A Very Fidelia’s Thanksgiving

Gratitude

Gratitude

I am grateful for the witness of Sarah Sentilles. Her memoir, Breaking Up with God, actually helped me rediscover and re-embrace my faith and calling at a time when I seriously considered walking (running) away from it all. I continue to be inspired by her raw, beautiful truth-telling.
Amy Loving Austin

I’m grateful for the witness of Mark, who was the Associate Pastor of my childhood church during my teenage years. He was one of the first people who saw gifts for ministry in me, and gave me opportunities to cultivate those gifts. His ability to speak the truth in love—to compassionately invite me to do better—motivated me to live into my faith, and modeled for me how I could do the same as a pastor. Moreover, his vibrant, joyful, humble, unapologetic faith reminds me what Christian faith can look like.
-Emily M. Brown

I am thankful for Father Bill, who definitely belongs in my personal cloud of witnesses. He was the rector of my home church for over 30 years, and his example shaped so much of what I understand a priest to be. Sometimes, when I am saying certain prayers during worship, I can even hear his intonations in my voice. I know that his views on matters like the ordination of women and LGBT persons changed gradually over time, and I appreciate how he remained grounded in tradition while still having the ability to be stretched in new ways.
Diana Carroll

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Permission to Hear the Call

7986847327_c4d79a6ec5_kWhen I was applying to Princeton Theological Seminary, one of the questions on the application asked the name of the church that was supporting me. I remember writing down the name of my Roman Catholic Church and adding, in small letters, “This is the church where I attend. They do not support me for ordination.” I was applying to Princeton because that was where my favorite college professor attended. He was the person who kindled my passion for Biblical studies. I decided that if this school would produce someone like him, it must be a pretty good place. He wrote me a recommendation, as did another college religion professor, my political science advisor, and the Lutheran campus minister. They were all men, and all but one of them were pastors. I had never known a female pastor and would not get to know one until my first year at seminary.

All of these male pastors, two of whom were my professors, were inspirations to me. I was mesmerized by their intelligence and moved by their compassion. They carefully encouraged me without ever recommending that I leave the Roman Catholic Church. I do not recall them ever mentioning seminary to me, and if they had, I certainly would not have taken them seriously. I was Roman Catholic. Not only that, I was a proud Roman Catholic. This is not to say that I approved of all the things that the Roman Catholic Church stood for, but I still believed that was where I belonged.

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An Interview with Margaret Aymer


The Rev. Dr. Margaret Aymer was keynote speaker at the Text in Context conference, hosted by The Young Clergy WomMargaret Aymeren Project this July in Austin, Texas. She taught for many years at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia, before becoming Associate Professor of New Testament at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Professor Aymer is ordained as a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). “Our Cloud of Witnesses” editor Diana Carroll sat down with her during the conference to learn more about her life and ministry.

What are some of the challenges that you have faced in your ministry?

Some of the challenges have included things like working in places where I was not making a lot of money and not having the money to participate more broadly in the life of the church. The first few times I was asked to preach in a conference after I was ordained, I actually had to have them buy me the ticket, because I could not afford to buy a ticket and have them reimburse me.

It was challenging teaching in a seminary in which one of the six seminaries didn’t recognize my ordination, because I was female. Read more

For St. Margaret and All the Forgotten Women

For the past four years, I have been staring at this image of St. Margaret of Antioch. It hangs on the wall of a church called by her name, where I was the Associate Rector for Youth Formation until a few weeks ago. The image shows St. Margaret standing on the dragon that she is said to have defeated. Everyone in the church knows that part of her story. We even jokingly call ourselves “the church of the Dragon-slayer.” Yet until recently, very few of us knew much more about her than that, including me.

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Meeting the Saints, or The Power of Saintly Kitsch

OurCloudImageI have never been a person with a lot of idols. I don’t mean the golden calf variety. I mean the role model sort.

There are lots of women I look up to, lots of priests I admire, lots of people who do something I see and think, “I’d like to do that, too.” But I realized, one or two years into my ordained life, that part of my problem is that in my particular pinky of the Body of Christ, young women have never been ordained before. When women were first ordained in the 1970s, they were generally older—with families, careers, lives already established. The pendulum didn’t swing back to allow younger, first career women until very recently. So there’s no road map for how to be a young woman and a full-time religious person, all at the same time. I spend a lot of time fussing at the Church for being confused by my female, ordained presence, when neither the church nor I had many models for how this was supposed to look. (I mean, what should I wear, for starters?!)

Then I started hanging out with the saints.

I became a Celebrity Blogger for Lent Madness in the summer of 2012. I was ecstatic.

Lent Madness, for the uninitiated, is an online devotional styled after the basketball tournament of similar name (yet which is trademarked, so I can’t namecheck it here). Each day during Lent, two saints “compete,” as their respective bloggers write and post their biographies. Readers vote on which saint they feel is more deserving, and the winning saint advances to the next round of the bracket until finally, only one saint remains to claim the Golden Halo. It is educational, a lot of fun, and the only place on the internet where I can stand to read the comments.

Writing for Lent Madness introduced me to a whole cast of characters who were wholly holy, warts and all. There is a round in the contest based on Saintly Kitsch, in which we must find the weirdest pieces of nonsense that people have associated with a saint. Harriet Tubman on a throw pillow! Brigid’s own brand of beer! Egeria on a postage stamp! For some folks, that’s the round that drives them away. There are comments every year saying how disrespectful the whole thing is, questioning how we can live with ourselves, claiming that true saintly people never drank beer, etc.

But this quickly became my favorite round. Far from tarnishing the image of each saint, for me this exercise in kitsch served to fill out the saints and make them real people, with quirks, baggage, and hang-ups aplenty. None of the people I wrote about were perfect, yet each one shone the light of Christ into the world even through their foibles. It was like the kitsch was a parade of their humanness. The more ridiculous the stuff a saint was associated with, the more approachable they became.

Through all of Lent, year after year, round after round, the saints became real people to me: people who got frustrated, made decisions (both wise and unwise), were loved and hated in their turn. It turns out, they were much more interesting than the endless parade of pious nuns and martyred virgins I had expected. I found in them the role models I hadn’t been able to find elsewhere. Brigid, who bought her own freedom from slavery and then marched across Ireland to free her mother, too, is often said to be the first female bishop thanks to divine intervention. Harriet Tubman not only led hundreds of enslaved people to freedom, she also was a spy and a captain in the Union army for years. When the government finally paid her, decades later, she used her earnings to build a retirement home for the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. Egeria traveled across the known world—by herself, in the 4th century—because she wanted to know more about other Christians in other places. Lydia ran her own business (producing dye from snails!) and funded and led Paul’s ministry in Philippi.

These saints dealt with life, not as frail flowers walled off somewhere, but as thinking, feeling people who had ideas, hopes, and dreams as varied as they themselves were. They wanted to make a difference. They wanted to follow their faith. They wanted to follow Christ, wherever he led, whatever that meant in their lives, and they would do it in their own way, no matter what. They put their whole selves into their walk with Christ—quirks, idiosyncrasies, and all—and the world was a better place for it.

Those are role models I can relate to.

An Old, New, Unsurprising Surprise

OurCloudImageIn November 2012, I watched from the public gallery as our General Synod in the Church of England (CofE) voted to reject the legislation that would allow women to become bishops. I was just over a year into my own ordained ministry in a context that I loved, in a place that had all the usual stresses and brokenness and fracture, as well as the joys and blessings and surprises of ministry, but in which I did not encounter explicit rejection of my ministry simply because of my gender.

It was a shock. Even though I am well used to the vagaries of gender politics in the CofE, my emotional reaction was to feel shame. Suddenly, my dog collar did not fit quite so well.

Just over 18 months later, then, it was utterly astonishing that the CofE had done a complete U-turn and worked through some of its ‘issues’—though by no means all of them! Once again in the public gallery, I was a witness to the historic vote which enabled women to become bishops in my beloved church.

July 2014 was a mark in the sand. The CofE was moving to being a credible voice, not simply in the internal justice politics of its own institution, but more importantly, in the global landscape of violence against women, which we inhabit and which we must stand against in our mission to build God’s Kingdom.

Fast forward through an even shorter timeframe: between December 2014 and March 2015, the CofE has appointed three women to be bishops, one of whom is our first female Diocesan bishop. Our first female bishop was consecrated on 26th January 2015.

Some are surprised by the seemingly fast-paced journey we have taken. And yes, it does seem fast-paced in one sense. However, I see the consecration of women who are called to lead and shepherd us as bishops as simply a visible mark of an old story, which we had forgotten to tell. In reality, it is an old story that some have actively rejected. It is both new and very, very old. It is a ‘surprise’ and yet entirely normal: an unsurprising normality, which brings us back to our first love story.

This is the story found in Genesis of a dustling made from the dust of the Earth. Created out of intimacy and love, the touch and breath of God, which bring the dustling to life. And the dustling should not live alone, but must be found in the face of another. So the dustling lies down to sleep, and in sleep is re-created. The dustling wakes to find that he is ‘he.’ He is different, and he only knows who he is in the face of the ‘she:’ ‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.’ A beautiful love story of the shared humanity from which, and for which, we are made.

The re-creation of men and women today is both an old story and a fresh revitalised truth.

Looking at the women who are becoming our first female bishops—Libby Lane (Bishop of Stockport), Alison White (appointed as Bishop of Hull), and Rachel Treweek (appointed as Diocesan Bishop of Gloucester)—it is a delight to notice each individual woman. They are distinct human beings. Amongst them there are many different experiences. They are visibly from different church traditions and backgrounds. It is a delight to see their particular distinctiveness, as well as their connectedness in sharing a female humanity.

Between them they bring the experiences of active parish ministry, as well as cathedral ministry and wider diocesan roles. They will share these, together with the experiences of the men whom they serve alongside, to be our ‘Pastors of Pastors’ in the CofE. In doing so, they will look to re-create what it means to be the particular type of human we call ‘bishop,’ so that it is more faithful to the old story from which even that humanity draws its meaning.

And what will this mean to those of us who watch this re-creation?

Labour pains will be felt. Creation is something that is both instant and painfully slow. Conception is an instant change in status. Change is visible, even if it is microscopic! Yet the full creation of a human being is a lifelong journey. Being human is to be continually in the throes of being created.

There will be pain, and yet, as is (generally) true with labour, there will also be the joy of birth, life, and a changed world.

In the re-creation of our episcopacy, we who are members of the CofE—as laity, deacons, priests, and bishops—might best understand ourselves as both the mothers and midwives of this new thing that is happening amongst us. Rather than being onlookers or vaguely interested bystanders, we are actively part of the growing, labouring, and birthing.

A new episcopacy is the endeavour of the whole people.

Some make much of the need to be able to ‘see’ in order for us to ‘be.’ There is of course a great rejoicing in being able to see those who look like ‘us’ in all the spaces in which humanity should be present. This goes for gender, ethnicity, and all the other diversities of humanity who find themselves marginalised. To see ‘someone like me’ in a space where previously that has not been acceptable is to reawaken our internal imagination. We are invited to remember the possibilities that were always there.

However, we must be careful not to simply be observers of creation. To be passive as our women take their place would be potentially death-dealing. There is a reason that we wait for mothers to be in ‘active’ labour in order to bring their babies into the world!

So as we in the CofE look with joy at this Old, New, Unsurprising Surprise being birthed in our generation, my prayer is that, as a people, we will actively be a part of this exciting re-creation. The mission of God is no longer hampered by our rejection of our first birth story in Genesis, and instead bears the fruit that is inevitable when men and women face each other and claim, ‘bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.’

 

A Worker Sister

The author with Sister Angela, 1989

The author with Sister Angela, 1989

There was a brief period in my childhood, around age three or four, when I thought that my godmother was an angel. Literally. My confusion was understandable, as I hadn’t quite grasped either concept yet at that stage. I only knew that I had never seen her, but she sent me cards and presents for my birthday and Christmas, plus an Advent calendar every year. And I knew that her name was Angela.

Sister Angela was more than my godmother. She was also the founder of a religious community that had a deep and lasting impact on me. Angela started out as a nun in one of the traditional religious orders within the Anglican/Episcopal tradition. Habits, veils, vows of chastity and obedience—the whole nine yards. At some point, she felt called to leave the order and begin a new community that would be open to married lay women as well as those who were single. This community was shaped by the charismatic movement and inspired by the worker priests in Europe in the 1940s, whose ministry centered on working alongside ordinary laborers. The members live and work in the world, rather than living together in a convent. They still belong to their own local parishes. And they support one another in discerning and living out their vocations as Christians.

Over the 44 years since its founding, The Worker Sisters of the Holy Spirit has grown and changed considerably. Membership quickly expanded to include clergy, people who are divorced, and a parallel community for men called the Worker Brothers of the Holy Spirit. There is also the option of being a “Friend” or “Companion” to the order. Most recently, membership opened to non-Anglicans, and people from other denominations have joined. At each stage, the community has gradually affirmed its welcome of people from all walks of life.

My mother has belonged to WSHS nearly my entire life. Every year in the spring when I was growing up, she would leave for several days to attend the annual retreat. My grandfather, an Episcopal priest, has served as the community’s chaplain since it began and is only stepping down this year. So it was no surprise when Sister Angela invited me, at age 13, to join the community as a Youth Worker. The youth program was relatively short-lived and made up entirely of the children of community members. But it connected me with a community of great spiritual depth and wisdom, and it gave me access to opportunities for learning and worship that are rarely available to young people.

WSHS was also one of the first places that affirmed my call to ministry. When I was 19, Sister Angela asked me to preach at the healing service on the last night of the annual retreat. After the service, several members came up and asked me when I was going to seminary. Then, Sister Carol Luke, who was herself ordained, placed her hands on either side of my face, looked me right in the eyes, and said, “You are a priest.” I have never forgotten those words, or the way that they could see my vocation in me before I was even sure of it myself.

The Youth Worker program went up to 25, so at that age, I had to decide what my relationship with the community would be. I wasn’t ready to make a life commitment, so I became a Companion. It seemed like a good place to be, while I figured out what was next. By this time, my dad had joined the Worker Brothers, so it had truly become a family affair. At times, my attendance at retreat was motivated primarily by wanting to see family—and, as she grew sicker and weaker, by wanting to see Sister Angela herself.

Sometime in my childhood—after I came to understand that Sister Angela was a real person, not an angel—she had open-heart surgery. The doctors did not expect her to survive, and certainly not for another 20 years. Held up by prayer, she just kept going. She even rode her motorcycle right up until the last couple of years, all over the back roads near the retirement village where she and her husband lived.

The last retreat I attended was also the only one I’ve been to as a priest. I knew Sister Angela’s health was failing, and that this might be my last chance to see her. She asked me to preside at the healing service and celebrate communion. The look on her face as she received communion from my hands told me just how much it meant to her.

Sister Angela died two years ago, and WSHS is changing, as it must. Like all communities founded by a charismatic leader, they are having to figure out where God is calling them, now that she is gone. My relationship to WSHS is also changing. Directly and indirectly, WSHS taught me the value of community and how it is possible to be a community, even when you are very far from one another. This is one reason that I have felt so at home in The Young Clergy Women Project. Our members are dispersed all over the world, yet we are able to support one another in living out our vocations as Christians and as clergy. The seeds that were planted in me by WSHS are continuing to grow and take root in this next phase of my life.

Even though she can’t send me birthday cards or Advent calendars anymore, I believe that Sister Angela is still praying for me and supporting me, as she always has. Her memory continues to guide me as I seek out and create community in many different ways.

 

The Nearness of the Clouds

An opening in the CloudsJust before Christmas, I preached at the funeral of a beloved church and community member named Wendy. She struggled with cancer for many, many years—far more years than I knew her. We became especially close in the last two years of her life: years which were also marked with my mom’s cancer diagnosis and death. Wendy, my mom, and I all bonded over cancer, death, and the promises of God that we shared.

After such a long battle, Wendy’s death still felt sudden. It was hard to know where to begin with the sermon, although it felt like it should have been easy. After all, not long before she died, she sent me a four page document telling me what to share and what not to say.

Wendy wanted to be sure that I shared how much her family meant to her: her dad and her mom, as well as her husband and children. She loved each of them fiercely and uniquely. Wendy loved people, including more friends than she could name. Of course, I didn’t need her email to know that. Anyone who met Wendy knew that. In the years I knew her, it was obvious that she put others first consistently. Even as she did everything in her power to fight the cancer that had invaded her body, she continually gave of herself: in her classroom, at church, to her family and friends. Jesus said, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The only difference with Wendy may have been that she loved her neighbor more than herself.

That love for others grew out of love she received: from her family and friends, but also from God. Wendy told me not to say that she was a strong person. Some of us disagreed with that over the years. However, she wrote, “God is who got me through all the years with his strength and by surrounding me with such wonderful people that made me want to stay for as long as I could.” Wendy was strong because her strength came from God, from her faith.

Jesus also said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Wendy loved God and was not afraid to share her faith. She was involved in teaching confirmation for many years. Those were years in which she talked openly about her faith, about what she believed, about her willingness to keep learning and growing, trusting that God was part of her life’s journey. For me, Wendy was part of that great cloud of witnesses referred to in the book of Hebrews. She ran the race of this life with perseverance, looking to Jesus for her strength. And now, she’s still part of that great cloud of witnesses: those who have gone before us, who point us to God.

A few months after her father died, Wendy shared with me an experience she had one evening while driving. She was on the phone but had to pull over because a cloud stopped her in her tracks. It looked just like the profile image of her dad. I told her that I believe the boundary between this life and the next is thin. Throughout the Bible, Jesus says that the kingdom of God is near. And the kingdom of God includes God’s children, in this life or in the next. Wendy saw an image of her dad literally in the clouds but also as part of the cloud of witnesses who reminded her that life is not over even when life is over.

I told Wendy of an experience of mine that she asked me to share at her funeral. My life, too, has been deeply affected by the horrible reality of cancer. My dad died from cancer when I was not quite ten years old. There is much of my life he hasn’t been here for, including the birth of my children, and that brings deep sadness. My oldest child, now six, takes after my dad by having sensitive skin. My dad had been a mail carrier, and the winter was particularly rough on his skin, so he used A&D cream to help. Shortly after my daughter’s birth, when we used this ointment on her, I would hold her close and smell her and think, “Daddy.”  When I snuggled with her six-month-old self, and when she “kissed” me (which was more like slobbers), I felt like my dad knew her and that he sent hugs and kisses for me from heaven.

It’s hard to articulate this. I believe my child is a gift from God, that God knit her together, and that God knows her and loves her. I believe that God knows my dad and loves him, and I believed that before I had children. I couldn’t help but feel like my dad knew my daughter and sent me a message of love through her. Both of them belong to God and are forever connected by that reality. Wendy told me that my story gave her comfort and strength. She knew she belonged to God and would forever be connected to those she loves, even those we haven’t yet dreamed of. The distance between life and death is thin in the kingdom of God.

In life and death, we belong to God. Wendy knew that. Now, she is free of pain and cancer and the burdens of this life as she rests in God’s presence. Her funeral was a day to rejoice in the promises of God: that she has been granted everlasting life. Even so, as Ecclesiastes states, there is a time for everything, including times of tears. There were certainly tears that day and in the days that followed. But none of us walk the journey of grief alone. Jesus lived and died and rose again so that we might live and die and rise with him. Yet God’s promises aren’t just for the dead, but for the living. God’s promises are for us, too. God will be with us, just as God was with Wendy, on this journey through life, surrounding us with people who will share all the bad and good times with us. This is the great cloud of witnesses, who strengthen us to run the races set before us, the cloud of witnesses who invite us to live as Wendy did, loving God and loving others. In life and in death, in joy and in grief, we belong to God. We are God’s beloved children always. I hope that I, like Wendy, will never forget that.

An Interview with Our Founder

The Rev. Susan K. Olson, founder of The Young Clergy Women Project

The Rev. Susan K. Olson, founder of The Young Clergy Women Project

What gave you the idea to create The Young Clergy Women Project?
I was working in my capacity as Career Director at Yale Divinity School and was hearing back from young women who had graduated and had been in ministry for just a year or two. They were writing to me and asking to be added to the job list for non-ordained jobs. I was finding over and over again that women were leaving ministry after just one or two years, and so I started to ask why.

I found that women were just lonely. They were so isolated, and it wasn’t something I was hearing from young men—who also often have a tough transition into ministry, but it’s a transition that is a bit different than that of young women. The women are dealing with the isolation with an added layer of sexism on top of it. Many of these women had never previously experienced that kind of sexism in their work life.

At first, I thought I might be able to do something at Yale Divinity School to reach out to our graduates, but I discovered that I didn’t want to limit it to just our graduates and thought a forum that was not affiliated with any one institution was probably the best way to go.

How did you go about getting it started?
At first I just created a password protected blog site, where I would post blog posts that were really just questions. People would write answers on the initial blog site with the goal of writing some sort of article or proposal. But after a while, it became evident that the website itself was taking on a life of its own and was its own community.

At the time, I was really involved with the Cathedral College out of the National Cathedral and got this idea that it would be really great to get the young women from the blog together for a conference at the Cathedral College. So I set about trying to find a way to pay for that and stumbled across a grant advertisement from the Louisville Institute. I applied for and got the grant, which is how we funded the conference.

What was TYCWP like in the early years?
Very small compared to what it is now! The early years I think were marked with a lot of discovery and a lot of truth telling. It wasn’t until we had existed for about six or eight months that we began exploring the idea of becoming something permanent. There was a good deal of energy there and a good deal of excitement. I still remember the minute that Fidelia’s Sisters went live for the first time. It was really exciting. Things moved really, really quickly. We only had the grant from the Louisville Institute for about two years, and in that time, we had two conferences, we created a board, we got 501(c)(3) status, we created the deal with Chalice Press, and Fidelia’s Sisters launched. So much happened in such a short time. At the same time, I created this organization with the intention of not being involved in it. So it was kind of a funny feeling to have planned a really great party but always be looking for a way to get myself out the door.

What has been your favorite thing about TYCWP? What was the biggest challenge you faced in organizing it?
The biggest challenge I faced in organizing TYCWP was that I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t set out to start an organization or to start an online magazine or anything. It was just really organic, and there was no map, and so the challenge was that I didn’t know where I was headed. I certainly didn’t know where the organization was headed, and that was actually also my favorite thing about that time. There was no sense of what had to happen in order for this experiment to be successful. We could really just kind of set off without a map and see what happened. That was a tricky process for sure, but it was also a lot of fun.

What has surprised you most about where TYCWP has gone in the last eight years?
The Chalice Press deal came along in the last few months of my formal involvement with your organization, and that really surprised me. They approached us, and I was intrigued. It’s just been amazing to watch that project unfold and see the breadth of books that have come out of it. In watching from the sidelines since then on, I guess nothing surprises me about what’s going on with TYCWP, because even though the exact names have changed, the energy of young women with a voice is a force to be reckoned with. I can’t be surprised by what can happen with that kind of power and creativity.

What is your connection to TYCWP now?
I have no formal or informal connection to the organization anymore. I read Fidelia’s Sisters, and that’s about it. One thing that does make me laugh is that because I still work at Yale Divinity School, periodically students will quote an article in Fidelia’s Sisters and ask me if I’ve heard of the organization. That always makes me really happy.

What advice would you like to give to our current members?
This is where I should have some pithy thing to say—some  piece of wisdom from being so old—but I don’t have anything. I don’t need to give advice to the current members, because you’re doing things with the organization and with your individual ministries that blow my mind. You don’t need my advice at all!

 

Cloud of Witnesses

Of God and Grandma

Cloud of Witnesses

I think of my grandmother at Christmas more than any other time of year. Each Advent, I hear the words of Mary’s upside-down kingdom song (the Magnificat) set to the haunting chant of The Lutheran Book of Worship’s evening prayer service. Grandma taught me to sing it unaccompanied in church when I was about the same age Mary would have been when she sang it for her cousin Elizabeth. Each Christmas, I hear Grandma’s voice when we sing “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” a lesser-known favorite of hers, and I remember cursing its accidentals during the piano lessons she gave me. And all those who’ve asked me about my childhood Christmas traditions have heard the story of her infamous rice pudding, whose revolting depths we searched after dinner every year for the whole almond, which would win you a box of chocolate covered cherries.

It was Grandma who taught me to love the music of the church, before I ever knew that I would lead it weekly as a pastor. In our lessons over 13 years, she imparted the history of classical music and its stories, which are so intimately tied with church history. She encouraged me to sing in church often, with her accompaniment, as she was the volunteer church pianist for years. She forced me to play for congregational singing occasionally, and she is the reason I can still play “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” without mistake—though I rarely play at all these days. It was with her help that I first learned to sing the liturgy, including the communion portions, which I later learned were reserved for clergy in most churches.

But it wasn’t just music that she taught me to love in the church. She and my grandfather were organizing members of several Lutheran mission starts in Alaska, including the one in which I grew up. Their leadership in mission set an early example for me of what lives committed to the good news of Jesus should look like. They showed me that faith joined to loving action could change people and whole communities.

While Grandpa lead on a statewide level, pushing for Alaska to have its own synod when the ELCA was formed, Grandma’s influence showed closer to home. She was instrumental in starting the Food Pantry of Wasilla, which began as a basement closet in our home church, open once a week. It now has its own full-time director and two locations, and it is open 5 days a week year round.

Grandma’s lived faith had its most direct impact on me when I began seminary. At the same time that I was moving to Chicago to answer God’s call to ordained ministry in the ELCA, my parents were discerning a move away from the church in which they had raised me. They expressed in memorable terms their concern that the path I was following was not laid by our Lord, and our relationship grew strained.

At just the time when I needed encouragement the most, Grandma called my Chicago apartment, where I lived alone except for the roaches. She and Grandpa had been talking about their mission giving, she said, and they had some extra funds they wanted to give away. After praying it over, they’d decided that for the next few years, they’d write one of their monthly benevolence checks to me to help with books or groceries or whatever I needed. And every month for nearly three years, that’s what they did. More than the money, though, the accompanying letter, written in my grandmother’s curling script, was a clear message that I was supported and loved: that I was just where God meant me to be.

At my ordination, Grandma and Grandpa laid my first stole over my shoulders, dressing me for the role they’d help prepare me for. Their stories appear regularly in my sermons, and I’m now teaching my son to love the songs Grandma gave me.

I realize now, as her health is declining, that I haven’t told Grandma in so many words how deeply her life has impacted mine, and how much the pastor I am is owed to her nurturing and teaching. So, when this article is published, I’ll send her a video recording of me reading it—if I can make it through without bursting into tears! To borrow Paul’s words to Timothy, I write this in tribute to the “sincere faith, which first lived in [my] grandmother [Betty] and in [my] mother [Kathy],” and I hope that others are “persuaded, now lives in [me] also.”