I did it! I finished my Master of Theological Studies degree!
I graduated on May 21, 2016 with classmates and my former assistant pastor, the Rev. Daren Erisman. Make that the Reverend DOCTOR Daren Erisman – he received his PhD.
It was a fantastic, amazing, wonderful day. Pastor Michael McBride, who is deeply involved in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, was our commencement speaker and he was riveting.
The picture above represents years and years and years of hard work on both our parts, along with a big dose of procrastination and setbacks. That Daren and I could walk together was HUGE. We’ve been colleagues for eight years and this was an unexpected joy.
The other unexpected joy was that the three Lutheran women who are responsible for me embarking on this journey got to hood me.
Standing directly behind me: my pastor, the Rev. Laura Ziehl; my guide in candidacy, the Rev. Heidi Hester; and my dearest friend, Suzanne Henderson. They are three of the most amazing women I’ve ever known. (They also have “Lutheran connections” between them that defy reason, lol.) The young man to Suzie’s left is my god-nephew and her grandson, Alexander Northrip, who when he hears “family” knows that he is included.
In Hawai’i, “family” is expressed by the word “‘ohana.” It’s not just your blood relatives; it’s the people you love and the people that love you. My ‘ohana spans the globe and includes people that I’ve never met, who follow this blog. My apologies that it’s been TOTALLY neglected over the past year! Grad school/seminary has a way of vacuuming up ALL your writing energies. But now I am at my home congregation, Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Encinitas, California to do my diaconal ministry project over the summer.
My project is a continuation of the work I began at the ELCA Worship Jubilee last summer in Atlanta, Georgia. Our theme was “Called to Be A Living Voice: Vocation-Reformation-Mission” and it was initially geared to point us toward the observation of the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation in 2017. However, the Jubilee took place about four weeks after the horrific shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and so it took on a deeper and more insistent angle. “Living Voice” – viva vox evangelii – suddenly meant the voice that speaks truth to power. The voice that speaks for those who have no voice, and then seeks to empower the voiceless to have a voice. The voice that preaches and teaches that God is love.
So from that point of departure, my project will take my congregation on a journey over the summer through the liturgy and how it forms us to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. I was gifted this year to study the Lutheran confessional documents with two masters in the field, Dr. Kyle Schiefelbein and Dr. Kirsi Stjerna, and that study has re-kindled the fire I’ve felt for this work for many years.
You see, our worship is not a series of tasks through which we progress, checking off boxes as if we were playing liturgical Pac-Man. (I do realize I’m dating myself with that reference.)
Our worship is an encounter with the living God, present with us in Christ in Word and Sacrament. This encounter shapes and forms us for service to the neighbor, which is our grateful and joyful response to the amazing, abundant grace poured out from God through Christ. This is a grace we have done nothing to earn, and will never be able to do enough to earn – and so God urges us to “pay it forward”; take the love and grace we’ve received out into the world.
When Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from death, he instigates this way of operating. Jesus raises Lazarus, but then he tells the people gathered, “YOU unbind him.” We are called to participate in the kingdom of God’s love and grace, and our act of unbinding today takes all kinds of forms – but they are all forms that are lived out in thanksgiving to God for God’s lavish grace and love.
My project will culminate in – and I trust the Spirit here! – a deeper and fuller participation in our annual Bethlehem Serves day. It’s a day when we have a brief worship service, but then move out across the community to be in service to the neighbor. I am just getting started on this, but I am REALLY excited to make this happen. And I’m really excited to finally be full-time in parish ministry – a dream I’ve held onto for a very long time.
So look for more posts on how particular elements of the liturgy shape and form us for particular service in the world. It will be a great summer!