It's not only ABOUT SUMMER: it's also about life!
On the day I was baptized as an approximately 2-year old I received both my second birth and my first death and because of God's infinite faithfulness to that cosmic event, God still holds me and possesses me! For a lot of this Way the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ, has accompanied me; the local church especially has been the Christ for me! The Church was the first real home I ever knew; the Church was my first real family.
Both my experiences of inclusion in the community and those of exclusion from the community - especially the community of faith, but also in many places and spaces in the world outside of and beyond the gathered People of God - have been significant to my growth in faith.
Since I didn't grow up in the church, my story’s a little different from a lot of others. What made me willing to risk moving from a life outside any kind of conscious spiritual experience was an invitation from a college classmate to use some of my musical abilities. Consequently I discovered a community whose life, ministry and mission was activist, prayerful, devotional, worshiping, celebrating, biblically reflective and inclusive. The total balance in the congregation’s life, ministry and mission and in the lives of the individual members was awe-inspiring! First Mariner's was a small, very urban, American Baptist mission congregation, which showed me a model for ministry - especially inner-city, multi-cultural ministry - I’m still running with. Since that church was the first real home and the first real family I'd ever known, leaving its shelter, support and especially its spiritual provision left me endlessly yearning and constantly longing for what in my memories has become irreplaceable near-perfection.
To continue...after my final year at Boston University's School for the Arts, where I majored in piano and organ performance with a secondary emphasis in musicology and research, I had the privilege of spending the summer as a Tanglewood Fellow at the Boston Symphony's summer home, school and music festival in the Berkshires. The following academic year I substitute taught in the Boston Public Schools, and then realized God was calling me to more substantial, more professional ministry, at that point as music director and youth/education outreach person and administrator for a sizable urban congregation of the now-former Lutheran Church in America (one of the antecedent denominations of the ELCA). In fact, folks had been telling me for some time, and though I wasn't resisting the idea of God's calling me into professional ministry, feeling and working through the possibility took me some time.
Despite people advising me I needed a theological and biblical education - meaning seminary - I began a degree in social work, since I felt God was calling me to inner-city ministry, and I knew my background in the social sciences wasn't sufficient for seminary. José Miguez‑Bonino says the social sciences are "a privileged method of interpreting human experience," and I agree; I consider them next to the Bible in insightfulness and later, after graduating with a practical MSW, I'd address that deficiency with a second undergrad degree. Also, at that time I didn't know the Bible's text all that well, and I'd finished my first undergrad at 21, so without a doubt I was too young for seminary.
So I discovered the (now-former) LCA and then the United Church of Christ and that means I really began discovering the sacraments! The one thing First Mariner's lacked was a consciously sacramental lifestyle and the Lutheran/Reformed sacramental theology was so compelling I couldn't look back, though I much appreciate the many contributions of those church bodies that evolved from the Radical Reformation.
The spring semester after I finished my MSW at Simmons College I was back in the classroom at the University of Massachusetts/Boston and beginning a second bachelor's degree, this time in economics with a concentration/minor in urban studies. UMassBoston is dedicated to a primarily non-traditional student body, which includes many women as well as racial and ethnic minorities. Subsequent years have proved my instincts that a social sciences background would be a valuable and essential educational experience for anyone who wanted to do parish ministry!
After serving two very different local UCC churches I entered the seminary/ordination candidacy process in the UCC and finished the equivalent of two years of seminary at Harvard Divinity School. During those years I served a very inner-city congregation and its neighboring population as a licensed Lay Associate Pastor.
Soon afterwards I "tried-on" the (moderately) big-and-successful First Church's equivalent, serving as Licensed Associate Pastor and maybe I should've known better...I went there after serving in the very inner-city, and despite the possibility of my serving an urban ELCA congregation and finishing seminary at that particular time, I'd wanted what I imagined was the "security" of an open-ended call. Although God's calling me to serve that big-and-successful congregation was unmistakable, I won't repeat what hasn't worked! I grew up working-class in the inner city, working-class and wanting something I imagined would be better in class and particularly in economic style, if not substance...fantastic imaginings those were, I've learned. :)
After I'd served the moderately-big-and-successful-First-Church I took a few years to live more of my life and to minister more outside of the confines of the church building, doing a bunch of social and political activist stuff, meeting some phenomenal people and generally learning much, while being only peripherally involved in any local church. A friend commented,
There is such ferment and hope in these little mission churches - don’t you suppose such congregations spawn more per-capita mission and evangelism than the more staid and 'stablished "First Churches" of the world?Yes, yes, indeed I do suppose so and believe so! And that's the direction I'm prayerfully and hopefully seeking to go at this time.
But before returning to San Diego, where I'm living right now, I was able to spend some time in Massachusetts again, happily I spent the last one and a half years of my mother's life with her. That time was a gift almost beyond imagining - she'd long been not only critical but had ridiculed a lot of my most passionate interests and life involvements including the Church; it became an opportunity for conversation, explanation and even some understanding on both sides...
During academic year 2001–2002 I attended San Diego State University and graduated in May 2002 with a Certificate in Community Economic Development, which gave me yet another credential for urban ministry, since the program's goal was economic empowerment of women, minorities and other sometimes marginalized people who often live in an inner-city setting.
In closing: I have a whole lot of social gospel/liberation theology in my academic and practical background, but still I constantly struggle to get out of my head and out into the world. Not too long ago I read and need to re-read a book with a fabulous title and great content, too: Doing the Word: Performing the Scriptures in the Urban Context. Another friend said becoming involved in the local church helped call him "to a life that was more than purely intellectual-cerebral." Me, too, and as I look at my compulsive and at times in the past somewhat impulsive social and political activism, I'm surprised at how much effort it's taken me to reconcile head, feet, and heart!