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Uncategorized | The 'CURE' for your Vocation

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Happy Christmas!

From all of us at McCormick, Happy Christmas and New Year to you and your family!

We’re on Christmas Break right now, so until we return in 2013, take a look at this video with students talking about why they decided to come to McCormick! Enjoy!

Stay tuned for exciting posts in January, including news about tuition discounts, a continuation in our series about relationships in seminary, seminary pets, news from student session, and much, much more!

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!

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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

Greetings friends! After a semi-restful reading week, CURE is back! We look a bit different now, and we hope you like it.

It’s that time of the month where I give up control of the blog to my trusty side kick/pet interviewer extraordinaire, Norae, to interview the pets of McCormick – this week, Mika the cat.

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Yeah – I look cuddly don’t I? It’s just a ploy to get you close… then I’ll eat you. Mwahahahaha

Norae: Tell us your name and breed?
Mika: My name Mika, my breed is street fighting cat.

N: Street fighter, huh? Who is your human?
M: I call her Big Food Monster. Her real name is Mo or something, I don’t know, I don’t really pay attention.

N: How did you get him/her?
M: I let her live with me while my dad’s away flying planes off a boat for the Navy.

N: That sounds awfully nice of Big Food Monster. What’s your favorite place in your apartment?
M: The window, or right under the food monsters feet.

Ah, yes. The window. Where I can view my next kill.

N: Where is your favorite place outside of your apartment?
M: I’ve yet to implement my escape plan.

N: Good luck with that. What are your favorite treats?
M: Flowers

Fresh cut flowers – I like to pretend they scream as I munch on their beautiful deliciousness.

N: How about in your daily sustenance: do you prefer wet or dry food?

M: I like fancy expensive food and when the food monster buys something else I show my anger with her in unspeakable ways.

N: Um. Well. Okay, then. How many toys do you have? Which ones are your favorite?
M: I have lots of toys. I like to put them in places that will make the food monster trip over them, I also like to drowned them in my water dish so she knows how deadly I am. My favorite is the laser pointer, I almost had it last time!

N: What is your favorite way to pass time when you aren’t drowning toys?
M: Sleeping while the food monster reads, sitting where it is most inconvenient for the food monster, not having a job, judging people from the window, having staring contest with the food monster. In that order.

I must eat my food at the table with the food monster’s best china. I sometimes allow others to join me, but never the food monster.

N: What is one thing you think everyone should know about you?
M: The only human I like is the one the food monster calls “Riegel”.

N: Any last words of wisdom you want to share with everyone about youself?
M: Be afraid.

Well, um, there you have it: Mika, the really scary cat. Join me next month when I interview a cat that doesn’t make me want to cry.

- Norae, pet blogger of awesomeness

Relationships and Life in Seminary: Part 1, Married Life

This week I was fortunate enough to celebrate two years of marriage to my wonderful wife, Liz. In honor of our anniversary, I wanted to present to you, my dear readers, something I was wholly unprepared for before coming to McCormick: being married and starting seminary. I’ll offer my perspectives about what that has been like as a student, as well as the perspectives of two spouses: my own wonderful wife, Liz, as well as Amy Rhodes, whom you may remember as one of the parents of Albus Labuschagne-Rhodes, the dog highlighted in September’s Pet Corner. This is part 1 in an ongoing series about seminary life and relationships. In the coming months we’ll also hear about what it’s like to raise kids, dating and/or being single, as well as being LGBTQ and in seminary.

I got married only 9 months before moving to Chicago and starting the first of three years of seminary. That’s a whole lot of life changes happening at once! We quit our jobs and drove the car we bought two months into being married to Chicago to start a new chapter of our already new life together. We went from having every night together to do whatever we wanted to having maybe one night a week together, if we’re lucky. I’m actually home quite a bit, but usually I’m busy studying or writing papers. I used to make dinner for Liz every night, but I suddenly had night classes  a couple nights a week and couldn’t do that any more. I found it really difficult to do the things I wanted to be able to do for our relationship. Liz was suddenly our primary income source, house keeper, dog walker, etc. It’s really hard to sit back and read a book while you see the woman with whom you’re joined in holy matrimony, with whom you’re supposed to be equal partners in making things work, suddenly have to take on so much in order to allow me to fulfill my call. It’s really hard that the times we get to see each other I’m reading and she’s cleaning, even though she just spent 10 hours at work.

It’s hard to not feel like I’ve suddenly become a huge burden on our new marriage. We’ve been open with communication and I do what I can. We carve out time when I can help her around the house, and I’ve adjusted my schedule to at least try to make an effort. We also eat dinner together whenever possible. Sometimes eating at the dinner table is the only time we get to talk all day, so it’s a huge part of our lives. Dinners have had to become simpler, but at least we get that time together, and I feel like I can do something to contribute to our relationship together. We also have to be really intentional about real time we spend together. Living in community is great, there is always something to do and people to see, but sometimes you have to spend time together instead. This was/is hard for me – I’m a people person through and through. When I’m not studying I prefer to be with lots of people, but that just isn’t feasible for our relationship – if I did that I’d never have alone time with Liz. We set out time to have dates, usually one night a week. I work hard to get my homework done so that we can have a Saturday night together, to go out and experience life in Chicago, eat in a restaurant or simply to watch a movie and cuddle.

The other big piece of being in seminary and being married is that sometimes it’s hard to talk about all the emotions I’m feeling from what I learn and how I’m challenged in faith. I want to be able to tell Liz everything, but I also don’t want to alienate her with thoughts and feelings that she won’t be able to properly respond to. What has helped is to have a couple of people to meet with weekly and talk about the Bible, faith and all our inner struggles. Being able to work through some of these things, at least partially, takes some of the pressure off Liz – I still tell her what’s going on, but if I’ve been able to begin to process it and talk about it with others, I can more clearly vocalize what I’m feeling and she doesn’t have to feel like everything is on her.

Being married while doing this thing called seminary is hard. Your relationship will be tested in ways you couldn’t imagine. It will also grow and get richer and deeper, if you’re intentional about making it so. Seminary isn’t easy to begin with, and to have someone else along the journey with you is both enriching and more difficult. Make sure you are able to openly talk about where your relationship is and where it is going. Be flexible. Be intentional about spending real time together. Don’t let your partner over burden themselves. Communicate. These are the things that have made it work the past year and a half. It’ll be hard, but you’ll survive!

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And now perspectives from spouses of seminarians. Up first – Liz:

Being married to a seminary student means having an instant loving, welcoming and supportive community. I love the community of McCormick and everyone I have met. I am continuously amazed by this community.

When Wes and I decided to move to Chicago so that he could attend McCormick, I knew that it was not going to be the easiest of paths. This path he was called to is not the norm. A person has to be truly confident that this is the right path for them. So, we tried to prepare ourselves. We discussed what this would mean for us: as a couple, as individuals, financially and professionally. But, alas, there were things that were unexpected.

I was prepared to take on the bulk of household chores during the school year (knowing that one day I, too, would be going to grad school). I knew that I would now be the primary source of income, instead of sharing that burden. I knew that our weekends and other time together would most definitely not be the same. I knew that I would need to be supportive even when I didn’t have the energy to be.

What I didn’t know or wasn’t prepared for was that I would be seen as a future pastor’s wife. I was not prepared for this because Wes was certain that he did not want to be/ was not called to be a parish minister. Things change. Either way, I was not prepared that I would consciously have to distinguish myself and make it clear that I have my own identity and that I am my own person. Just because Wes is in seminary, does not mean that I will also go to seminary. It does not mean that I will take on extra duties in the church he eventually serves that I would not otherwise do. It means setting boundaries and learning to say NO. And sometimes, it means not going to church just because Wes has to and realizing that that’s okay and in no way means that I am less supportive of Wes’ life. In the beginning when people asked if I was a student, I would respond, “no, I am just a spouse” or “I am Wes’ wife.” I wasn’t thinking about what I was saying. I am not just a spouse. So, I have changed my language so that it is clear that we would not be in Chicago if we both didn’t want be here.

As I said earlier, I love this community. But, there are times when I am surrounded by students and I cannot relate or add anything to the conversation simply because I am not a student. After that happened a few times, I knew I had to find a community of my own. Becoming friends with other seminarian spouses has been truly a blessing. I also started volunteering to have something else to do while I was searching for a job. And, I was lucky to find a job that I like and that is in the sector in which I want to work. It has allowed me to form relationships outside of McCormick. I am able to go to work each day and focus on something that is my own.

Being a spouse of a seminarian is not always easy. There is a lot of give and take. It has taken some time, but we have found a balance. I am happy to be here because it means Wes gets to do what he is meant to be doing. I would do whatever it takes for him because he would do the same for me.

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Finally, Amy Rhodes shares her perspective:

In a lot of ways, being married to a seminarian is a lot like being married to any graduate student: instead of nights off after work to watch your favorite television show together, your partner has to hit the books. Instead of weekends to lounge around or go out, there’s a lot of paper writing and staying in. The give-and-take of married life has a different flow because it’s life while studying, yet you have a sense of what to expect.

What’s different about seminary, however, is ministry. While you may know what it’s like for studying to influence your marriage, in most cases (mine included), seminary is the first introduction of ministry to your marriage. And ministry is simply different. Former seminarians and their spouses gave me a lot of advice before my partner started studying, and much of it focused on the difficulty of seminary and ministry on marriage. I was torn between an ‘oh-no-what’s-going-to-become-of-us’ terror and an ‘it-won’t-be-like-that-for-us’ arrogance, and, unsurprisingly, the truth of my experiences lies somewhere between the two. Any adjustment involves some effort. It’s a shift. But just as you are aware that your partner is starting a journey with God through ministry, both partners should remember that marriage vows are a promise to God, as well. Studying for God can’t be placed above holy matrimony, so to speak. So, you make time for each other. And you watch your favorite television show together and you go out and the papers get done and the studying takes place, and eventually you stop shifting and you start taking root again. And slowly everything falls into place.

I hope you enjoyed part 1 in this series! We’ll have next week off because it’s reading week, so see you back again October 17th when I’ll introduce you to another awesome seminary pet!

Responses to the Chicago Teacher Strike

As Chicago has had to endure a week long teacher’s strike, many in our community have been affected. Kids have had no place to go during the day,  and friends and colleagues have joined in striking along with other Chicago Public School (CPS) Teachers. No matter where you’re from, this is a difficult issue for everyone. I have invited two people in the McCormick Community, Jamie Wasowski (Recruitment and Admissions Associate) and Katie Hartwell (3rd year M.Div student), to share their perspectives on the strike and CPS in general. Their stories are only part of the larger body of stories, but we felt it was important that they be allowed to have a voice. Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below. Please keep the teachers and children of CPS in your prayers, that they may soon find a solution to this issue so that teachers can go back to teaching and kids can go back to learning, and that the school remains a safe environment for all.

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Jamie: As the wife of a Chicago Public School teacher, I stand in solidarity with my husband and all other teachers.

My husband and I have found it to be very difficult to turn on the news each day and hear some of the negativity portrayed by the media, particularly the propaganda commercials that have portrayed our teachers as heartless and uncompassionate. My husband and his colleagues are not heartless nor uncompassionate.  In fact, they are quite the opposite which is why they are striking.  This is not a “strike of choice” as Mayor Rahm Emanuel claims.  In fact, it is a necessary, last resort took the teachers can use to stand up for better education for all of Chicago’s children.

The Chicago Teachers Union, under the leadership of Karen Lewis, and the Chicago Public School Board led by David Vitale and Jean-Claude Brizzard, have been at the table negotiating since the walk out on September 10th. The teachers, however, have been marching.

To help you understand who is at the negotiation table, let me explain: All leadership in the CTU are elected by CPS union teachers - which constitutes 90% of CPS teachers. Parents in the local school councils (LSC) are also asked for their input when it comes to school matters and considered a teammate by the CTU. And, though the media has portrayed Lewis as a power hungry vicious pit bull, I believe she and her team of negotiators is in full support of parents and kids, not just teachers.

The Board of Education, on the other hand, is appointed by the Mayor and most members do not have backgrounds in the field of Education. Most members of the Board of Education come from the big-business world and their methods, seemingly, do not take into account the poverty and/or special needs of many of students. Their methods involve privatization, or charter schools. Charter schools are public schools, but instead of being operated by the Board they are operated by private corporations that have a contract or ‘charter’ to operate a school within CPS.

The problem breaks down to what our society cares about most: does it care about for-profit schools that are in the pockets of politicians? Or does it care about providing free public education to all of America’s children?

Here’s what’s on the table:
1. More compensation for longer school days (Would you work a longer day without being compensated for the extra work?)

2. Smaller class sizes: Studies have shown for years that smaller class sizes (20-25 students/class max) facilitate learning better than larger class sizes. Currently, classes have ballooned to 35-45 students per classroom.

3. Rehiring teachers that have been laid off: particularly in areas such as art, music, and PE.

4. A more fair way of evaluating teacher performance instead of basing it on standardized test scores. (Tests that do not help the confidence of special needs students or students that do not test well). Basically, if your school has a poor average on the ACT then no raises will be granted and newer non-tenured teachers could be cut. A more fair way of evaluation would provide greater job protection plus increased morale for students and teachers alike.

5. Above everything else the CTU is trying to save a profession that is a calling! Teaching is not something that many who are striking do for no reason or because they failed at some other career.  They teach because they WANT TO!!!! Why else would they have attended so much college, taken out student loans or served in the military to pay for teacher education?

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Katie: I was a teacher in Chicago Public Schools for 4 years before I came to McCormick. In my four years as a CPS teacher I was displaced a total of three times.

The first time I was displaced, it was the last day of the school year.   Over the summer, I was told by my principal that they were working to hire me back. However, after being a sub for nearly three months the following academic year, I was hired back in November.

The second time, I was displaced was a year later, in the following October. School was in session for six weeks before the District decided we did not have enough students to justify the number of teachers in the building. They took all five of my classes and shuffled them into other classes. Some of the classrooms then had 40 students in them and only 35 desks. Students were sitting at the teacher’s desk, sharing desks with other students or writing on their laps. I was able to find a full-time teaching position in November at another school and stayed there for the duration of the school year.

The timing of these layoffs were difficult for me, but it was especially difficult for students. When teachers are moved around, replaced, or simply not there for three months, there is a negative impact upon students and their learning. Many schools are faced with layoffs after the 20th school day and this situation is not unique.

Teachers are on the picket line, right now, advocating for students to be put first by CPS. Yes, you can give students a place to go during the day claiming that you are putting ‘Children First’ but, teachers know there is more to it. If CPS cares about their students they should want stability in their lives. Our students do not always come from safe places. School should be a place where they see the same smiling faces and develop healthy relationships with teachers and staff. Student growth cannot happen when teachers are coming and going the first three months of the academic year. Students will never learn the benefits of trust if their beloved teachers and the arts are taken away from them.

I am in solidarity with the teachers in Chicago Public Schools as a former teacher, but also as a Christian. Our responsibility as faithful disciples of Christ is to care for the least in our society. The children of Chicago need our support, not only during a strike, but everyday they enter the classroom doors. Students need the love and compassion of teachers who will guide them to their destiny. By standing in solidarity with the teachers, I believe I am serving the risen Lord. Alleluia. Amen.

Dr. Brad Braxton is preparing to leave McCormick after serving for the past two years as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar. He is a scholar, a preacher, a tireless advocate for issues of social justice and an engaging human being. He’s been a dynamic presence in our community and will certainly be missed by many of us. He is starting a new position at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in the Lois Craddock Perkins Endowed Chair of Homiletics, the first African American to hold this position. His responsibilities include a full teaching load, mentoring students and working with his faculty colleagues. He will do all this while living with his family in Baltimore, Maryland where he has begun serving as the founding Senior Pastor of The Open Church, a new congregation located in the same city where he served in his first pastorate nearly 20 years ago.
Founding a new church was not something that happened overnight. Brad first envisioned The Open Church more than a decade ago (see CURE Blog post from April 17, 2012). Over the years, he has employed a great deal of thought, collaboration with others, frequent consultations with his family and the “wisdom circle” of clergy and other partners who have served as touchstones for him throughout his ministry. That, plus the serendipity of being called to SMC made it possible for him to launch the dream at this point in his life.
I asked Brad what advice and counsel he would offer someone who wanted to start a new church. What did he believe was at stake in such an undertaking? How does one begin at the beginning, and at the same time, begin with the end in mind? Brad believes you should know the goal of your leadership in starting a new church endeavor; you should he asserts, know “where you are going beyond your efforts to be ‘professionally holy.’ “ He reduced his advice to five essentials:
First, starting a church requires a sense of purpose. Brad believes you must “find that thing for which you are willing to die.” In other words, you have to be willing to take a risk and leave your old life behind you. It’s important, he adds, to have some knowledge of your own personality type and be comfortable in your own skin, and it helps to have a “questioning personality” that isn’t satisfied by the status quo or easy answers.
Second, don’t ignore the fact that structures of authority are being flattened and democratized; it’s important to recognize that you will continually need to hold democratization and collaboration in tension, along with your own understanding of pastoral authority. For Brad, pastoral authority is ultimately the bottom line; so he’s encouraging his leadership team at The Open Church to create a governing structure where there won’t ever be a need for him to break a tie vote. If that happens, he notes, his deciding vote will make it clear who’s in charge.
Third, you need to make certain that your family support system (in whatever configuration that takes) is part of your thinking and conversation from the start. The process of starting a new church (or revitalizing an old one) is time consuming, laborious and can be energy draining. It’s critical that your family be on board with you. It’s one of the reasons why he is adamant about supporting models of family life and church life that “promote fullness.”
Fourth, you need to ask yourself if this is the right time in your life and ministry to take this step. Where are you in your professional development that would make this the time to launch such an endeavor?
Fifth, and critically important: Ask yourself if you have the resources (or commitment from others for the resources) necessary to make this work. Give substantive and careful thought to what a start up budget for your dream church would look like. And don’t forget to take into account issues of space, necessary equipment, legal incorporation, liability insurance and salaries (for others, if not for yourself).

No one ever said that ministry was easy.  Starting a new church is even less so.  But if that leadership endeavor calls out to you, find a way to begin.   As Brad said in a lecture he delivered last year atFourth Presbyterian Church:   “Leadership is neutral; it doesn’t make any difference until you shift it into forward or reverse.”    Could a new church start be the way your leadership is taking you forward?

Well, McReaders, this is the last blog you’ll get from me. Wes will be taking over soon, and I’ll be done with seminary after 3 glorious years.

Thinking about the past 3 years is a bit overwhelming. As I’m leaving seminary, I’m not one of those prefect Presbyterians who passed all her ordination exams in the first try; I’m not walking out of seminary with a job in hand, ready to become ordained; I’m not in the minority. I am, once again, in the majority. I’m walking out of seminary with debt, no job, very little idea of where I am going to live, and a car that requires prayer each time to drive it down the Dan Ryan (which, given the shape it’s in, I don’t go down the Dan Ryan with it if I can help it). It’s not that I don’t have skills, I have mad skills. It’s just, there really aren’t many jobs out there. Recently, several people have asked me, “So, if you had to do it over, would you do it all again the same?”

Yes. I’d do it all over again and I would not do it differently. Here are a few reasons why:

1. I met Megan, Alex, TC, Sylvia, Tracy, Jon, Joe, Holly, Kim, Jason, Bong, Lilit, Ching Boi, Tyler, Ken, Lora, Matt, Jenny, Hannah, Amber, Molly, Han Kook, Dave, Kristi, Meredith, Kristin, Robyn, Tina, Karl, Michele, Vimary, Abby, Nathy, Nancy, Jeanine, Sergio, Kristin, Deanna, Mo, Stephanie, Melva, Kathi, Wes, Liz, Albert, Mike, Monica, Daniel, Sarah, Sarah, Katie Jo, Kate, Kirk, Jamie, Matt, Allison, Casey, Phil, Jeff, JC, Honna, Jake, Kelly, Megan, Sarah, Melvina, Delores, Kay, Sheila, Chris, Brenda, Peter, Heather, Jamie… the list is endless. This only includes the people that I could think of in 5 minutes and doesn’t include staff, professors, students from other seminaries, people in the community… Need I say more?

2. The friendly folks at the Starbucks at 55th and Woodlawn know my name.

3. I now know that Joel is an actual book in the Bible.

4. Ted Hiebert taught me Hebrew and Sarah Tanzer taught me Greek.

5. Janaan Hashim and Bob Cathey answered all my ridiculous questions and never told me to shut up. Ever.

6. I got to be Lib Caldwell’s EA.

7. If you ask nice enough, Luis will put on his Dracula cape.

8. Christine Vogel lets me cry in her office and Frank Yamada lets me cry in the halls.

9. Dr. Daniels made singing “Welcome Table” my favorite communion tradition.

10. Deb Mullen helped me accept who I was on my first day of classes.

11. Joann Lindstrom has a puppy in her office.

12. Sam Evans talks in a French accent when he’s in the office.

13. David Crawford is my friend and I know how hard he works for the seminary and the people there.

14. My classmates are fabulous dog-sitters, bird watchers, fish sitters, and plant waterers.

15. Melody Knowles taught me how to write a better paper.

16. Ted Hiebert made me re-think how I read the Bible.

17. Jennifer Ayers made me appreciate food and be thankful that I have it.

18. Ken Sawyer.

19. Ken Sawyer’s Mustache.

20. David Esterline’s wife’s cookies.

21. Knowing that Priscilla Rodriguez is always laughing at my facebook posts and understands my existential angst and will always have a hug for me.

22. Christine Vogel has a constant and steady supply of chocolate in her office.

23. No one reads the Psalms quite like Nanette Banks.

24. Dr. Frank Thomas taught me how to preach like I was on fire and then he made us go play in the snow.

25. Joann Lindstrom has my back.

26. Deb Kapp is an awesome cook at Iron Chef.

27. Monica actually smiles, you just have to know how to make her do it.

28. Natasha thinks I’ve already graduated.

29. I sort of have teacher crushes on Bob Cathey, Ted Hiebert, Lib Caldwell, Melody Knowles, and Janaan Hashim.

30. Community meals are always better food than I have in my apartment.

31. David Crawford often confuses me and Abby Mohaupt.

32. Boundaries don’t actually exist at McCormick despite Joann Lindstrom’s attempts at educating us.

33. Kimchi and Chapchae are two of my new favorite foods.

34. After being her EA, Abby Mohaupt and I now know that Lib Caldwell drinks Diet Coke at break and her Starbucks order is a grande unsweetened passion fruit iced tea.

35. I learned more about YAV’s than I ever imagined was possible.

36. I learned that Frank Yamada used to be in a band.

37. Anna Case-Winters lets me call her A.C. Dub.

38. Ken Crews can eat ungodly amounts of fast food in one sitting.

39. Deacon retreats aren’t the same without Christine Vogel present.

And last but not least…

40. The University of Chicago has a library. Thank God, or none of my work would have ever gotten done.

Well, that’s it. There are other things I could have talked about on here, but this is all I had time for, I have to finish a project for Bob Cathey. Go figure. Graduation, here I come!

Peace – Shelley D.

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