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A New Home In A New Land

Immigrants on deck of steamer

Immigrants on deck of steamer

Fifty-one years ago my maternal grandmother was sitting on a suitcase in Grand Central Station, crowds pressing in, sounds swirling around, smells lingering. Her new husband had gone off in search of some food for the final leg of their journey to their new home in Holland, MI. My grandpa clutched their one lone American coin, a quarter, and selected large navel oranges and some dark chocolates to share with his new bride – luxuries they did not have the opportunity to possess in a post-war Germany with limited opportunity, limited promise, limited security.

My grandparents’ family could not understand why they would want to leave their home, why they would want to start over. Starting over as an immigrant is humbling. Grandpa headed off to a third shift job at Krampton’s Factory each day. His advanced degree in agriculture was not of much use without his own farm. Grandma went to work at Lemmon Fresh Dry Cleaner and spent her days listening to English on the radio and from the customers, as she steamed, pressed, and pleated clothing.  Her degree in home economics was not of much use without her own home.  Read more

The Family of Faith

imageMy son is starting Sunday School. Or, rather, my SON is starting SUNDAY SCHOOL!!!! Somehow, my infant child has transformed himself into a fast talking, faster-running 4-year-old. He is all legs and arms and questions now. He’ll creep into our bed around six o’clock in the morning and whisper, “So, Jesus is in my belly?” I blink awake, half dreaming, and try to answer his questions as best I can.

You would think that I, ordained a decade, would feel competent to answer his theological questions. After all, for the first eight years of my ministry, I specialized in children’s ministry. There was nothing I liked better than leading Children’s Worship and talking with small children about God.

And yet, somehow, as I tell my 4-year-old about Jesus’ death and resurrection, as I assure him he does not need to fear death, as I try to explain how Jesus is still alive even though we cannot see him, I find myself craning my neck to see if there is anyone in the room who might tackle these questions with more grace and wisdom than I can.

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Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Spare Some Change Edition

Gas Station

Dear Askie,

I’m a new pastor in a small farm town. The church is on the main road through town and I live in the parsonage next door. Across the street is a gas station/minimart. The previous pastor was known to help whomever knocked on the door with money for gas, food, etc., so I’m getting knocks from people looking for help. So far these people don’t live in town, they’re passing through, and five miles further down the highway is an enormous casino. The church members and my denominational leadership do not expect that I hand out money from my front door, and so far I have not. But I feel like a terrible person, the falsest of Christians, and the most hypocritical of pastors when I turn someone away. What do I do?

Sincerely,
Struggling

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Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Breaking the Mold of Community

An afternoon of watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

An afternoon of watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Being a young clergy woman sometimes feels like being a perpetual outsider. We find ourselves new to our congregations, new to our neighborhoods, and unlike most of the people in our clergy gatherings. Even after we’ve had the privilege of serving a congregation for a long time, we may know and love our people, but we are never fully one of the people. We are always slightly disoriented, trying to figure out who we are in our new circumstances, and searching for friends who can understand us and let us be ourselves.

Maybe that is why so many young clergy women seem so taken by The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, a comedy by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, creators of 30 Rock.

Unbreakable centers on Kimmy, a sunny mid-westerner played to perfection by Ellie Kemper. Kimmy was one of the “Indiana Mole Women,” kidnapped and held in a bunker for fifteen years. After her rescue, she is interviewed on The Today Show in New York City, and decides to stay in New York instead of traveling back home to Indiana, where her identity is defined by her kidnapping. In New York, she can start fresh and build a life on her terms.

Kimmy is an outsider, not only of place, but of time. Her clothes and cultural references are firmly rooted in the late nineties. In fact, the show is populated with outsiders. Tituss Burgess plays Titus, Kimmy’s roommate, an actor who never quite gets a break. The great Karol Kane is their loopy, paranoid landlady. Kimmy takes a job as the personal assistant to Jane Krakowski’s trophy wife, Jacqueline Voorhees, who experiences both the shallowness and the grief of an isolated wealthy woman. Kimmy starts to form bonds with these characters, and together they become unlikely friends. The strength of this hodgepodge community helps Kimmy face her past, transform the relationships she has with the other Mole Women, and finally face her captor in court.

The cast is fairly diverse, or at least the characters are supposed to be. (Jane Krakowski is not the most believable Native American ever portrayed on screen.) This emphasizes themes of outsiders figuring out how to belong, but not everyone has been comfortable with either the Native American story line or the story line about Dong Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant who is a potential love interest for Kimmy. Does his fear of the INS and job at a Chinese restaurant reinforce stereotypes or play with stereotypes we already have? (Kat Chow of NPR has a fascinating reflection on this.)

Of course, because this is a Carlock and Fey production, all of this intensity is leavened by joke after joke. Titus (a black man) finds New Yorkers treat him more generously when he is dressed as a terrifying werewolf than when he dresses like himself. Jacqueline’s dog is a breed that has had the poop literally bred out of them. Even Kimmy’s experience of being held in a bunker becomes the source of comedy. She ends up finding some of the coping skills she learned in captivity helpful to process ordinary life. (I may be guilty of testing out her method of jumping up and down and shouting “I’m not here! I’m not here!” as one way to cope with unpleasantness.) Kimmy is optimistic, but not stupid. She is naïve, but canny. We root for her, as do the writers of the show.

And through Kimmy’s optimism and stubbornness, even her outsider friends start to think more deeply about their own identities and take courageous steps. Titus auditions for more roles; Jacqueline divorces her unfaithful husband; Dong and Kimmy both work toward earning their GED.

Kimmy shows us fellow outsiders how to begin to be connected to those around us, even if we don’t belong, even if we will never fully belong. No one except her fellow former captives will ever fully relate to Kimmy, but she does not let that stop her from reaching out and creating a place for herself in her community. Maybe her courage and enthusiasm will encourage us to actually turn off Netflix and go out and make a life for ourselves wherever God has led us.

 

Turbulent Waters: Discovering Church

OnesWeLoveImage

Sis on Rocks

Sleepily nursing my eight-day-old daughter after sending my one- and three- year olds off to school, I considered that it was Wednesday. Not just any Wednesday, but Ash Wednesday. I felt something stir deep within my exhausted, still healing body: “I want to go to church today.” Not to preside, but to be present at the beginning of the spiritual and temporal accounting that is Lent. Only the day before, my pediatrician had specifically forbidden me to take my baby to church and risk exposing her to others’ infections. Dare I disregard her advice? Choosing the safer route, I reached out to my fellow young clergy women, seeking sermons they would be preaching that day. I read each sermon aloud to my daughter, each one eloquent and challenging in its own way. But with each sermon that I read, my soul yearned more deeply for church.

I didn’t long to be in my church. I didn’t need to say anything or to know anyone. I imagined sliding into a back pew in a church full of strangers. I imagined joining a long line of worshippers receiving the imposition of ashes. I imagined the ashy sign of the cross on my as-yet unbaptized daughter. Body and soul, I longed for this experience.

It dawned on me that I needed to mark the Lenten journey somehow. Exhausted, on maternity leave from my congregation, I wondered what I might do to stay connected in the rhythm of the church year. I settled on simplicity as my Lenten practice. I resolved to clear out and clean my house during the six weeks before Easter. Each morning I would set my intention to allow the external cleaning process to clear away my internal barriers to God. And each day after only a few minutes I found myself on the phone – my mother, my sister, my best friend, anyone who had time to talk – because again, I longed for community. I wanted to be with someone in the ritual.

Only three weeks later, my infant daughter was hospitalized with RSV and my resolve toward simplicity became a large-as-life reality. I ate. I slept. My husband and I traded child care for our older children and vigil for the baby. And I prayed. On the second night that my daughter was in the hospital, I realized again that I needed church. I reached out to a member of my congregation who has the gift of healing. I needed connection. I needed someone else’s strength, someone else’s prayers. My soul yearned for church.

The next week my daughter came home, and the unrelenting pace of life with young children caught up with me. My husband and I were more exhausted than ever, and now everything needed to be done – dishes, laundry, play time with the children, grocery shopping, hair cuts, school pictures, etc. My life felt out of control, chaotic. I couldn’t find energy to pray or space to sit in God’s presence. I wanted someplace that I could find solitude and solace. I longed for a break from the chaos of our lives. Again, I yearned for church.

The longer I was away from church, the more spiritually unmoored I felt. I became a raft floating on turbulent waters. At the beginning, it seemed I could almost touch the shore from my little raft. But in a few short weeks, I was so far out to sea that I couldn’t even see which direction to point myself. I still longed for something beyond what my family, friends, therapist, or I could provide. I just didn’t know which way to set out in search of what might reconnect me.

And then, my daughter was old enough to venture into the world. We attended church as a family to celebrate Easter. I was exhausted, and I moved through the ritual almost mindlessly. But when I came home, I found I was reconnected, grounded. My soul felt peace. We had experienced church.

Certainly, you find church in the rituals of worship, and indeed in gathering for worship at all. However, church is so much more than worship. It includes my singular experience of God paired with others’ experiences of God, somehow coming together in a communal experience of God. Church is the place where body meets body and soul meets soul. It is the place of absolute safety and security, where we each are defined by God’s love of us — and where we together come to completion in that love. Without all of these elements, church never becomes church. Perhaps this was Paul’s intention when he spoke of the community as the Body of Christ. This community, this church, brings us connection, grace, strength, healing, peace.

Easter Sunday night was a tough one. I was up with the baby more often than I was asleep. Yet somehow, even in this sleeplessness, I found a rest I had not felt in a long time. I still had a long way to go on my journey back to wholeness, but I no longer felt completely unmoored. The waters felt calmer; I knew which way to head. I felt direction, connection, peace.

I can meet God on a beautiful lakefront. I can meet God in personal Bible study and prayer. But I can’t meet you there. I now understand how it is significant that we do church together. Participating in ritual alongside other people connects us with God in an important and unique way. Whether it’s trudging the road to the cross during Lent, or celebrating the risen Christ in the Eucharist, or living our day-to-day chaotic lives, church invites us to do it in community. Others’ simple presence tells us we’re not alone; we’re not the only ones. And that makes all the difference.

 

 

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 Moms’ Group

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Let’s talk about babies. For the last five years of my life, something has been happening in the background.

I’ve already shared on my blog about my journey through seminary and internship, and my first years of being a pastor. I’ve shared about my family and some of my vacations, my love for baseball and knitting, my thoughts on dialogue and division, and my crazy idealism for the world we live in. Recently, because I’ve been busy, I’ve shared more sermon transcripts than life reflections.

But behind all of this, for the last five years, Matt and I have been on a long journey to try to start a family.

It has been quite a journey. A journey that has included frustration and tears, losses and medical interventions, countless needle-stabs and blood draws, surgeries (major and minor), and through it all, enough peace in our hearts to keep stepping forward, one day at a time, without counting up our fears or losses or heartbreaks. Which is not to say that there weren’t bad days (there were plenty), or that we had the strength or gumption to keep pressing ahead indefinitely (there comes a point when you have to start thinking about stopping, for the sake of your sanity).

I wouldn’t wish this journey on anyone. And yet, as I have come to learn, this journey is so very common, and nobody really knows it.

There have been lots of blessings to come out of this journey that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I have made new friends and built new relationships with others who have struggled, just like we have. Friends of mine have come out of the woodwork to share with me their own stories of infertility and pregnancy loss. I have been forced to think – deeply! – about what I hope my life will look like, and what pieces of my body and soul I am willing to make vulnerable in order to pursue those hopes and dreams. I would venture a guess that Matt and I are closer and better because of all of this, and that our relationship is in a deeper place than we could ever have expected it to be after 8.5 years of marriage. I’ve been forced to be emotionally vulnerable (in a good way), and to learn to ask for/accept help (which I’m terrible at). Spiritually, I’ve run the gamut from praying fervently with hope to shouting at God in absolute anger. I’ve connected to Bible stories in far different ways, especially stories of barren women, but also stories of finding peace in trial, and finding kindred spirits in all those in the Bible who felt they had no other option but to cry out to God and put themselves out there, because they had no other choice.

But don’t be mistaken. These beautiful and unforeseen blessings do not, in any way, make this path easier. They don’t make this journey “better.” They don’t redeem the pain and frustration of spending so much time, money, and energy trying to accomplish something that should be simple; something that biology has been making happen since the start of the human race. Infertility and pregnancy loss are HARD.

As we crossed over into 2013, there were lots of transitions on the horizon. I had just accepted a new call, which meant leaving a church I loved in order to follow God’s call to a new church that I was excited to love. Goodbyes and hellos are hard. Even (especially!) the good ones. Also, this new church was in a new town in a new state…putting me five hours from most of my family and from the Chicagoland that is a HUGE part of who I am. Moving is my least favorite thing ever, because it involves packing, and so there was plenty of stress on the horizon as I packed both our apartment and my office, and as we went house-hunting in Decorah, and as we tried to make the most of our last weeks in Chicago before moving.

During this time of crazy transitions, we also decided to take one more (last?) shot at a round of IVF. We’d done a few cycles before, and still had a couple embryos frozen, and we decided (with the encouragement and blessing of my doctor), to try one last round before we moved away (and out of his care).

My official start date here at First Lutheran was March 1. I preached my first sermon here on Sunday, March 3. I spent Monday and Tuesday of that week trying to get my office unpacked and set up. And then on Wednesday, we drove back to Chicago, because that Thursday was my embryo transfer (the culmination of a month-plus cycle of medications and monitoring). The timing of the cycle and the transfer was certainly not ideal. It was just another thing to add to all the madness of moving and starting a new job and closing on a house.

But for some crazy reason, the absolute wrong time turned out to be the absolute right time. And so two weeks after starting my new job, we found out that one of those little embryos had stuck around, and we were pregnant. Thrilling news, and terrifying. Because once you’ve experienced a loss, it takes a long time for you to actually believe that the pregnancy is going to last. Between then and now, there have been plenty of anxious days. Plenty of worry and wonder. Plenty of huge sighs of relief every time blood draws showed my hormone levels going up, and every time my doctor has been able to easily find a heartbeat at our monthly appointments.

It took us until week 13 to start telling close family and friends. It took us until week 16 to share the news with the congregation. And it took us until week 17 to go public. For as much as your head knows that, statistically, chances of loss after 13, 16, 17 weeks are incredibly low, your heart still worries that you will (continue to) be the exception to the rule, the person who keeps defying the odds in the wrong way.

But it’s getting harder and harder to worry, and easier and easier to believe that THIS IS HAPPENING. FOR REAL. We crossed the 20-week mark over the weekend (halfway there!), and had our big mid-pregnancy ultrasound yesterday. And yes. There’s a baby in there. A baby with arms and legs that move and kick, a baby with a little heart beating away in its chest, a baby with teensy toes and little lips, who is just starting to get big enough for me to feel it when it tumbles and flips and kicks.

This article originally posted at Melissa’s blog on July 10, 2013 and is reprinted here in revised form with her permission. Currently, her little hedgehog is a bouncing happy baby named Sam.

People meeting up

Sometimes You Just Need to See the Love

People meeting upMany of our members have excitedly jumped on board for our very first Meet-Up Week, scheduled for February 16-21, 2014.  (If you’re still looking for one to attend, the link to the map is here.)

But maybe you’re hanging back, waiting to see how it goes first before jumping in.  Or maybe you’re thinking “I am way too busy to add anything else to my schedule,” or “there is nobody anywhere close to me.”  Maybe gathering with other clergy women of any age is considered suspect, or at least odd, in your denomination.  If you’re not currently a member of the project but fit within our audience, maybe you’re still testing the waters of The Young Clergy Women Project.

Meet-Up Week is a way to dip your toes in before deciding whether to take the plunge and get involved in the Project.  But more importantly, it’s a way to carry out the Project’s mission: to remind young clergy women everywhere that they are not the only ones.  What better way to do that than by actually gathering together in person?

Several metropolitan areas have standing YCW gatherings that meet on a regular basis.  They are already reaping the benefits of gathering in person.  And not all of them are in large cities, as you might assume.  (Portland, Oregon?  Oklahoma City?  Albany, New York?  All have their own regularly meeting young clergy women group.)

What happens at these gatherings?  Here’s a sampling:

  • Close friendships, beyond mere acquaintance
  • Colleague relationships that are actually supportive
  • Accountability—but also a safe place to vent and brainstorm how to deal with tough situations
  • Resource and idea sharing (Can you all help me with our wedding policy and fees?  What commentary/curriculum did you use again?  What did you say when you negotiated your maternity leave?  How am I supposed to deal with my senior pastor/council president/deacon/elder/clerk of session/trustees/rector/secretary?  You get the idea.)
  • People who just “get it”–no explanation required
  • Common ground that transcends denominations
  • Shopping buddies for buying clericals and vestments
  • A safe place to discern and ponder transitions and moves (many groups are ecumenical…so don’t worry, these women aren’t from your presbytery/conference/synod/classis/cluster/etc.)
  • Connections made for the sake of young clergy women everywhere, not to mention future young clergy women

Chalk it up to the Incarnation—technology is great, but there’s just nothing like being together in the same room.  As one YCW put it, “Sometimes you just need to see the love and support you have.  Gathering once or twice a month is a life-giving thing for me.  We’ve been meeting for 1.5 years now and I eagerly look forward to it each and every month.”  Another YCW in the same group shared, “It [this group] is one of the few places I can be wholly me—clergy, mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend.  These women know all about my life, all the parts, and we support one another fully.”

Our annual Young Clergy Women conferences are another place to find this support, but even if everyone had access to the time, money, and childcare needed to attend, let’s get real: the conference only happens once a year!  It takes time to develop the trust and safety necessary.  Meet-ups have the ability to provide the deeper support we need, when we need it, where we need it.

So if you’ve been on the side of the pool, wondering if this is the party for you, kick off your flip-flops and dip your toes in.  You never know, you might just find the very thing that will keep you afloat for years to come.

To Be Separate or Not: That Is the Question

NailpolishGod and the world.  Sometimes, I think we think of them as two different things.  Sometimes we can think of faith, and the presence of God, as something that happens inside a brick building for an hour (or maybe two) on a Sunday morning.  I know this because even people who long for God in their lives but don’t know how to find Her often say to me, “Say hi to God for me.”  Even people who are lifelong members of church will sometimes say this to me if they have to miss a service.

But God is not separate from the world.  While holy and sacred time is important, the sacred is not reserved for inside a church building.  I long for a church that integrates faith with all of my life – in the ways that I think and behave and talk.  I long for a community that empowers me not to spend more time inside a church building, but to seek and know the real presence of the living God everywhere.

Recently, at the Young Clergy Women’s Conference, I had a powerful experience of the sacred.  I knew and experienced Holy Time.  I was overwhelmed.  I cried and felt goosebumps.  I stilled and was able to experience what Celtic spirituality calls a “thin place.” A place and time where God and world are not as separate as we think they are at other times.

Where was this, you might be wondering?  It was in a nail salon.  I know, I was surprised, too.  It happened quite by accident.  The conference organizers, in an attempt to save printing costs, had e-mailed the bulletins for the worship services.  So, when about twenty-two of us got stuck during soul-tending time at the nail salon, we worshipped at the same time as the YCWs who were able to meet in the chapel.  Most of us had our smart phones and tablets and were able to easily access the bulletins and read the full liturgy for the service.

We worshipped while getting manicures and pedicures.  We sang our Taizé songs, and we prayed our prayers.  And I wept for knowing in a new and powerful way that God and the world are not separate.  God moments – holy moments – can happen at any time and in any place: by accident, by a decision to save money, and by feeling that our bodies and souls and community are all connected during this sacred time and place.

I can’t speak to the experience of the other women who were there.  I can only speak to the thin place I found.  I found a place where community cared for one another.  I found a place where I could worship God while someone else was caring for my body.  I found a place where everything felt totally integrated for our worship service.

As with many holy moments, I did not know until later why this event had impacted me the way that it did.  I had finally found a place where God and the world were not separate, and care for my body was not separate from care for my soul.  God created me a whole-being; during that blissful worship service, I knew that was true.

In relating this story later to my Mom, she replied, “That’s the kind of church I need.”  My sister replied the same way.  I don’t think that we want people to have to pay for manicures and pedicures to come to worship, and I don’t think we want to commercialize and materialize worship that way on a regular basis.  I do think that there is a deep need in our world for our experience of God to be outside the walls of the church building and to take seriously our creation as whole-beings.  God and the world are, after all, not separate.  That is the answer to the question.  So I am left wondering: how do we, as Christians, help the world know that answer?  I came to know it in a very powerful way in a specific situation that happened by the grace of the Spirit, and would love to share that with others.

The Zumba Pastor

I take the stage and feel the music pumping and I’m ready to move! Let’s get this party started! Most people don’t expect their pastor to be dancing salsa, merengue, reggaeton and Bollywood on stage in front of a class. They haven’t met “The Zumba Pastor.”

happy zumba

Three years ago I went to my first Zumba class in the gym next to my very first, grown-up apartment in the town of my first call. I flopped around in the back row feeling like an idiot. Then I was sore for about three days. But I came back for more and more and more. Until I was a Zumbaholic!

Zumba started out as just a fun exercise to do. But then it turned into more. One of my parishioners had a friend who was teaching Zumba in her basement and was looking for a bigger space to teach in. I instantly said yes to using our fellowship hall! Before we knew it, there were fifty people in class every Thursday night! It was amazing! People were having fun, getting healthy and losing weight – and so was I!

Months went by. Soon Theresa and Amie, our instructors, and I were chatting after class as we normally did. They said to me, “Krista have you ever thought about getting certified to be a Zumba instructor yourself?” Had I thought about it?! YES! In fact I found myself getting sidetracked from sermon prep to watch Zumba videos on youtube! It was like so many ministry call stories I had heard before, just replace pastor with Zumba Instructor. It felt like a calling.

In December of 2012, I got certified. My friends let me lead songs in their classes. Theresa always introduced me at the beginning of each class as the pastor of the church and as a Zumba instructor. It really opened a lot of doors. People started coming up to me after class and saying, “YOU are the pastor? That’s so cool!” Or they would ask for advice or a prayer. Several of my parishioners also started coming to the class. It was another great opportunity to connect with them. There’s nothing like sweating it out with the same people you sat in the stressful council meeting with the night before!

Our classes got so big that we actually needed to move out of the church! We got an offer to come to a local community-based gym that was looking to offer Zumba classes. Now we’re teaching in an old furniture store turned gym. It’s privately owned and run by a Christian man who also wants to see change on our side of the city – the “bad” side. It’s the same side of the city my church is on. We are making positive connections between the church, the gym and the community. I think God has really blessed me with this opportunity to be part of the change, to help individuals be whole in mind, body and spirit in a depressed part of the city.

Zumba has done so much for me. It started as simply my self-care. Now, not only has it turned into a part of my ministry, it’s also introduced me to friends outside the church which is huge and hard for us pastor types to do! I now am asked to do Zumba in the local Lutheran school gym classes, women’s retreats and synod functions. Thank God for Zumba!