3. Faithful Living
a. Reflect upon your personal, vocational, and spiritual development since beginning the candidacy process. How have you been challenged, strengthened, or delighted?
One of my challenges over the course of my candidacy process up until this point has been to further discern and clarify my call. This discernment process has been a matter of me exploring my more vague feeling of being called in order to understand exactly to what I am being called. Through my hands-on experiences during my field work at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in East Windsor, NJ and at the Lutheran Office of Governmental Ministry in Trenton, NJ, as well as my summer unit of CPE, I have come to see more clearly my call to ordained ministry. My experiences showed me both the darkness of a world that falls short of God's expectations and the light of God's grace and forgiveness. I understand now that my call is to bring a message of hope and peace to a broken world - to preach the good news of God's gracious ongoing participation in the salvation of the world and to bring that grace tangibly to the world through the sacraments. Through this challenge of discerning and refining my call, I have felt strengthened in my faith.
For me, CPE is a prime example of the way that God is still bringing me through and drawing me out. There were times that I was convinced I should simply quit the program, but I could never shake the hymn-line "we walk by faith and not by sight" from my head. I look back on an incredibly rewarding summer full of growth and see more deeply how my faith not only brought me through, but also became more deeply embedded in the ins and outs of my daily life. I have grown more keenly sensitive to the plight of those who are hurting or suffering, and have thus felt more deeply connected to the wideness and profound necessity of God's grace. Paul says in Romans 5: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” When Paul implores us to “boast in our suffering,” I do not believe he is saying to us that our suffering isn’t real or that our suffering is bearable because it is God-ordained. I rather believe that Paul is sharing with us the wondrous message of God’s grace. We rejoice in our suffering because we do not go at it alone. Even though he lists a number of virtues that may result from suffering, he makes the point that it is God’s love that sustains us in hard times. Suffering is not from God as much as hope in the midst of suffering is from God.Personally, I am continuing to develop my own assertiveness and internalization of my pastoral authority. I have made great strides in being able to articulate my needs and to be honest about my thoughts and feelings in the midst of situations instead of afterwards. I am learning to better accept criticism without interpreting it as personal attack, and I am learning to differentiate between my standing up for myself and my being simply stubborn. As I continue to grow, I hope that I can gain a deeper sense of my pastoral authority and worth through continuing to risk asserting myself in situations that I might otherwise have remained passive. My CPE final evaluation highlights in greater detail both the aforementioned growths and continuing challenges.
b. What contributes to the nourishment of your faith, health, and well-being?
For me, music is an incredible source of peace, refreshment, and faith. Sometimes I think that my life comes with a soundtrack - sometimes I listen to music that matches my mood, and other times I listen to music in order to move away from my mood. I am inspired by J.S. Bach's music, because the music conveys faith and feeling far beyond what the text alone could. The refinement of his music helps me to feel God's peace when I am stressed or flustered, and the joyful expressions in his music lift my soul.
I am an introvert, so I don't often look to groups of people to ground me and nourish me, but I do value my close relationships as both faith-formative and nourishing, especially my family relationships. I take great comfort and joy in spending time with my husband, and look to our relationship as a place of stability. I have a close relationship with my family and know that I can call either of my sisters with my joys or frustrations, and that I can check in with my parents as I'm still learning how to be an adult! Related to the importance of family is the importance of home. I feel grounded and settled when I feel that I am home. One of my current challenges is settling into our new apartment in Chicago and being patient while getting acclaimated to the neighborhood, the building, and the way that our furniture fits into a new place. I look forward to being able to claim it as home - not just a residence, but a feeling and a state of being.
c. You are expected to make a ‘commitment to lead a life worth of the Gospel of Christ and in so doing to be an example in faithful service and holy living.’ How do you understand your responsibility as a public minister ‘whose life and conduct are above reproach?’
I know that there are strains of Christianity that frown upon any drinking, any smoking, any physicality in dating, any swearing, that restrict what sorts of tv and movies they watch - and while I don't agree with all of that, I still feel that these strains of Christianity have much to say about the issue of our public witness (applying to both clergy and all members of the body of Christ). What sort of God do we serve? What sorts of responsibilities do we have to the things to which our faith calls us? When I think in terms of sactficiation, I know that part of the Christian life is striving toward ethical and faithful standards of living.
I want to break down the myth that pastors have to be perfect, and in order to do so must to abstain from all realms of life and existence outside of the church. I don't want people to look at clergy as being kept apart from the world. However, i still believe that part of the call to ministry a responsibility to live a life according to that which "God has called [us]," to quote Peter. As a future pastor, I have to decide what my life says about God and about my ministry. I have to know that whatever choices I make about things like drinking, language, and humor, for example, will indeed be interpreted by those around me as indications of my ministry and of the God I serve.Claiming my call and my sense of pastoral authority means that I need to claim the explicit and implicit public witness that comes with being an ordained minister. Because of the public nature of my faith and dedication to the church, I am especially responsible for communicating the Gospel by my integrity and dignity. Also, as a visible representative of the church and of the ELCA, I am also responsible for upholding the honor of those institutions. To me, this means living a life of moderation and humility.
There are practical effects of this responsiblity. For instance, in being committed to standing with the poor and oppressed, I must be generous and responsible with my finances. Being a direct representative of the church as the bride of Christ, I must uphold dignity and respect in my marriage and family life. I must care for myself and for others, and make responsible choices about the places I go and the activities I do, knowing that I am always a visible sign of the church and a visible sign of God's presence in the world. Being above reproach means always being aware that my life and actions are under scrutiny, thus demanding that I take extra care to foster appropriate actions and interactions. God is gracious and I take comfort in that grace as I look to my inevitable shortcomings as both a person and a pastor. But I also feel called to be more aware of the way that my actions affecct the world around me and the way that I am perceived both in the church and outside of it.
Being an example in faithful service and holy living, I must engage in personal spiritual practices as well as corporate worship. I must be an example in standing up against injustice. I must live a life consistent with ethics of care and compassion, and be an example of letting my faith shine through my daily life.