Telling Our Stories
Check here for the latest thoughts, ideas, and information about what’s going on at GPPC and for faith stories shared by some of our members.
Check here for the latest thoughts, ideas, and information about what’s going on at GPPC and for faith stories shared by some of our members.
Next month, the state of Ohio will mint a new resident, but the bloodline will be familiar. Marcia Perry is moving from her longtime northside Richmond digs to Oxford, Ohio. While she is a native of Miami and spent the bulk of her childhood in Macon, Marcia is the daughter of a Kemper – her mother’s family, prominent in Cincinnati where streets and buildings share the name. One ancestor was a Presbyterian circuit rider and his log cabin continues to stand in a city park.
Many of us know Marcia through her photographs of life at GPPC, in which she so often seems to capture a moment of grace and light or perhaps the soul of an event. Her mother owned a camera, piquing Marcia’s interest at an early age. By the time she was a teenager, she had a camera of her own and experimented taking shots through a magnifying glass. She took pictures through college – but no photography courses until much later. Marcia developed a technique she calls “transfer pictures”, in which she Xeroxes a color photo and transfers it to acid-free paper. Her work has won prizes and exhibited in several states. She says taking a picture is a form of prayer.
Marcia spent many years as a student! In her undergraduate time at Georgia State, she made friends with the director of the campus YWCA, a woman named Izzy Rogers. That they remained lifelong friends was perhaps fortuitous for GPPC, as Izzy was the only person Marcia knew in Richmond prior to moving here. In the meantime, she attended Drew Seminary for a year and thought hard about a missionary career. Ultimately, she leaned back toward academics, receiving an advanced degree in Math Education from Florida State and her doctorate in Statistics, Measurement, and Evaluation from U of Georgia.
We do not have an exact job count for this article, but Marcia has taught at no fewer than five colleges and universities in Florida, Georgia, and New Hampshire. Sandwiched in there somewhere was a stint as YWCA liaison between local campuses and the national Y office – her territory covered Virginia to Texas! Marcia once traveled to an all black college in South Carolina to give her standard presentation, and realized after she’d left the podium she’d been scheduled in the midst of activities for Black Awareness Week.
Influenced by her Methodist grandmother, Marcia eventually joined a Methodist church in Macon after attending Baptist churches as well. In 1992, she moved to Richmond to begin work with the Virginia Department of Education, developing math and science tests for public schools. She visited a number of Methodist congregations in search of a new church home, but was drawn to GPPC by the Peace Forum – a social justice awareness group that met for many years during the Sunday School hour. After five years as a “visitor”, she decided to join – and lean in. She has served on the Session, as a longtime member of the Care Committee, volunteered with RISC and the Micah project, helped with CARITAS, and prepared Communion. Of course, many of us first think of the blessings that come from her passion for photography and capturing images of our GPPC community.
We are grateful for Marcia’s quiet ministry among us, and will certainly miss her steady presence. With no immediate relatives, she considers GPPC to be her family. We hope she finds good and plentiful reasons for making visits “home”.
Jean Bear and Alfred Walker
All photos by Marcia Perry, except the one with her mother
This note is in response and support of Ann Knox’s comments about trying to interest family and friends in inheriting china, furniture, keepsakes which she held very dearly but had no room for in her downsizing move from home to condominium. The response? No one was really interested, or didn’t have the room, or perhaps, couldn’t see the same value in these things as Ann does. I share her pain, confusion, wonder because I experienced the same thing after moving to Korea. More recently, another GPPC friend posted a New York Times article about “Aging parents with lots of stuff, and children who don’t want it.” So I want to share my thoughts (dare I say wisdom?) about the importance of “things” and how they can become links to the sacred for us.
My grandmother, Ruth Welch Moor, was the only grandparent I ever knew. My mother’s mother, she lived alone in her home 25 miles away from us in Lake Charles, LA. Her husband and my father’s parents all died before I was born. So visiting her often was very important, and from an early age I remember going to her big wooden house in Welch, Louisiana, usually on Saturday, and often for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Cookies were always under the kitchen counter in a wide-mouthed glass jar, apple juice in the Hotpoint refrigerator, and an empty lot behind her house ripe for exploration, with 2 giant fig trees for climbing and eating.
Inside in her bedroom was a small oak secretary with paper and crayons for drawing. I remember opening the fold down desk top, searching for crayons and who-knows-what other treasures that seemed to call that place home: stamps, pins, jewelry, newspaper articles, and objects I had no idea what purpose they served. Also in that bedroom was an oak chest of drawers and a rocker. I can remember my grandmother standing at that dresser at night, unpinning her bun of hair gathered on the back of her head, then combing it out until it reached her hips: pure white, thin, amazing to me. The rocker I would sit in alone and vigorously rock back and forth until Grandma would caution me about scooting across the floor and damaging something. But she always said it with a knowing wink in her eye.
When I moved to Korea in 2006, I shoved everything into a 12 X 12 U-Haul storage bin on Lombardy Avenue, and for the next 10 years would occasionally check on it during my visits to Richmond. But in 2015 I came to Richmond with a mission: clean out that storage unit and ship 4 very important memories to Korea. And that is what I did. I already knew my family didn’t want or didn’t have room for any of these items, and I don’t blame them for that—their memories were not tied to these “things” like mine were (are). But I also was not willing to let them go to Goodwill or the dump, or to strangers. No, these “things” are not simply connections to the past, but they also give me moorings now. Every time I look at them they whisper to me stories of love, of belonging, of permanence, and the power of place. Not only do they remind me of who I was, but of who I am.
I teach a church history class to university students every spring, using the text: The Story of Christianity by Justo Gonzalez. Gonzales talks about the iconoclast and iconodule controversies that occupied the church in the 7-8th centuries. Iconoclasts wanted all symbols, images, relics removed from churches because they feared (with some accuracy) that people would worship the objects rather than excite the faith which the object represented. The iconodules countered that these objects helped people experience a closeness to an infinite, invisible God that enriched their worship and strengthened their faith. These issues have continued to be debated in the Church, and occurred again in the Reformation era. The same debate occurs when discussing the role of pilgrimage in Christian faith. Those who favor pilgrimage see it as a way of experiencing holiness, and thus exciting their faith, through visiting what may seem to us quite ordinary places. John Chrysostom noted, “…only seeing those places…mere lifeless spots, we often transport our minds thither, and imagine their virtues, and are excited by it, and become more zealous.” And Jerome suggested that merely seeing Judaea with our own eyes will helps us “gaze more clearly on holy Scripture.”
Are my furniture pieces holy relics? Is my grandmother’s house holy ground? No, not holy in the sense that they have magical powers of their own which cause me to bow down and worship them. But they do have power, power to inspire me to think about people and places that were holy (using the Hebrew meaning of qodesh, holy as “set apart,” unique, sacred). When I see these things I am transported in my mind back to my grandmother’s house, but more than that physical place, I remember her, and her influence on my life. She is a model of unconditional love for me, and when I see her picture or touch those “things” I am inspired to be a better person, to live more the way she did. The power those things have to create a holy space within me and a holy desire to be and do better are what makes them holy, and thus special for me.
In her Facebook post about moving, Ann and a friend comment:
Ann: I try to remember the memories are what I can take with me. I just can’t take all of the physical representations of those memories.
(Her friend): Of course, but symbols are the sparks of memories – get rid of what you don’t need or doesn’t spark something. The rest: cherish.
Now I’ve never met this particular friend, but I am moved by her powerful statement! “Symbols are the sparks of memories,” they are what get the fires of holiness going, or re-started. Another partner in that Facebook conversation says, “Stuff is just stuff.” Sorry, but that isn’t true for me. My “stuff” has the power to invoke powerful memories which in turn make me a truer, better, holier person. Without my “stuff”, I’m not sure I could experience that transformative holiness. It’s like saying the body of Christ in communion is just bread and juice, it’s just stuff. Well, no it isn’t; it’s more than that; it’s more even than we can know or say.
I brought my “holy stuff” to Korea in the fall of 2015. Yes, I don’t need to be reminded that for what I spent on storage for 10 years, I could have brought my “stuff” over 3X or more! But it’s here now, (sitting in my in-laws apartment!). But I retire in another 1 1/2 years, and wherever we move, those 4 pieces of “holy stuff” will go with me, because they are part of what grounds me, gives me perspective, comfort, stability, inspiration, peace, and joy. They have become sacred implements in my journey of faith—they tell me where I’ve been, who I am, and what’s important to me. St. Benedict, in chapter 31 of his Rule, says, “regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected.” Even ordinary, everyday things like dressers and rockers take on sacred qualities when they bear with them memories of holy people and places. My “stuff” is sacred; they bear the indelible print of holiness.
I understand if you don’t agree with what some may call sentimental feelings. I live in a land that has a rich history, but one full of wars, colonization, and massacres of their people by outside forces. I find South Koreans have little sentimentality when it comes to things from the past—why? Because much of it was destroyed during the Korean War, 1950-53. And for 35 years before that, Korea was dominated by a foreign power hell-bent on eliminating Korean culture, language, and identity. So I understand the puzzled looks from those who may have cherished memories, but very little to show for them. But to my Korean family, I explain that for the many sacrifices I’ve made to live in this place you call home, and which I too now call home, I need reminders of where I came from and who I was/am. For I am no longer fully American, nor will I ever be fully Korean. I am somewhere in-between, and so “sacred vessels” help me cope with that split personality.
I mentioned 4 “stuffs” that I brought to Korea, but only showed you 3. The fourth is not from my Grandmother but from my father: an old trunk that my he had in his single days before marrying my mom. Not so great on the outside: its leather straps long gone, and its wooden slats in need of refinishing. But open it up and VOILA! MAGIC! On the inside lid are pictures of pin-up girls and movie actors/actresses and politicians and slogans, few whom I know or understand, and I don’t need to understand it; I simply cherish it as something special to my father, and now special to me. Is this “holy stuff?” Absolutely! Even though I was not particularly close to my father, this chest draws me closer to him and his memory, and those things, good and bad, tangible and intangible, that I inherited from him. It too has become a “sacred vessel” conveying to me something of who he was and who I am.
Korean Protestant churches are very iconoclastic. In fact, few have either baptismal fonts or communion tables in the sanctuary. I tell my history students that I miss those symbols in worship, because they remind me again of who I am and what God has done for me-visible reminders of an invisible grace. Such symbols act as icons, windows through which we can reaffirm what it is we believe and who it is we follow. These symbols “spark memories” of people and places which should not be forgotten. “Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, do this in remembrance of me.” These things, this bread and wine, this table, this font, they are not just stuff, but sacred vessels that invite me in. Just so my furniture from home—every time I see, touch, and smell them, memories are sparked of special people, places, emotions – my visible reminders of an invisible grace and love that tell me who I am, where I’ve come from, and what’s important. As Ann’s friend said, “…[get] rid of what you don’t need or doesn’t spark something. The rest: cherish.” These things of mine spark good memories, and I continue to cherish them. My hope is you too have or will find some “thing”, some object that holds special significance for you, and that you will hold it, touch it, cherish it for the power it has to invoke in you powerful feelings of love, grace, acceptance, and goodness. We all need those things—when you find them, don’t throw them out! Cherish them.
Richard Hamm PhD is a professor at Handong Global University in Pohang, South Korea. He teaches English in the Language Education Department as well as Church History, Philosophy of Christian Education, and Christianity and Modern Thought. He serves in the English Ministry of Joyful Church and is an avid hiker and bicyclist, and former member of GPPC. He plans to retire at the end of 2018 and continue living in Korea, leading a life of conspicuous consumption. (Just joking! American humor does not translate to Korean congregations, so now when I tell a joke in a sermon, I prepare them for it and tell them when to laugh. You can laugh now.)
2017 has not been my favorite year. If I’m being completely honest, for me, 2017 began in November. Things have felt pretty dark since then. And exhausting. So when I agreed over the summer to contribute to the blog in September, I thought, “Surely I’ll have something to say about all that is swirling around us by then. But how will I choose?”
On this blog, I’ve wrestled with what it means to be a good neighbor. I’ve explored what it means to feed sheep and food insecurity. I’ve answered the question “how can she vote like that and call herself a Christian?” I’ve talked about running the NYC marathon in the days after Paris went dark from a terrorist attack. It all seems so long ago. So much more darkness has enveloped us this year—how can I possibly organize my thoughts around all of it? I even posted a question on Facebook to chew on: What keeps you awake at night? I asked my friends to spend time asking others the same question. I asked them to have these conversations with people who don’t look like them, talk like them, or live in the same neighborhoods as them. I asked them, this time, not to focus on the similarities in their answers but in their differences. How we all might be playing a role in those differences. Thus far, no one has reported back, so, perhaps I will explore that later.
Many of you know my writing is tied to running. So, it’s no coincidence that the last time I wrote was about the time I stopped running regularly. I ended last year’s marathon with a minor injury. I took some time off and just never got back to a regular running schedule. I recently decided that if I’m ever going to write again, I’d better start running again.
It takes me about 15 miles to outline a blog post in my head and maybe another 10-12 to fine tune it—so, basically, a marathon. I’ve had to re-learn how to run. I realized I’d been holding my breath—no oxygen was getting to my legs and they felt like lead. I also realized that I’ve really been holding my breath since last November against all of the hatred, bigotry and injustice swirling around us. I became immobilized. I’d forgotten about belly breathing. The athletes and musicians among us know what I am talking about. You need to expand your belly to fill your lungs with air. I’d been chest breathing. No wonder running has been so hard. When I began breathing again, I realized that fall 2017 marks the 20 year anniversary of our first visit to GPPC.
I can no longer be immobilized by the latest headline or tweet, but, as in running, I CAN take a deeper breath or a walk break. So, I hope you will take a deep breath and walk with me for a few minutes as I reflect on what 20 years at GPPC has looked like to me. The turmoil will still be there waiting for us to work on when we are finished. Let me tell you about a few, but not all, of the people I’ve seen at GPPC. You never surprise me, but you ALWAYS take my breath away:
You, who tirelessly fight for justice in times where there seem to be more and more obstacles, I see you, and I love you.
You, who love boldly, despite feeling weary, I see you and I love you.
You, who drop everything to help a member in need, I see you and I love you.
You, who provide leadership and make long term decisions for our congregation, I see you and I love you.
You, who don’t come very often, and you, who are here every week, I see you, and I love you.
You who are new here, I see you and I love you.
You who are lifelong members here, I see you and I love you.
You, who haven’t been here in a long time, I miss you, and I love you.
You, who pray, I see you, and I love you
You, who make breathtaking music, I see you (and hear you), and I love you.
You, who grieve, I see you and I love you.
You, who provide laughter, I see you and I love you.
You, who sit in the mosh pit, I see you and I love you.
You who sit in the pews or stand in the narthex, I see you, and I love you.
You, who rocked a colicky baby for hours so his parents could have a break, I see you and I love you.
You, who met a kindergartner at the bus stop so a mom could stay home and care for her newborn, I see you and I love you.
You, who feed sheep time and time again, I see you and I love you.
You, who have been away and have returned, I see you and I love you.
You, who twice in six weeks, came to a funeral home or sat in a sanctuary in Ashland to support us at the funerals of parents, I saw all of you, and through tears, I love you.
If I, one member of this GPPC family, can see all of this light, can you imagine what we all see collectively? Can you imagine how much more God sees? Can you imagine how much more Christ loves all of us? It’s not surprising. It IS breathtaking. It’s grace. Love-filled grace. It’s for ALL of us. And how lucky are we that we can take that out into the world when we leave this place?
My walk break is coming to an end. Thank you for accompanying me. When you are weary, take a walk break and look for the light and love here in this place. OK, one last deep breath. Really push your abdominal muscles out as you inhale. Fill your lungs. Exhale, slowly. Now, tell me, what keeps you awake at night?
Kimberly Carswell finds a story to tell on our blog at least once a year. Updating her bio, she writes “I’m a wife, mom, and epidemiologist–that means I spend most of my time making observations. I’ve recently added the Montreal marathon to my bucket list of races. Maybe I’ll blog about that race in French.”
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenched there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
This is how Wilfred Owen begins his retelling of the familiar story of Abraham and Isaac. Benjamin Britten used several of Owen’s poems for his monumental War Requiem in 1961, interspersing them with the traditional liturgical requiem texts. Britten’s setting of the text begins with a jaunty Abraham, working diligently to build a fire; the music turns darker and metallic when the father binds his son.
When lo! and angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.
The angel that Britten sends is more beautiful than any musical angel I can name. The tenor and baritone soloists sing these lines together, finding perfect unison as they announce with relief the presence of the intended sacrificial animal.
But the old man would not so,
but slew his son, –
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
This is war poetry. The allegory is clear and horrific. Wilfred Owen (photo) was a soldier in World War I, losing his life a scant week before the Armistice. War poets have license to change stories; they know that violence is a merciless story changer. Owen also reminds us that a story that only threatens violence is perhaps no less violent than one that follows through on those threats. The story of this near sacrifice is deeply meaningful, but it is also deeply unsettling. To Owen, all is not well that ends well.
Britten follows this story with the clear voices of a boy choir – what better way to respond to a story of son-killing than with a boy choir? The boys’ prayer offers a bit of comfort:
Lord, in praise we offer to Thee
sacrifices and prayers, do Thou receive them
for the souls of those whom we remember
this day: Lord, make them pass
from death to life.
As Thou didst promise Abraham
and his seed.
A noted pacifist, Benjamin Britten tucks a subtle cue into this section. The organ accompaniment rocks back and forth; after a few iterations of this, we start to hear the sirens, the European ones that alternate between two discordant pitches. It’s a wartime ambulance, and it’s an ambulance for Isaac. Music rarely gets this haunting and this true. The Bible gives us a story of extraordinary faith and horrific violence, and Britten sends Isaac an ambulance.
The GPPC choir and soloists will sing this extraordinary setting on Sunday. Britten tells a story like no other composer. Continuing with the theme of youth, we’ll also hear bits of his beloved Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra for the prelude and postlude.
Doug Brown has served as GPPC’s music director since 2004.
Full disclosure: reading each of the marvelously written posts from my fellow new Session members over these past few weeks has done nothing to allay my “blog anxiety” as I reflected on what I might write in this space. How lucky am I to start this Session adventure with four such talented, dedicated, and inspiring individuals as Shannon, Mati, Paul and Mary!
My first pass at this blog post was an essay comparing my decision to serve on Session to the time I bought a large, very expensive bottle of mouthwash when I was living in Cairo. It was tongue-in-cheek, but perhaps not quite the tone I wanted to strike as a new Elder. I found a better framework in the poem, “We are going to Mars,” by Nikki Giovanni, excerpted below.
We are going to Mars for the same reason Marco Polo rocketed to China,
For the same reason Columbus trimmed his sails on a dream of spices,
For the very same reason Shackleton was enchanted with penguins,
For the reason we fall in love,
It is the only adventure.
As a young person, some of my favorite encounters were with stories or people from other cultures. GPPC was a place where I could feed this desire to understand those outside of my “bubble.” Whether on mission trips to the Eastern Shore and Atlanta, or on a trip to Washington, DC to experience Jewish or Islamic worship traditions, or through stories told by our visiting missionaries or other travelers in our congregation, church offered me a venue to explore my interests and cultivate my love of learning and travel. Spending my childhood and youth in an environment that was both safe and encouraging of exploration no doubt played a role in my determination to have my own “only adventure,” though my sights were never set quite so far as Mars.
We are going to Mars because whatever is wrong with us will not get right with us so we journey forward, carrying the same baggage
In rapid succession starting at age 29, I lived an average of 2 years each in Mitrovica, Kosovo; Kampala, Uganda; and Baltimore, Maryland. I then stayed in Cairo, Egypt for nearly 4 years but traveled to at least one other country each month during that period. Journeying forward, always carrying the same baggage. (Well, emotional baggage, that is. Just ask my mother to tell you about my expansive collection of suitcases.)
I approached each new destination with the same eagerness to explore and feel at home: find the grocery store, join a gym, hit up the nearest quiz night. This process always kept me well-occupied for 6 months or so, but soon enough I found myself wishing I belonged in a community like the one I grew up in. A community where I could be with others in one place for more than 24 months, all of us bringing our individual talents to bear to try and shine light into our corner of a dark world.
In April 2015, during a particularly difficult moment, I sat at my breakfast table overlooking the Nile and visualized a happier life. One in which I was no longer shouldering the baggage alone. GPPC was part of the picture.
One day looking for prejudice to slip,
One day looking for hatred to tumble down the waste side,
Maybe one day the Jewish community will be at rest, the Christian community will be content, the Muslim community will be at peace
And all the rest of us will get great meals at holy days and learn new songs and sing in harmony.
I spent the rest of the spring and summer of 2015 making plans to move back to Richmond. During those months I watched troubling events unfold in the U.S. from afar: Freddie Gray’s death and the subsequent unrest in Baltimore, the vile, hate-filled killing of congregants at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, Sandra Bland’s arrest and death. It struck me that I had never tried to understand my own country in the way I had sought to understand places like Kosovo, Egypt, Syria, or Palestine.
I also began to understand that maybe I could put my experiences abroad to good use, to maybe start telling stories of love, mercy, and friendship that I encountered in surprising places. To be as unafraid to talk to, share a meal with, to see the image of God in men and women in Richmond as I was to do those things with a farmer in Afghanistan; a refugee in Beirut.
I thought to myself: I don’t know how I’m gonna do all of this, but I’ll bet spending more time in the GPPC community will get me started.
We are going to Mars because it gives us a reason to change.
Since moving back to Richmond two years, ago, I’ve been asked a few times whether I’m bored with Richmond yet or when I’m going to move back overseas. I know better than to think I won’t ever want to travel again, but for now I’ve set to the task of achieving change – both personal and within our community – without making the trouble of going all the way to Mars. After two decades spent focusing on my career ladder, collecting passport stamps and just generally always looking for the next big thing, I’ve set an intention for patience, perseverance, and settling in.
My decision to join Session at GPPC is therefore the continuation of a personal change process; an expression of gratitude for all I have received; and a commitment to a community that has been committed to me for 40 years running.
Sarah Workman lives in the Northside – Barton Heights specifically – with her big beagle, Maia. She works at Initiatives of Change/Hope in the Cities, where she spends her days thinking, writing, and talking about how we can upend our country’s belief in a human hierarchy which damages ourselves and pervades our systems still today. Outside of work, you can sometimes find her joyfully swimming laps at the Northside Family YMCA, throwing clay pots at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, tossing carrots to Maia during their evening walks near church, or taking in the Richmond Ballet’s latest studio performance. Around GPPC, you may know Sarah better as “Eleanor’s daughter,” an identity she accepts with great pride.
“VOCATUS atque non VOCATUS Deus aderit”
“Bidden or not bidden, God is present.”
Noted psychologist Carl Jung had these words carved over the front door of his house in Zurich. Later they were placed on his tombstone.
This saying is carved into a small board and sits on my desk. Sometimes my desk and my life get cluttered and I cannot easily see the plaque or remember its words for me. Yet, when I do see it, the words bring a soft joy deep inside of me and I continue on my daily path doing what I hope God wants and needs me to do and being who God needs me to be. Those jobs have changed drastically throughout my life and at times I have seriously resisted what seems to be God-directed. However, as I am often too busy to notice subtle messages, God comes to me in bold words and I follow.
You see, my life goal was to be an environmental biologist/chemist and work to clean up and protect the rivers of Virginia. However, at the time, my gender prohibited me from working full time at that job even though I had done this as a summer employee. So, I changed course and began to do substitute teaching. Before long I had a teaching contract and loved teaching chemistry. However, I changed locations several times as the opportunity or guidance came to move. The most drastic change was returning to the city to teach students who needed good teachers and who had been shortchanged for years. How is this move a faith based step? Well, I was quite satisfied with my job in the county at a new school with great labs and smart kids. Yet, when I saw the test scores from the city in the newspaper those numbers seemed to follow me everywhere. That quiet small voice just kept reminding me that I had begun my career in the city and I could go back. Well, like some famous Bible characters, you remember Jonah and others, I tried to ignore the voice. It wasn’t until a year later when I saw the test scores and knew that I needed to make the change. My students in the county would get another good teacher and would be fine, but those kids in the city may not. So, I made the call to apply and my current students and colleagues thought that I had lost my sanity and were worried about my safety. However, when you follow God’s suggestion, I have found, you go in safety and with promise.
Other God-planted ideas have included attending the Presbyterian Pilgrimage and changing churches from the one I grew up in to Ginter Park Presbyterian. Both decisions were difficult and involved stepping out in faith but both have allowed me to grow in my beliefs and be a part of a community of believers that supports, strengthens and challenges me to continue to try new jobs and be a new person. Why else would I take on a Bible Study class when I felt so ill prepared? God sent me great people to help with and participate in our class and those good people of faith continue to make Sunday mornings a blessing to me and to others.
So I will remember “Vocatus atque non Vocatus Deus aderit” as I follow God’s call into tomorrow and beyond.
Mary Frances Hobbs is an elder and an incoming Session member. “I have been a member of GPPC since 1979. Tom and I raised our two sons here and still enjoy being a part of this community. I was a classroom chemistry teacher for many years, then a visiting science teacher in chemistry, environmental science, and nanoscience, and finally a mentor to other science teachers. Four years ago, I began training as a Feldenkrais teacher and practitioner and have now graduated and am enjoying helping people with joint issues, accident recovery, and a desire to move easier. The best part is the Feldenkrais work allows me to be active and spend time with my grandchildren – who range in age from 2 to 20.“
I walk through a slight fog. The fog lifts as I enter a featureless place where people are doing or discussing some unidentifiable act or topic. I then experience a powerful thought. Everybody else knows something necessary to the task or topic, that I lack. Nobody taught me that.
It’s hardly a mysterious dream, if you know my circumstances.
My father, the laconic man with the slight Texas drawl, a hint of native American heritage his family didn’t talk about, and the height that makes me the tallest Korean Irish Federal Public Defender in America (far as I know)? He died when I was 12, on his second attempt at taking his own life.
My mother is a native of Korea. The only woman to earn a political science diploma from Yonsei University in 1959, after growing up in World War II and the Korean War. But book smarts and surviving wars doesn’t help you teach the nuances of growing up an American boy in the northern Virginia suburbs of the 1960s and 1970s. Especially when nearly nobody looked like me, and she, quite understandably, had other concerns on her mind after the suicide of the husband whose devotion to her had previously seemed unshakeable.
Obviously, I had anxieties growing up, before and after my father’s death. But those anxieties ultimately taught me two great lessons: there is power in being different, and there can be even greater power in need.
Lloyd, the painfully awkward kid picked on in third grade? Even mundane childhood cruelty irked me, provoked just because he was different, even if it meant less cruel attention my way. I started making him get off at my bus stop, and taking him to my house. We would play cards or have a snack and he would walk home, or get a lift from my mom.
Andy, the kid who seemed to always be hungry, and too often wear the same clothes? I brought him home regularly for a while. The first time, my mother offered him a second glass of juice to go along with an afternoon sandwich. Andy’s eyes bulged. He had 8 siblings, he explained, and nobody got seconds. Ever.
As for me, my little brother, and my emotionally crushed mother, our needs turned to blessings in many ways. The most notable was through two couples who saw a family in need, and just included us in their own. I visited one for the first time in many years last summer, while vacationing with my son in Oregon. He had met the Kinneys only twice, too long ago for him to recall. But I described them often as simple and loving and caring and funny and genuine, even after weathering their own tragedies, like having now outlived both their biological children. My son saw all those traits in spades, in just an afternoon with them on the glorious Oregon coast. He understood how precious they were to me, and why.
Exodus 3 describes God’s insistence on using Moses, an octogenarian, fugitive, murderer full of fear and doubt, to lead the Bible’s greatest pilgrimage. This scripture, joined by many others, practically shouts its lesson: there is power in being different, or afraid, or needy.
I am no Moses, and—no offense—neither are you. But perhaps you, like me, have been awkward and broken before. We probably would not wish those experiences on anyone. But often, they invite other, remarkable ones—opportunities and motives to give compassion, to receive it, and to marvel at the simple, healing power of being on either end of that exchange.
I am grateful for reminders of God’s presence and capacity to use all things for Good. I am also grateful for you, my church family, and the opportunities we will have, individually and collectively, to be part of God’s good purpose.
As an incoming member of our Session, Paul Gill is the latest contributor to our blog’s summer series from the Session class of 2020.
I am that church member that loves to sing “Somos Uno En Cristo” / ”We Are One In Christ” – loudly and all in Spanish – each Sunday in church. My name is Matilde Moros, AKA “Mati”, and I am one of your most recent Session members, GPPC! So I begin with a proper “hola”!
My story today is about how to introduce ourselves. In our recent Session training we were asked to describe what we do on a day to day basis – essentially describe what a regular day looks like for us. Well, I am a professor, so I teach, at VCU, in the Department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies. I am lucky to work with some of the most compelling young people in town! I am also a mother, so I parent, Alexa and Omar two young adults in college, and Ali, an older teen who is finishing high school. I am also a spouse, so I accompany John Taylor, for about thirty years now, twenty seven of those married. I am also a dog mom, of three “angel dogs” Harley, Mocha, and Piper.
That’s my day, which does not tell you much, about how I teach passionately, or how my heart dances with each child of mine, or how wondrously my spouse and I have lived in various parts of this country and in two continents. You also would not know that we magically rescued two dogs and adopted the third, and how much fun they are, and how daily they prove the cliché that they rescued us!
A few years ago, in an interview, I was asked another similar question, basically I was looked in the eye and asked: “who are you”? I quickly replied, I am a theologian. In hindsight, and since I did not get the job, I imagine that was off putting, and did not describe much. Again, perhaps what I was being asked was about what drives me, how I became who I am today, what influences and which people do I hold dear. If the questions were not, what are your days like, or who are you, but “what are you about?”, I could answer better.
I am about justice. I was born into a household of theologians, both my parents and two of my grandparents were trained in theology. I was born in Venezuela, and grew up in the church of Venezuela, but also in a world filled with music, the arts, and philosophy. My parents taught the arts, philosophy, and theology; but also, because my dad was the president of the human rights committee of our state, I was well aware of injustice and human rights violations as a child.
By the time my years in high school rolled around, my parents studied for their doctorates and for that my family moved to the U.S., where my mother was from. My teen years were spent in Nashville, TN, where I learned English, and about the U.S. culture and about war. I was involved in the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s while I was a teen. I translated, and I participated in trips to Central America with U.S. church groups, and I became very much aware of my sense of call to justice.
Since then I have studied, and worked toward a sense of collective and restorative justice. My degrees in political science, theology, divinity, philosophy, and ethics have all focused on justice for women, and the intersections of what that means. How do race, class, gender, sexuality, ideology, and faith interact with one’s identity? My identity is as an academic and a theologian, and as such, due to internships and various work during my studies, and related to my interest and passion for justice, I have worked in several areas. In my journey up to now, I did refugee resettlement with Church World Service, mission work, and young adult internships with PCUSA, I directed Hispanic outreach ministry and directed an after school program with a PCUSA congregation in an urban context. While getting my PhD. I taught undergraduate and graduate school.
Most recently before moving to Richmond four years ago, I taught seminary, while directing field education and while coordinating the certificate program as Assistant Dean of New Brunswick Theological Seminary. This fall I am entering full time work with VCU as Assistant Professor, and I am also teaching an “Urban Ministries and Social Justice” course with the consortium of three seminaries in town, and I am very excited to be joining church and session! This summer, in preparation for this 2017 “fall of newness”, we also bought our first property, so Richmond and GPPC are my home.
With all that is new in my life, I want to just affirm that my faith is also renewed. I have been a member of the Presbyterian Church (in Venezuela and the U.S.) my entire life. It will only do justice to tell this story of life and faith renewed, and my sense of identity and justice, with a confirmation that my journey is also about service. Most recently I served the PCUSA as Co-Moderator of the General Assembly’s Special Committee on the Confession of Belhar, which is now in our Book of Confessions. Service at the national level only made me more aware of how important it is for all of us in our congregations to continue to be faithful. Our denomination requires that we all dig more deeply into our theology and our sense of call to justice, and that begins in the pew, and remains with us in the midst of our daily lives and our sense of how the “Reign”, the Realm of God, is about justice, shalom, here as it is in heaven.
This week our Session voted to welcome a refugee family into our community, and to join the Richmond broader network of Sanctuary supporters. What this means for our weekly affirmation that we are one in Christ is that we really let that sink in, “ Somos uno en Cristo somos uno, somos uno, uno solo, un solo Dios, un solo Senor, una sola Fe un solo Amor, un solo Bautismo, un solo Espíritu, el Espíritu Consolador”. One in Christ, who made us distinct in identities, but one in faith. Find me in the pew, singing in Spanish, but one with y’all.
Mati Moros is a member of the Session class of 2020. Each class member is contributing to our blog. Thanks, Mati!
This is the first in a series of posts by our new incoming elders – those people called to serve as leaders in particular ways in our congregation. We welcome Shannon Lindbloom to our blogging corner of the world today.
One day last year I happened upon an article espousing the benefits of squatting like a cavewoman: better pelvic floor health and stronger muscles for standing up, among others. Naturally, I threw myself into a squatting routine with gusto, though like most people who did not maintain the ability to squat after childhood, I couldn’t get my heels anywhere near the ground.
I had lofty dreams of a squatting room in my house where I could eat, read, or work on my laptop. But muscles can’t be lengthened and flexibility can’t be achieved overnight. I gave up once or twice until I settled into a routine of brushing my teeth in a supported squat, with my heels on a door threshold. I stopped expecting to be able to achieve a perfect squat because that seemed beyond my body’s capabilities, but I enjoyed the modified stretch.
And so it was with great surprise recently that I tried a squat on a flat surface and down I went, a bit tight in the hips and more hunched over than I’d like, but able to achieve the position somewhat comfortably. It came upon me slowly, this muscle lengthening and tendon loosening, easing into a position long forgotten.
So too my comfort in and desire for GPPC came upon me slowly. After a lengthy absence from regular church attendance, I was struck one day about five years ago with an itch to try out the PC(USA) church I had read about where gay weddings were performed and all people were welcome. Having small children and wanting them to be raised in church will sometimes do this to you.
But rearranging our lives to free up Sunday mornings seemed like a tall order. Being involved in anything beyond worship hour seemed entirely too much. And so we came and went in fits and starts, and the years passed.
The joy and peace of being part of God’s community crept into my heart gradually. As our country seems more and more divided and imperiled by forces that are everything our church does not stand for, I yearn to commit to something and see it through, to be of use in this community that gives so much. And so when I was asked to join the Session, I felt excited and honored.
As an English major and one-time English teacher, I turn to poetry for inspiration. Marge Piercy, who writes often of her Jewish faith, perfectly expresses my feelings about GPPC in her poem “To Be of Use.”
…I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out….
Changing my daily routines, practicing things that are hard but healthy and healing, allowing room for change and new commitments … these are the desires of my heart. As Piercy concludes her poem, “The pitcher cries for water to carry / And a person for work that is real.” I trust that as I open myself to new possibilities and say yes to new opportunities, God will provide the strengthening and deepening I need to do work that is real.