A few weeks ago, I attended the Episcopal Church’s young adult and campus ministry conference Cultivate: Resilient Hope. I had the pleasure of hearing Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preach on the parable of the sower. The central theme of his message was: “The key to the fruit is always in the root.” This one sentence neatly sums up why I feel drawn to study with Bexley Seabury, where students “deepen their Christian formation in a generous spiritual and intellectual tradition.”
Your mission “to proclaim God’s mission in the world, creating new networks of Christian formation, entrepreneurial leadership and bold inquiry in the service of the Gospel” is how we as a church and as Christians accomplish what Bishop Curry meant by a deeply rooted ministry and movement. This undertaking speaks to the Episcopal tradition of welcoming all and engaging spirituality in a way that empowers individuals to claim their own faith. Bexley Seabury forms its students in a way that I feel parallels my own posture to live Gospel truth, a call that leads me to grow as a Christian and as a member of the human family.
I am most passionate about helping people bridge the gap between the perceived duality of the sacred and the secular. I want people to know that there is no way to separate God from the world and that God loves all people, with no exceptions. I strive to bring recognition to the sacramental nature of all of life.
I believe myself well-grounded in the Episcopal tradition. Nevertheless, I feel a call to deepen my roots. I wish to dig into theological reflection and the study of scripture, so that my already thriving ministerial vocation might bear more fruit. Bexley Seabury’s vision of itself as a “21stcentury seminary beyond walls” speaks directly to my desire to share God’s love for us through actions that can heal or bring resolution to seemingly secular issues. God calls me to be in the world, to see human suffering, and to respond with loving kindness.
We live in a world that often ignores human need and fails to act on injustice. I believe the church has a unique opportunity see, listen, and respond to all people with authentic and generous spirituality. We have a duty to raise people up, to affirm them as beloved children of God, and to respond to their need with loving kindness. It was this way of being that made me fall in love with the Episcopal Church and this way of being which I model to this day.
When I was a young teenager, my mother and I walked into the Episcopal Church in our city to worship early one morning. I had been attending church services for most of my life, but this was my first experience with the Episcopal tradition. Two seeds were planted in me on that Sunday, which continue to grow and to which I faithfully tend. First, God calls us by name and loves us just as we are. Second, we are empowered by this love to transform the world.
Following the service that day the vicar greeted and welcomed us. Our new priest took the time to talk to me, an 8thgrader, as if I was a child of God worthy of participating in my own right. For the first time in all the years I had been going to church, really for the first time in my childhood, I felt I was an individual with agency and ability to influence my world. I felt seen; by being seen, I felt invited. From that morning on I began to show up and soon stepped into positions of leadership in my youth group, my church, the deanery, the diocese, and eventually on the provincial and church-wide levels.
I write this as I sit in a dorm room on the campus of University of Central Oklahoma as a member of the design team for EYE 2017. It was at the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) as a junior in high school that I first felt a call to ministry. It was the first time I understood how vast and broad the Episcopal Church is. During EYE as a youth, I had the blessing of mentors who walked alongside me and showed me, by example and sometimes in a more straightforward way, what it means to be a Christian in the world. This wasn’t the first time I was shaped by mentors and it certainly was not the last. However, it was at this event that I gained clarity: I learned that I am called to be a minister in God’s church. I desired to be like my mentors, to be an example for others, and to show by my words and actions how to live as a Christian.
As I strive to live by example in the way my mentors led me, I often reflect on the question “How is the church showing up?” I ask myself how is the church and how am I showing up to stand in solidarity with people of color, queer people, immigrants and refugees, women, the poor and oppressed, and other marginalized peoples. This question frames and directs how I move throughout the world as a minister to God’s people. It pushes us to consider how we might continue as a church beyond walls by using emergent ministry approaches to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
My approach to serving as a church beyond walls is by ministry of presence. I lean on community organizing principles to embed myself in community. I meet people where they are, and by talking with them I learn what they are passionate about and where they need healing. I am enamored by emergent church models and am interested in learning and practicing church in new and different ways.
I am deeply moved by the social justice call of the Gospel. I believe in the transformative power of God’s love. I believe that when we begin to know and inhabit the love of God our lives and our world will be changed. I am struck by how Christ shows up in the margins. I do my best to model this by working with the disenfranchised.
Over the past year of ministry in Northwest Arkansas I have shown up with people, bearing the love of God. I have tried to act in a way that demonstrates the transformative power of God’s love. My ministry works hard to stand with people when and how we are able, even when we are uncomfortable. We strive to show, by word and action, that God loves and cares for all.
In the first months of my new ministry in Northwest Arkansas, we organized a group of ten who travelled to Standing Rock, bringing supplies and labor. When we returned to Northwest Arkansas, we worked with local native people to raise awareness in our community around indigenous and environmental rights. By this work we aim to uphold our Baptismal promises to respect the dignity of all people and to care for creation.
My ministry partners with and houses a local transgender advocacy group. Together we host a clothing exchange closet, Transgender Day of Remembrance, and other efforts seeking justice for trans people. We helped a low-income disabled black trans woman secure permanent housing. We hope that by partnering with the trans community people come to know that God is not limited by gender.
This spring we stood against the planned executions of eight men on Arkansas death row. We did so by holding vigils, writing letters, sending prayer shawls to their family members, visiting the state capital, and more. The incarcerated men knew and continue to know that there are people who recognize their humanity and there is a church that respects their dignity.
This summer a curriculum I coauthored saw publication: These Are Our Bodies: Talking Faith and Sexuality at Church and Home for High School.This curriculum takes an expansive and intersectional approach to sexuality. Through this program the Episcopal Church is invited to a conversation on the theology of sexuality that is honest and welcoming of all.
We assisted with the resettlement of two refugees from Cameroon through a partnership with a local refugee program. They have experienced for the first time a community where they can live fully as themselves and in community with a church that fully affirms LGBTQ+ individuals as children of God, perfectly made.
This list of highlights from my first ten months in Northwest Arkansas illustrates how I show up, and how I push my community show up as a church, to walk alongside those who most need to feel the love of God. I share with my community the church’s tradition of helping people know that they are worthy of God’s love. By showing up, we share the message that there is nothing that they need to do to earn God’s love and that there is nothing that they could do to ever separate themselves from God.
At Bexley Seabury, I will learn new and innovative ways to preside in a church without walls. I will foster a sense of curiosity, wonder, and presence. I will grow even deeper roots by enhancing my discipleship. These things will lead me, through ministry, to bear fruit which will transform the world.