What Words Could Hold

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Abby (2nd from right, front row) with fellow workers at a Lutheran center for children. These women were an important part of Abby’s community for the year.

Before leaving South Africa, YAGM participant Abby J. wrote the following reflection in her newsletter to supporters, family and friends:

What Words Could Hold

None, I’m afraid. Which changes the hope from telling these stories in their completion to humming them at best; a subtle vibration you can feel, a familiar melody tucked inside for interpretation. In 2014, when I transitioned home from living in Ghana [after a study abroad term], I struggled feeling so full; without a knowledge of how to organize it and what to do with it all. Two years later, a hundred moments fuller on the edge of leaving, I struggle feeling so charged; hopeful and seeking for where to direct this energy, sensitivity and love and how to keep it. Love for the simple, the differences, and the marginalized. YAGM were told this year would be our training for the life that shapes afterwards and the world waiting at home. I’m equipped yet unprepared but what a waste of time is it to wait for “ready.” What friend could be waiting to meet? What wisdom could be harboring to share? What voice could breach from your throat? Life could be claimed as yours? I don’t have any idea and there is that fear that these words are just words; lofty, polished, hopeful. Words can be rewritten and spell-checked. Life is your best shot at the first draft; authenticities often dirty, scratched and squeezing. So I don’t know what versions are coming… and there is something exciting about that (I, as a compulsive planner, am learning to treasuring this foreign mindset). Whatever is included ahead, there’s certain to be goodness, togetherness and the Greatest Great holding it all.

When You Lose Faith, Listen for the Bells

Elise Anderson, an alum from YAGM in Southern Africa in 2011-2012 (MUD 4), writes about her faith journey:

Being the daughter of two Lutheran pastors does not leave you much of a choice in how you grow up. Like most PKs and other “church kids” (kids of council presidents, choir members, alter guild members and general awesome church people) my childhood was spent playing hide and go seek in the church basement, taking naps in the pews, and spending more time with your church family than your actual extended family. I was surrounded by theology all the time, but never felt smothered by it, my parents created a good balance and were generally great in that way. Where you were going to be on Sunday morning as well as your faith was never questioned. The people of the church weren’t just your faith community they were your faith family. It was an environment that I thrived in and that I loved, I knew my place, I was the “Pastor’s kid”, I was the constant acolyte, I was the Sunday School stand out, and I loved it. All the way through high school I didn’t waver, I never questioned my place. But, as us PKs and church kids also know, this doesn’t last. Once the time comes to go off to college and leave home, you also leave the rock that you rest your faith on, you leave your church. Suddenly you’re thrown the overwhelming task of finding a new church. This is seemingly impossible, you walk into a new church on Sunday and no one knows who you are and you selfishly think that they should. You have a Reese Witherspoon moment of “dont you know who I am?!? I’m the Pastor’s kid!”… but then you realize, of course, that the robed wonder in the pulpit is not, in fact, your mother or father, you will not be taking a nap in these pews, or be obligated to stay for 4 hours after everyone else has gone home and flip through the children’s bible to kill time while your parents are in council meetings. You can leave, like every other person there, because you, like everyone else are just another sheep in the flock. It is both liberating and terrifying… and lets not forget that in your mind, no pastor will ever live up to your pastor mom or pastor dad… so good luck with that. 

Some will turn to college ministry and spend their college years bonding with a super cool pastor who wears birkenstocks and doesn’t “robe up” for service and who is always around for those soul searching moments most of us have in college. Those years in university ministry feed a lot of young people’s faith and do a lot of good, but for some they don’t quite fit with the pastor’s style or the group of people that are the most active Lutheran students, this my friends, happened to me. I spent four years of college and two years of grad school absolutely avoiding the church. I wanted nothing to do with it. I had my faith in God, so why did it matter where I prayed or spent my Sunday mornings… why were my pastor parents freaking out about the fact that I had no church community??

So, feeling lost in almost every aspect of life I turned to change. I turned to YAGM. I’ll never forget my phone interview with Heidi and feeling absolutely terrified when she asked the question “so, can you tell me about your faith journey?!” How was I supposed to answer this?? I was the daughter of TWO pastors and I was basically a church dropout! No WAY was I getting into this program, I thought, I am a failure and a fake and they’ll see it. So I was honest… I told Heidi that I was currently uninvolved in the church and was struggling to find my place. Well, what I had clearly forgotten was that that was totally ok, that the church has room for the lost and the found. And for reasons unknown to me Heidi and her crew thought I deserved a place among the YAGMs.

Going to the DIP [Discernment, Interview, Placement] event was terrifying. There were people in our group who did daily devotions, volunteered to give the sermon on Sunday, to organize our church service, who taught Sunday school through college!! Who are these people?? That’s all I could think, the whole weekend was consumed by my inner struggle that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t good enough, that these other people were just on another level, a level that I was only on in my dreams. These are the people who my parents want me to be, I thought, and I’m not even close.

The faith journey continued through my year in South Africa and has only picked up steam  since I got back. Instead of being intimidated by the faithful awesomeness that was my fellow YAGM I became inspired by it. I’m going to find a church! I’m ready! I can do this! And I did…. I’ve found my way to an awesome church community and for the first time in YEARS I feel like I’m back where I belong. I even go to Sunday School! yeah, that’s right people…. gone are the days of sneaking in during the sermon and sneaking out during the last hymn. Those days are in the past.

During my inquirers class today, which was taught by the head pastor, I was blown away. This pastor, Pastor Tim, knows his stuff and I probably could have continued our conversation all day. But, what stuck with me the most was when he talked about the church being a faith family. And that when one person looses their faith they shouldn’t run from the church they should run towards it, because as a faith family we pick up the slack for each other, we believe for each other. I thought that was so beautiful and a concept I’ve never given much thought to. He talked about how a student of Martin Luther once asked him, “Luther, if I loose faith what should I do?” and Luther’s repsonse was “if you should ever loose faith all you need to do is listen for the bells, and when you hear them run towards them, because there you will find the faithful.”

And then it hit me, like a ton of bricks, when I went towards YAGM I went towards the bells. It was the community I needed to remind me of not just the awesomeness of the church but the awesomeness of my church, the ELCA. And with the echoes of the YAGM bells in my heart and mind I am walking towards a different faith community, one that I think, will keep me around for quite a while.