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Uncategorized | The 'CURE' for your Vocation

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“So You Want to Start a New Church”: An Interview with Dr. Brad Braxton

Christine’s Corner – April 2012:

“So You Want to Start a New Church ….”: An interview with Dr. Brad Braxton
For the past two years Dr. Brad Braxton has served at McCormick as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar. He has taught classes in homiletics and New Testament, offered leadership throughout the seminary as a preacher, workshop leader, public lecturer, and all around vital member of our community. Now, he is preparing to leave McCormick for TWO (count ‘em) positions: one at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology as the Lois Craddock Perkins Chair in Homiletics, and the second as the founding Senior Pastor of The Open Church, a new congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, where he served in his first pastorate nearly 20 years ago. As part of my ongoing exploration of the emerging church in the 21st century, I sat down with Brad in mid-March to talk with him about this exciting endeavor.

So what was the inspiration for a new church plant and what kind of church did Brad envision?

Brad had a vision nearly a decade ago; he dreamed of starting a church. His ministry has taken him from Emory and Oxford Universities to his first pastorate at an urban church in Baltimore, MD; from the faculty at Wake Forest and Vanderbilt Universities to the historic pulpit of Riverside Church in New York City. His Riverside pastorate was a difficult one, and he resigned after less than a year. Yet he continued to hold fast to a vision of a radically diverse church committed to creative spiritual inspiration and courageous social justice activism. In spite of the disappointment about his brief stay at Riverside Church, he knew in his heart that he had another pastorate in him; his tenure at McCormick has been a healing time that allowed him to reconnect with that vision.

The church dreamed of would be “a church of the broad open daylight;” that is, it would be open to radical diversity in its theological positions, would welcome both Christian and interfaith dialogue, and would be both prophetic and persistent in its advocacy of social justice issues, including GLBTQ issues. The church would possess “a dialectic that balanced spiritual enrichment with community formation, grounded in a basic organizational “trinity” which he named as: the Bible, the by-laws, and the budget.
Brad’s previous pastorates have taught him that many congregational disputes involve the by-laws and the budget. He says that pastors need to be more insistent on emphasizing the theological nature of by-laws and budgets. In a recent meeting with leaders at The Open Church, Brad remarked, “Many divine dreams are derailed by demonic ‘hijackings’ of congregational governance structures.” Thus, he is working collaboratively with the leaders of The Open Church to create governance structures that promote congregational and pastoral creativity as well as management and fiscal accountability.

What makes Brad’s vision for The Open Church unique?

Brad has always been a leading advocate of social justice issues; in fact, he is one of the most visible African American heterosexual advocates for GLBTQ issues and believes that advocacy and evangelism are critical pieces of his ministry. He says it’s no accident that his vision for The Open Church would value radically diverse religious contexts and promote and support both ecumenicity and inter-religious dialogue. He envisions a church that will be deeply committed to teaching, global ministry, advocacy and supporting diverse models of family life that promote abundance and wholeness.

What obstacles did you encounter? And what made “the rough places plain”; in other words, what smoothed the way for this vision to become reality?

In his mid-twenties, Brad’s first pastorate had been at Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore. Over the years, he had maintained positive relationships with many of his former congregants. After his departure from Riverside, he rekindled the vision that came to him nearly a decade earlier and began to seriously consider the possibility of starting a new church. As part of the vision-casting process, he “cultivated conversations” with a number of his former congregants, many of whom still lived in Baltimore. While it seemed a long shot at the time, he “cast his bread upon the waters” hoping to find resources which would make the realization of his vision possible.

But where to begin?  During his past two years at McCormick, as our Distinguished Visiting Scholar, Brad had continued to dream without having any financial assurance that the dream would become reality.  He was almost ready to let the dream go when he was approached by Southern Methodist University and offered the endowed Lois Craddock Perkins Chair in Homiletics.  The university was willing to work out a flexible commuting arrangement, which would allow Brad and his family to live in Baltimore while Brad carries a full-teaching load, mentors students, and works with faculty colleagues.  What had seemed like an impossibility at the time began to take on the contours of reality because, in the words of Rev. Martha Simmons, one of Brad’s mentors, “God can always dream a bigger dream for us than we can dream for ourselves.”

In the interim before the offer from SMU came through, Brad called an October 2011 “interest meeting” in Baltimore for people interested in establishing a new, radically inclusive congregation.  55 people attended that three-hour meeting.  The theological foundation for the meeting was a 10-page vision statement Brad wrote in March 2011.  He first shared the statement with his most trusted confidante, his wife Lazetta.  After she significantly enhanced the vision statement, he shared it with other key members in his wisdom circle, some of whom attended the October 2011 interest meeting.

During the interest meeting, they prayed, sang, read scripture, and assembled in small discussion groups.  The positive spiritual energy in the meeting was palpable, according to Brad.  He knew then that something special was about to happen.

Realizing that this meeting could be a watershed moment in the life of The Open Church, he made two intentional moves.  First, he ensured that there was a video recording of the meeting.  Second, he invited Heather Cronk, his long-time friend and former student at Wake Forest Divinity School, to read the first quotation on the meeting agenda (the quotation consisted of the famous words from the social justice activist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”).  Heather is a white, lesbian GLBTQ social justice activist in Washington, DC, who has a Master of Divinity degree and at times has described herself as agnostic.  Brad proudly declares, “The first voice other than mine to speak officially at The Open Church was a white, agnostic lesbian.  When we say The Open Church is open, we mean open…to all!”

In the six months since the interest meeting, the group began to hold regular meetings.  Since December 2011, fifteen leaders have been having weekly telephone conferences with Brad.  Six leadership teams have been created to provide a basic structure and begin implementation of the vision of The Open Church: 1) steering team; 2) prayer and worship team; 3) congregational relations team;
4) stewardship team; 5) fiscal management team; and 6) social justice and civic engagement team.  The mission of the church is clearly evident in the focus of each team.  There are three dimensions that Brad considers essential in the establishing of this congregation.  The Open Church will be: 1) progressive;
2) prophetic; and 3) pluralistic.  He eagerly says it will be a place of “messy eclecticism.”

What’s your biggest dream for The Open Church?

Currently, the church meets once a month in a space rented from the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity in Baltimore; both worship and business take place at this meeting time.  By July of this year, when Brad and his family are completely relocated and settled in Baltimore, the leadership team is planning to move to twice monthly Sunday worship.  Brad envisions that this initial church plant in Baltimore will ultimately be the “mother church” of The Open Church.  He dreams that the model developed there will be contagious and give birth to satellites across the United States and eventually across the world.

Brad’s ultimate dream is that The Open Church will make an indelible mark on progressive Christianity, all to the glory of God.  And by the way: since Brad = Broad Meadow in Old English, it’s safe to say that Brad Braxton is, in his own words “living into my name!”  Much peace and blessing to Brad and to the future of The Open Church.

Next time:   “So You Want to Start a New Church…”   Brad Braxton’s Pointers on what you need to know beforehand.

Envisioning the Future: The Gift of Sharing

As we continue our discussion of our vision of the future church we welcome Stephanie Levan and her vision:

Here at McCormick, we worship together on a weekly basis.  Our worship is held in the common room, which is transformed from classroom to sanctuary every Wednesday afternoon and the lobby into a cafeteria for a community meal.  Recently, in honor of Maundy Wednesday/Thursday, our worship leaders decided to have the meal during the service rather than afterwards.  This set-up combined with a sermon that encouraged and provided ample time for a fruitful discussion, sparked my interest in sharing this particular blog.  At the end of the service we sang, “I Need You to Survive,” and it was one of the more moving experiences I’ve had in worship in quite awhile.

Here are the lyrics that struck me the most:

“I pray for you, you pray for me
I love you, I need you to survive
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth
I love you, I need you to survive”

Simple enough, right?

…and yet there is something so profound there — hidden among the simple words that were sung.

This song is about sharing:

the sharing of self.

Today’s churches offer many different things: refuge, beauty, education, help, support, programming, financial assistance, etc. etc. The list goes on and on. In my own church, every Sunday many people attend worship services in the morning. They smile. They ask the standard questions and make the standard comments: ‘How are you this morning?’ and ‘Good to see you this morning’. And while there is nothing really wrong with this line of standardization, I wonder what it might be like if we actually stopped and listened to the person we were conversing with. What if we actually listened for the answer, and sought to share part of ourselves with them as well …  in this community where we are taught that we are all people seeking redemption and salvation.

In Anne Jackson’s book, Permission to Speak Freely, she speaks of the gift of going second. The gift of sharing a piece of your story, your vulnerability or brokenness, first … and allowing that vulnerable piece of yourself be an invitation for the other person to share their own struggle.

If you’ve ever had that nagging feeling of struggle, discontentment, or even discombobulation of the mind or soul, then you know what I’m talking about. The gift that someone gives to you of sharing their stories of faith and struggle is sacred. This gift can give you the relieving ability to share your own story. On the flip side, I’ve had this gift shared with me, and then not taken advantage of it. Someone has shared their story with me and I have listened intently and still been reluctant to share my own story.  Why?

Where does that fear come from?  Where do we learn this?  How can we reconcile this as a community of faith?

Start sharing. Start sharing your story with your sisters and brothers. Share your joys and share your concerns. Laugh when you’re happy and cry when you’re sad. Allow others to help and support you. Ask challenging questions. Accept the love that is available around you. Take risks. Do what you need to do … but start sharing. Your openness might be the doorway to another person’s path to healing. How wonderful would it be to worship in a space where we can truly bring all of our struggles to our God, alongside our neighbors?

My challenge for myself and you, dear reader, is to start small. Share with one person. Reflect. Support. Share again. Come. Come unguarded in the presence of your God and allow your brothers and sisters to share in your sorrows and rejoicing.

Wouldn’t this be a great vision of the church for the future?  A place where we can share freely and without fear of judgement or condemning … a place of love, warm welcome, and invitation.  This is the church I long for …. and this is the safe space we can all start creating.

“you are important to me,
I need you to survive….”

Since Spring has sprung and the weather is warming, I thought it would be nice to introduce you to McCormick’s urban classroom: the city of Chicago. Chicago is a city of many incredible neighborhoods, each with its own flair. Once or twice a month I’ll highlight a new neighborhood, give a little history and introduce you to some of the fun things to do there. This week: Pilsen.

Pilsen is located near the heart of Chicago, bordering the Chicago River on the East and South sides, 16th Street to the North, and Western to the West. Originally named for a city in the Czech Republic, Pilsen is now home to Chicago’s Mexican community. Served by the Pink Line, Pilsen is easy to reach from just about anywhere in Chicago.

Me taking a really awkward picture in front of a garden, in Pilsen of course

My first visit here was last Friday, Good Friday, to participate in a Mexican tradition : Via Crucis Vivente (Link goes to a YouTube video of last year’s march), or “Living the Way of the Cross” which has been taking place in Pilsen for 37 years. The Via Crucis take place down 18th street, and provided a great opportunity to see much of the neighborhood. After that taste of Pilsen, I had to go back, so my wife, a friend and I went and spent the afternoon looking in the vintage shops and enjoying Mexican food and adult beverages.

My friend in front of a public art installation entitled, "Before I die"

Pilsen has an up and coming art scene, which is evident by its many art galleries and public art installations. Near the intersection of 18th and Halstead is a line of art galleries, open by appointment only, but really interesting to look at. If you come in by bus, don’t miss them. Another don’t miss gallery is the National Museum of Mexican Art. An added bonus, it’s free!

Coffee shop - and an example of some of the great architecture Pilsen has to offer!

One of the best things Pilsen is known for is food. Being a predominately Mexican neighborhood, you’ll be able to find some of the best authentic Mexican dishes Chicago has to offer. A favorite for many, or so I’ve been told, is Nuevo Leon, located on 18th near Ashland. Not only does Pilsen have good Mexican options, but Barbecue, Asian, and many more. Some of the best tortilla chips in Chicago are also made right here.

Lastly, Pilsen’s architecture is wonderful. There is a mix of old and new, everything is colorful and there is a lot of exciting history. For great examples, check out some of the churches in Pilsen, like St. Aldabert’s Catholic Church.

Check us out later this week for an update on visions for the Church, with a guest blogger, Stephanie Levan! Until then!

Iron Chef!

Iron Chef.

It’s not just a Japanese (or American) game show, it’s also how some of us from McCormick have a good time! Once a semester, Residence Life sponsors a cooking competition: Fall semester is for students, Spring for faculty and staff. The faculty/staff competition was held last Friday night, and was a blast. Here is a recap for those of you who missed it (all photos credit Sergio Centeno):

Students taste Team Food Processor's entree: Carrot and Goat Cheese Tart

The teams

Blender Team: Professor Lib Caldwell; Professor Deborah Kapp and Jamie Wasowski, Associate Director if Recruitment and Admissions

Can Opener Team: JC Cadwallader, Director of Recruitment and Admissions; Professor Joanne Lindstrom and President Frank Yamada

Food Processor Team: Jeff Japinga, Associate Dean Doctor of Ministry Programs; Lisa Radetski, Vice President of Seminary Relations and Development and Diane Sinish, Director of Residence Life

Rice Cooker Team: Marsha Lockwood, Assistant to the President; Alicia Rhine, Senior Administrative Assistant and Natasha Gaines, Director of Building and Grounds .

Can Opener Team prepping their entree: Carrot Ravioli

Secret Ingredient

CARROTS – All teams had to create at least 3 courses (Appetizer, Entree and Dessert) with carrots as the main ingredient.

Blender Team's Moroccan Carrot Dip


As a judge, I had the distinct pleasure of tasting each and every item lovingly prepared by the faculty and staff chef-testants. Everything was impressively good and it was a tough decision to make. Here’s a run down of what we had:

Blender Team: Moroccan Carrot Dip, Carrot Sliders with Plum Sauce, Sesame Carrot Slaw, Carrot Halwa (an Indian pudding) and Carrot Mimosas.

Can Opener Team: Citrus-y Carrot Salad, Carrot Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce and Carrot Cake Cookies.

Food Processor Team: Potato and Carrot Pancakes with dill sour cream, Carrot and Goat Cheese tart, “Drunken Bunny” (Carrot and Rum) Ice Cream and Carrot Mojitos.

Rice Cooker Team: Raw Carrot Dip (Not just raw carrots, but Marsha is a certified Raw Food Chef, so made with all raw ingredients), Quinoa and Carrot Pilaf, Pecan, Maple and Carrot Pudding and a Carrot Spritzer.

The Winner

Like I said before, it was a super tough decision. Each team did such an amazing job, using the secret ingredient in creative and tasty ways. In the end, though, there could only be one winner:

Senior Jennifer Ikoma-Motzko shows her support for the Rice Cooker Team

Rice Cooker Team!

McCormick takes community very seriously – we work hard together and we like to play hard together. We hope you can join us next Fall when my team will take home the trophy!

Happy Easter!

Readin’ the Bible, Preschool Style

Okay, maybe not preschool style, but our featured class today deals with helping to read the Bible as youth and children would read it. Rev. Dr. Lib Caldwell, the Harold Blake Walker Professor of Pastoral Theology and Dean of Academic Advising, along with Dr. Ted Hiebert, Francis A. McGaw Professor of Old Testament, put together this class to teach students how to research, exegete, write and educate children, youth, families, and lay people about how children experience the Bible stories and wrestle with the different things that the Bible has to offer. Both professors have been heavily involved in the work of the Common English Bible, which just came out, and Lib is now helping with the Deep Blue Kids Bible, the CEB for kids.

Lib and Ted, prepping for class before semester begins!

Lib and Ted are quite the teaching team. They provide students with two professors with different backgrounds, but with the same passion for making the Bible accessible to children and youth, and also for providing parents, and adults in general, with access to help people read the Bible with children. It’s not about hoping kids won’t ask the hard questions until they are older or about hiding difficult stories from the Bible from them because they might not be ready for them; no. It’s about engaging young people, of all ages, with their parents and adults in honest conversations. Kids get it; it’s the adults who tend to be scared of the harder stories because, let’s be honest, we’re not sure how to answer a question about the rape of Dinah, or about the fact that there are 2 creation stories at the beginning of Genesis. This class helps to address this issue: how do we talk to our children about the Bible and how do we allow them to read the Bible?

As Lib and Ted’s Education Assistant, I get to see these two minds hard at work as they prep for each class and the issues they will be tackling each week. Students are challenged to think long and hard about what they are working on.

Lib Caldwell, lecturing on children's Bibles.

So, now you’re wondering, how do they actually do this? How does the class work? Well, that’s simple. First, students pick a story. Then they work through a resource provided by Lib and Ted on how to go about approaching the story. Believe it or not, to write a children’s story is a hard task, and a lot of work goes into it. It is harder to get a children’s book published than it is a book for young adults or adults. After their exegesis work and research, they put together a resource for teachers to use. Then, they actually sit down and write the story, in the language of a kid, all while staying true to the language of the Scripture (it’s much harder than you think, most people change it to something entirely different!). The final step: illustration. While the students are still thinking of how they want to illustrate, I’m researching methods of how to publish our book. We do a self-publication, but if you want one, just let the seminary know! We’re happy to sell them!

Senior, TC Anderson, getting ready to act out the story of the bent over woman in class.

Another great part of Lib and Ted’s class, are the snacks. Each week, students come together to make snacks and share them with one another. This last week, our snacks were social location/context snacks (see the photo below!). Halfway through class, students and professors take a break, chat and simply move around. It’s hard sitting for so long sometimes!

Homemade Sushi, Oreos, and Guac. It doesn't get much better than that.

Just one more class that you’ll only find at McCormick! Have questions? Send us an email: inquiry@go.mccormick.edu
Until next time! Peace!

Over reading week I was able to spend some quality time with my record collection, listening to most of them and even buying a new one. One of my favorites, purchased at an antique store in Charlotte, North Carolina is a compilation by blue grass great Doc Watson. For those of you who aren’t acquainted with old blue grass and country, many songs have religious overtones, rarely with theology that matches up with my own. I really appreciate the music that blue grass and country acts such as the Louvin Brothers have put out, but I can’t get behind the theology they profess in such classics as “Broadminded” (this is not the Louvin Brothers, however there isn’t a good copy of it on you tube, so Brother Don will have to do, and he does a pretty good job!).

While listening to Doc Watson: Favorites one such gospel tune stood out, “Old Camp Meeting Time.” The chorus is likely to get stuck in your head for a while after hearing it, as it did mine this past week. Over and over again I would sing “I like that old time preachin’, prayin’, shoutin’, singin’, I like the old time reading of God’s word, I like to hear them glory hallelujah’s ringing, I like the old time worship of the lord.” I can’t imagine what that was like for my wife to have to hear, but it got me thinking – and I know ol’ Doc is singing about camp meetings, but go with me – all I could think of is the split between that real old “preachin’” that Jesus did and what I have heard in many pulpits today.

At McCormick we’ve been having dialogues about ways to re-imagine the church. Doc Watson spelled (or rather sang) it out for me – no, we don’t need camp meetings to revitalize the church, but we need to get back to the central part of Jesus’ message. Take for instance the beatitudes from the sermon on the mount:

“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Happy are people who grieve, because they will be made glad. Happy are people who are humble, because they will inherit the earth. Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, because they will be fed until they are full. Happy are people who show mercy, because they will receive mercy. Happy are people who have pure hearts, because they will see God. Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children. Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” (Matthew 5:3-10 CEB)

Be humble. Show mercy. Make peace.

The Good News of Jesus doesn’t stop there. Some of the most impactful stories are of Jesus feeding and table fellowship, and of healing the sick and wounded, and comforting the sad.

These are all essential tenants of the life and death of Jesus that often go ignored by our churches. Right now on Facebook there is a blog that I keep seeing posted and re-posted, Rachel Held Evans, “15 reasons I left church.” Among them she mentions being ridiculed for asking questions, not being allowed to doubt, learning more from Oprah about justice than Jesus, the church seeming more like a cult or country club… the list goes on. This is a common experience for a lot of people, as I have experienced so much of this my self and have seen the many comments the posting of that blog to Facebook elicited.

Wednesday I saw a preacher’s Facebook status update and he gave a list of the ways he thought the economy could be revitalized. Among them was sending the National Guard to the border (he undoubtedly meant our southern one) and killing any “illegal” who tries to come in. This was a preacher. A man of God. Someone who claims to spread the “good news.” His version of the good news has nothing to do with the message of peace, mercy, healing or feeding that I’ve read about. His is the message that is creating a divide between our culture and our faith, causing so many to want to distance themselves from the church.

In a follow up blog, one that I have not seen being shared on Facebook, Rachel Evans answers what made her go back to the church. Number one on her list is Jesus. She also mentions communion, the support of a community that cares and grace. This is what many people, myself included want from church. I don’t want to preach or be preached at about hate and divisions. I need to hear the message of hope and unity. I need to hear about divisions being broken down. I need to hear about it not being important who you are, what you do or where you’re from – what matters is that you care about your neighbor, you feed them when they are hungry, clothe them when they are naked. Even when the scriptural message is difficult to hear and understand, I need a community that supports the struggle for understanding instead of using it as a weapon against those they disagree with. That’s what I like about Jesus’ old time preachin’, prayin’, shoutin’, singin’. That’s what I want from a revitalized church.

What do you want?

Greetings McReaders! We’re back after a well deserved reading week here on the Southside of Chicago. Back to homework, reading, researching, going to weekly chapel, going to our respective meetings, and going back to class.In the next few weeks, we’re going to be looking at some of the classes that McCormick offers students. Sure, we have the typical Greek and Hebrew and we have our theology classes, but our professors go out of the way to create specialty classes and environments where students can learn, explore, and challenge themselves based on their own areas of study and expertise.

Today I want to introduce you to one of those classes (and the professor that go with it). You won’t find a class like this one at any other seminary (well, you might find one similar, but not this one!).

Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Sarah Tanzer

Welcome to Bible 440, Life Cycles of Judaism! Sarah is one of our New Testament professors here at McCormick; she also teaches classes such as Greek Exegesis and Gospels (a must take if you love some NT). The class itself is designed to look at the Jewish calendar, Jewish practices, and, you guessed it, the life cycles of Judaism. Since being in this class, we’ve learned about everything from holidays and Jewish festivals, to learning how to blow a Shofar, a ram’s horn.

First year student, Tyler Orem, practices blowing the Shofar, the ram's horn which is blown on Jewish holidays such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah

Now, it’s not about the super cool instruments and prayer shawls that we get to see in class, it’s really a class about learning where we, as Christians, come from. It’s a chance to learn more about our Jewish brothers and sisters and to gain more respect for the Jewish culture. It’s about appreciating the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. Sarah even invites us into her home for a traditional Shabbat service. We are also sent out into Chicago, to visit a Synagogue of our choice (I’ll be visiting Congregation Or Chadash).

As our professor, Sarah brings a lot to the table. A practicing Jew herself, Sarah explores the class with the students (as she does in all her classes). This isn’t some class where you get a talking head for 3 hours. Nope, it’s a dialogue in which the students and professor interact in a mutual desire to learn and share information. Sarah has a love for teaching and she even makes two semesters of Greek Exegesis pretty bearable; you almost like it when you leave it! One thing that I can say, on a personal level, is that Sarah is invested in her students, and she is always around to help.

This is one of many classes that you can expect to see at McCormick. Next week, we’ll be talking about one of our Christian Education/Bible classes with Lib Caldwell and Ted Hiebert.

Have questions about more of our classes?! Contact one of our student reps in the Office of Recruitment and Admissions and we’ll be happy to tell you more!

Stay tuned to see what Wes will be bringing to the table on Thursday. Until then, happy reading!

~Shelley D.

Lent, Covenants and Immigration – what does it mean?

I’ve noticed something this season of lent - I’m not sure if I’ve just never payed attention before or if this is the result of being in seminary – and that is an overarching theme of covenants.

The Old Testament scripture lesson from the Lectionary for the first week of Lent this year comes from Genesis 9: 8-17, God’s covenant after the flood. Old Testament Professor and Genesis whiz Dr. Ted Hiebert preached this text at last weeks Wednesday worship service. In his sermon he pointed out that in this covenant, the first covenant, God doesn’t just make a promise to Noah or even to humanity, but ALL the earth. This doesn’t just mean me and you, but the whole creation! Dogs and cats and worms alike (oh my)!

When we think of being in relationship with God - what does this mean for us?

When our relationship with God is not just a personal one, but one connected to the rest of creation - what does it mean?

Do we continue to destroy God’s creation, knowing that God has made a covenant with it, just as God made a covenant with us? Even if we don’t want to recognize other parts of creation, what about the rest of the people? They belong to God too. Why do we purposefully leave out those who we don’t want to be in relationship with? What if we laid politics aside and lived in this covenant? What would that mean?

This past Sunday I went to Milwaukee to hear McCormick’s president, Rev. Dr. Frank Yamada, preach at Immanuel Presbyterian. He preached on another covenant, God’s covenant with Abraham found in Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16. In this covenant God promises Abram that he will make him the ancestor of “a multitude” and changes his name from Abram (meaning “exalted ancestor” according to the CEB) to Abraham (“ancestor of a multitude”). Just after renaming Abraham, God tells him in verse 6, “I will make you very fertile. I will produce nations from you, and kings will come from you. 7I will set up my covenant with you and your descendants after you in every generation as an enduring covenant. I will be your God and your descendants’ God after you. 8I will give you and your descendants the land in which you are immigrants, the whole land of Canaan, as an enduring possession. And I will be their God” (Gen 17:6-8 CEB).

Did you catch it? The Lectionary stopped in verse 7, but God keeps going. In verse 8 God says that God will give us a land where we are immigrants. We don’t like to hear that, because we don’t like wrestle with it to figure out what that means.

Immigrants. In our culture immigrants has become a dirty word. Immigrants, in our culture, are worthless dirty criminals. We treat them with disdain. We perceive them as less than us, as somehow sub-human.

Last Friday I went to a prayer vigil for those immigrants who are being deported out of Illinois’ Broadview detention center. Between 75 and 100 undocumented immigrants are deported here every day.

Before even making it to a facility like Broadview to wait for deportation, they will go before a judge, not in person but by closed circuit television or without benefit of a lawyer, and there it is decided whether or not they will get deported. Everyday  immigrants are shuttled in and out of Broadview and other detention center, sometimes hundreds of miles from their homes – the places where they have built relationships, families and purpose – in the United States. Their families, if they want to visit them (if they can even make it to see them, depending on their own status) they have to come between the hours of 4 and 6 am. If a family member makes the journey to the detention center in time and finds the unmarked building, then they don’t get to share in their loved one’s warm embrace, but they get to see each other via camera.

When they’re bused to the airport the US Department of Homeland Security packs the immigrants in like sardines; “We’ve got room for [pick a number] more bodies.”

Bodies. They don’t even get the consideration of being a person.

And then when they’re released if they’re from Mexico they’re taken to the border and told to walk across, many times without money or the opportunity to connect with someone to arrange to be picked up; if they’re from elsewhere they’re left at the airport, in the same situation. This is how we treat the spiders we find in our house – capture and drop. But immigrants aren’t spiders, they’re people. They are God’s creation. They are part of God’s covenant.

I understand this is a nation build on laws – but immigration law as it stands is broken. It is exclusive and makes near impossible legal ways for decent, hard working, children of God to enter in and join in community with us. If we remember God’s covenant with Abraham – God blessed Abraham as the ancestor of a multitude, and God said that he would enter a land as immigrants, and it would be his home. The story of the Jewish and Christian journey is one of immigration. Time and time again we are reminded not to mistreat the immigrant, because we were once immigrants too.

Our politicians like to profess their Christian faith – sometime even their fundamental Christian faith. But these same politicians create immigration policies where we baseslessly harass those with brown skin out of fear that they might be an immigrant, we imprison them, we treat them as sub-human.

When will we remember what God has promised us? During this Lenten season it is fitting that we remember and reflect on our immigrant roots and God’s covenant with us and with all creation.

Ted left the McCormick Community with this benediction last Wednesday and it has stayed with me since:

May God be with us all in our own particular places, The God who is not just worried about us, but about our neighbors and about every living thing, The God who is in fact in the air we breathe, In the highest standing trees on your street, And in the dark clouds of the strong and driving thunderstorm on your horizon, The God who promised once —but hasn’t been able— To save every little living thing from disaster, The God who is that present and that invested in the world.”

Until next time!

Happy almost Friday McReaders! Today we have a report on the mission trip several McCormick Students took to New Orleans this past January, written by 1st year MDiv student Stephanie Levan – you may remember her reflections in this blog post.


Is it safe?

I think it is.  It’s finally safe to come out of the woodwork on this one.

(we needed some recovery time, ya know??)

Well, Mcbloggers — I’m here to announce that McCormick went on a mission trip, and we’re ready to broadcast it to the world. [hang with me ... I know it's a long post...]

For all of you who aren’t aware — a group of 10 students and staff members from McCormick went on a week-long mission trip to New Orleans, LA on from January 21 – January 28, in partnership with RHINO.  RHINO [that is Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans] is a ministry that is supported by St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church in NOLA. [they are obviously Presbyterian, given how much they seem to like acronyms] RHINO partners with Habitat for Humanity in the New Orleans area and has helped to rebuild homes since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

On a snowy January Saturday in Chicago, our crew loaded into two mini-vans, and the 10 of us made the fast-paced and windy-road journey to The Pelican State.  Stopping over in Memphis on Saturday night in order to catch a quick church league basketball game and our fill of Memphis BBQ — we welcomed the gorgeously sunny weather in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon.

With our self-proclaimed tour guide, Maureen, [or was that group-appointed??] we had the opportunity to explore our new surroundings.  We discovered the French Market, free romantic ferry rides, and red beans and rice to our hearts’ desire.  With only an instance [or 2??] of slight food poisoning and [mis]communicated directions — we were able to enjoy areas of this eclectic city that has been physically and spiritually resurrecting from the storm that hit almost 7 years ago.  The spirit and pride that radiated from the people of New Orleans was contagious … and after our orientation from our [rockstar!] RHINO coordinator Avery, we could not wait to get started on helping the rebuilding process of this fantastically spirited place.

Tuesday morning [bright-eyed and bushy-tailed ... and operating on true Presbyterian time] we met our supervising crew for the houses that we would be working on for the rest of the week.  We were divided into several groups with other small groups of volunteers, and got to work quickly!

Our groups were involved in several projects between two different houses [nicknames are my own, based solely on the responsibilities and personalities of the people involved]:

The BangerSisters: Melva, Bong, and Kristin were in charge of nailing and screwing in woodblocks in order for the drywall to be put-up by subsequent groups of people.  When their inside job was completed, they then assisted in climbing ladders and nailing on siding to the outside of the house.

The Social Climbers: Stephanie (myself!) and two other ladies who were from New York, Katie and Krista, were trained on the scaffolding in order to apply trim for the subsequent siding, and then later we put trim up around the corners of the house and nailed, cut and measured siding as well.

The Backsiders: HyungJae, Tyler, Miseon, and JungJae working on the house around the corner putting up trim and siding.  This group was probably the hardest working group of all — and you could definitely tell at the end of the week that all of their hard work paid off!

The Porch Swingers: Maureen and Jamie worked to complete a front porch on the house around the corner.  They nailed, sanded, and built a beautiful porch with railing that we’re sure will be enjoyed by the owners!

[insert pregnant lull in the background music now ... time for a more serious note...]

After one rainy morning that involved lots of coloring for the Literacy program, however, Thursday brought with it a chance to get personal tours of New Orleans, both the good and the not-so-good that has come about in the past 7 years.  After a short presentation of the history of Hurricane Katrina, we were accompanied by St. Charles Pres church members and led around the city to explore what New Orleans looked like today.  This is when reality hit for many of us.  In the 9th ward, which was one of the most deeply affected places in New Orleans, there were still piles of rubble and remnants from 7 years ago.  There were bare fields where houses once crammed together, and there were house foundations still remaining, intertwined with the grass and weeds of the field.  Of course, there was sign of new life as well — many different groups are still working to rebuild and redesign this area.  There was an obvious attempt to redefine what it means to live in New Orleans, but the scars still remain.  Just as any other wound — this one will continue to take a long time to heal.  Through our tearful tours, we could feel both the hope and the heartache of the NOLA people — all rolled up together.

This hope is what sustained our group through the last work day…

On the last day of work, we worked alongside Avery and Mike to help clear rubble from an empty lot before returning to work on our assigned houses for the week.  Of course, rubble is best cleared to the tune of an 80′s Pandora station — and we were so excited when we finished that we quickly formed an [air] rock band!  We might have gotten a bit carried away….

At the end of the week we were exhausted, sun-burned, and full of emotion.  I suppose that’s what mission trips do to people.  We have returned to McCormick with a tweaked outlook on our own lives, and with the hope that relationships and partnerships were built and will remain strong.

After all, our mission work didn’t end when we returned back to a snowy Chicago —- it began.

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.
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