman. There is something degrading about having to tell a group of people from a church that you are openly gay in your first interview. Has a straight person ever had to do that? No. But, luckily, the community around me helped me with that part and held me up when I couldn’t do that for myself. My last semester was a rough one in a lot of ways, but there is no way I could have done it without that community of people! Honestly, McCormick and Chicago are possibly the safest spaces one can go when the world tells you that you belong on the island of misfit toys.
Story: In my first semester of seminary during our Intro to Biblical Studies class, our professor was entertaining an idea that was a bit off topic, but still relevant. Then one of the other first year students stands up (literally, he stood up), and he says, “I just don’t know how someone can stand in a pulpit, preach the word of God while being gay, and have a conscience and think that is right, because it is not. It’s wrong.” (In case you were wondering, this was not the topic we were discussing…)
At this comment a few things happened in my personal bubble: first, I have never wanted so badly to just sit on my computer in the back of the class and be on Facebook and just pretend not to exist; second, all of my friends around me started shouting; and third, my friend, TC, sitting next to me decided to have his own conversation with me and pretend like no one else was there. We talked about the Beatles or something irrelevant. Thank God for TC.
One of my classmates leaned over to me and said, “Aren’t you going to say something?”
“No. That’s not my job” was my response. My job was to be friends with that student and come to a mutual understanding that we were different, and that was okay. When I saw him, I said, “I don’t have a problem with that.” To his surprise, I was gay. He had no idea. Gay people were hypothetical to him, and they are to so many others. Things change once you know someone face to face.
He never believed that I was to be a pastor in his tradition (and frankly, neither did I), but the difference was, he no longer looked at me as someone lesser than, but as a person. After he and I talked together, we became equals. He didn’t know I was gay, even though we were friends. He was able to put the idea of being gay to the face of an actual person, and it wasn’t as horrible as he thought.
My role in the seminary community wasn’t to be the gay person. Was I? Sure. I joked about it with people. But at the end of the day, I was just me. The same person that convinced Ken Crews to wear Kim Adams’ short shorts to Wes Pitts’ apartment for fun. The same person who ate a full 3-course meal in Ken Sawyers’ History class each week (how I miss that man).
Was McCormick a safe place to talk about people who are not heterosexual in the church and world? Yes. Is it a place to be a person who is not heterosexual and still be safe? Of course. Did I wrestle with things? Certainly. But not because I was gay. But because so many other people had a problem with the idea of gay people.
McCormick allowed me to deal with that fact: that people would be prejudiced against me because of how God made me. And for that, I’m incredibly thankful.
Don’t get me wrong, seminary wasn’t all about, “hey, I’m gay, so I have to deal with it.” I spent a lot of time studying, writing, experiencing, laughing, eating, worshiping, talking, and simply living the life of a seminary student. Seminary was the best time of my life. I’d do it again, minus the loans… I got a lot of great mentors and friends out of my experience there.
While I still might represent the stereotypical gay woman to so many people and listen to people like Brandi Carlisle, people shouldn’t judge me for things like that (Frank Yamada has seen her in concert more times than I have). Judge me for my lack of helping the homeless, or for the fact that I get road rage sometimes on the Dan Ryan, or my lack of spiritual practices in my daily life.
At McCormick, I learned that those are the kinds of things I should be focusing on and that being gay was just part of how God made me.
Shelley, thanks so much for being so open with us! See you later McReaders!