My church internship, Fall 2010, Reflection #2

HPUC Tiffany Window

HPUC Tiffany Window

Beginning in October, 2010, I interned part-time (15-20 hours per week) at Hyde Park Union Church in Hyde Park.  Here is one of my early reflections on my time there.

Week 3 Reflection

I think that I am currently as excited about my field placement as perhaps I was nervous and a bit apprehensive last week. Yesterday I met with Susan and Zach (the two pastors) for the first time this quarter to talk about what I will be doing, when and where.  A lot of what we did was sort of re-orienting ourselves toward one another.  Susan did much of the talking at the beginning, and I chimed in quite a bit toward the end, Zach being the person to talk the least.  Susan and I are both talkers: we have a story that relates to everything and we’re happy to share it.  Which is wonderful, but we will have to watch our clocks on meetings because we could go on and on and on.  It looks a lot like this quarter will be mostly getting acclimated to the wider church and working with children in children’s sermons, Godly Play and Gifts (the program for elementary-aged children).  The church is full and busy and there are lots of hands to share the work, so I think that this will be the quarter to work on some of the more nitty-gritty things like figuring out how the budget gets balanced and attending meetings of various committees, working with others on planning adult education (though it sounds like their slots for adult education are filled with topics for the whole year, so my role will be assisting in planning and potentially running adult education classes that are already thematically planned and ordered), and working on the Urban Dolorosa planning and so forth.  I will preach beginning next quarter and it sounds like I will spend a fair bit of time both in the winter and spring at Jackson Park Hospital.

In sharing what most interests me, I highlighted Worship and Pastoral Care as the areas of greatest interest to me, sharing that I think one of the main goals of worship is to help people to experience the presence of the divine in all its awesome, comforting, challenging, sometimes frightening, sometimes securing wonder.  In a congregation such as HPUC, which strives to be deliberate about its diversity, worship also needs to honor this diversity and the diverse ways in which people experience the divine.  Furthermore, I find that part of worship’s power is an integrative approach to this goal, in other words linking the various pieces of the service so that people leave with a sense of cohesion, a thematic thread, an overarching message that they will carry with them as they leave to go out and serve the world for the rest of the week.  I’ve also heard people talk about worship as what you do to rejuvinate yourself and refresh your sense of calling and community in order to spend the rest of the week doing God’s work in the world, and this too provides a powerful goal for how worship might look on a Sunday morning.

On this note, this last Sunday’s worship service at HPUC, led by Zach and Lindsey, impressed me as achieving just this.  On Friday evening and Saturday morning, HPUC hosted the introduction to and kickoff of its Urban Dolorosa Project/Ministry.  Friday evening, the fellowship hall resounded with Father Michael Pfleger’s voice preaching to us about the violence and injustice done to our neighbors here in Chicago, in particular the violence experienced by many children in various of our Chicago neighborhoods.  He called for people to join together in claiming/accepting responsibility for what happens in a city we call ours.  After he spoke, several other women shared their own stories about teaching troubled students, many/all of whom have been victims of violence of one sort or another, about having a brother shot dead on all Hallow’s Eve.

In silence, the room echoed with the pain, the suffering, the fear, and the righteous anger these experiences expressed.  The next morning after more information about the situation in these neighborhoods as well as information about social efficacy, the idea of community strength through common everyday interactions and communal investment into a physical and emotional shared neighborhood space, the same fellowship hall rang out with questions, doubts, worries and fears of volunteers who plan to step out into these neighborhoods to learn about them, to walk their streets, to meet community members and leaders, to listen, to share in the burden of suffering and pain, to extend the message that: you are not alone; others in Chicago care about you and your children and your families; we are in this together.  These doubts and fears arose from the nebulous instructions about where to go and what to do.  We had heard the need for our actions, the need for our care, but we still felt our fear, many of us knowing that we will look like we do not belong in many of these neighborhoods strictly based on the color of our skin.  These fears were recognized certainly, but not necessarily addressed as people wished them to be.  Part of the reason for this being simply that this is frightening work, and the methods and goals are nebulous.

In any case, going back to the idea of worship, on Sunday morning, the service spoke directly to the work that people from this community as well as community’s outside of HPUC and even Hyde Park had been doing regarding the Urban Dolorosa Project on Friday and Saturday.  The message spoke of the violence that happens around us and called for a communal response to, a communal responsibility for, this violence.  Not only the message, but the hymns, the liturgy, the choir music and children’s message.  The worship service as a whole strived to, integratedly, bring forth the presence of God and challenge us out of our places of comfort to reflect on violence here in Chicago.  This, I think, is what worship is all about.

Regarding the pastoral care element of my interest this coming year, Susan spoke directly to my interest in working at Jackson Park Hospital (JPH) explaining that she and Wes are not interested in me dabbling at JPH, that one afternoon a week was neither sufficient for me to helpfully provide service at the hospital nor for me to really get the most out of this experience.  So it sounds as if, though this will need further confirmation, I will spend a significant amount of time at the hospital during the winter and spring.  This time will confront me with challenges that at this point, I can only imagine (but will not spend time or energy doing so), and likewise with rewards.  Lessons learned from others whom I observe as well as from successes and, even moreso, from mistakes that I make.  This too, will be a period of great growth, and I look forward to linking this with time in the pulpit as well, reflecting with the larger congregation on some of these experiences that they enable me to have.

There is much more I could say, but this for now is a reflection on my excitement of what is to come.  Ups and downs, as already seen, will continue to refract my experience over the coming months.

About Thandiwe

Hopeful cynic, creative, seriously silly, lover of people and places, hypocrite, third-culture kid, queer, life-long learner, white woman, Christ follower, outdoor enthusiast: I am a seeker of justice and truth who has re-found my spiritual home in progressive Christianity. I serve as the Associate Pastor at a small Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation near the mountains of Colorado where I live with my beloved.
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