Profile of Ministry: Rev. Abby Mohaupt

 

Can you tell us a little about yourself and your ministry?

For the past four years, I served as a chaplain to farmers and their families with a migrant farming community.  I was embedded with Puente de la Costa Sur, a non-profit on the South Coast of Northern California. It's a secular organization but a spirit-filled place, and I learned a lot about what it means to claim a call in a rural place. 

I recently left California for New Jersey, where I'm currently a first-year PhD student in Religion and Society at Drew University. I have an eye toward a dissertation in ecofeminist theology and climate change. I'm also the Moderator of Fossil Free PCUSA, a grassroots organization founded on a commitment to get the Presbyterain Church (USA) to divest from the fossil fuel industry and to easing our dependence on fossil fuels in antiracist and life-affirming ways. 

What social justice issues does your ministry/organization address? How do you address them?

My study addresses climate change, patriarchy, racism, creativity, community building and disconnection from each other and creation.  I try to connect a faith in Jesus Christ to a call to love God, love creation, and love each other. practically this means that my studies are currently in political theology, decolonization, and ecology. We're also committed to adding our voice to issues of environmental injustice and racism, commitments that were etched into my spirit while working on the South Coast.

In my work to address climate change, patriarchy, racism, creativity, community building and disconnection from each other and creation... I try to connect a faith in Jesus Christ to a call to love God, love creation, and love each other. My studies are currently in political theology, decolonization, and ecology. We're also committed to adding our voice to issues of environmental injustice and racism.

Describe why/how you see your work as "ministry" rather than just a "job"?

Part of my job at Puente was talking to faith communities around the area about how they could support our work, and sometimes my job was to read stories to kids or help face paint or to know the right kind of cake for someone's birthday celebration. Ministry is about showing up with our whole and authentic self.

When I left my position in a congregation to work as a community chaplain, some of the powers that be were confused and would ask me "but where's your church?" Ultimately they were supportive.

What inspired or led you to do the work you do?

My love of creation is tied to c is wrapped in my childhood. As children, my sisters and I spent most of each day playing in outside—running from our house to our neighbors’ houses. We collected roly-poly bugs We picked flowers and rarely wore shoes. It felt full circle on the nights I would go outside with some of the children on the South Coast and we'd tip our heads back and ask each other "donde esta la luna?" and then, when we saw her, we'd shout, "la luna! la luna!" it was very silly and sweet, and so very much defines the community God calls us to create. 

Were you engaged with this or other social justice issues while you were in college or before you went to seminary?

In college, my advisor handed me Heal the Wounds and The Earth Path and said, “Look, this is what you’re writing around and now you need to learn the vocabulary.” The sense of connection and empathy resonated with me and how I experience God and the world. From there I explored how the creation stories in Genesis compare to the Lakota creation story, and the need to reclaim an ecofeminist theology in the Reformed Tradition. In seminary, I read more deeply, but felt like I didn’t know enough—that what I was reading wasn’t informed by my location on the South side of Chicago or to my suburban roots.

So I worked for Faith in Place, an interfaith environmental nonprofit, first as an intern and then as the Youth Program Coordinator. I arrived at elementary and middle schools ready to talk about ecosystems and met students who littered and did not want to listen to me. I learned to meet them where they were, making no assumptions. We went on litter walks and made solar oven brownies and cultivated worms for compost. We mapped food deserts and made food chains and talked about trash. But I will also never forget that we often had to be careful about what we did outside, so we’d miss the needles and gang territory. No assumptions that the outside was safe. Every child should have the opportunity to explore creation safely.

Why did you decide to go to seminary?

When I was 14, I was in church and listening to our pastor preach a sermon, and I thought, "I could do that." Eventually I realized that seminary and ministry isn't just preaching, but at first it was just a sense of my own capacity. When I was in seminary at McCormick Theological Seminary it became clear to me that I wanted to really let my love of creation and my love of humanity in all our diversity intersect in my studies and life.

How did your friends/family respond to your decision to go to seminary?

To this day my mom wished I'd done something more financially lucrative, but solely out of her "maternal hope" that I have enough. I've been very lucky to have supportive friends and family. 

What obstacles did you have to overcome in order to get where you are today?

When I started the ordination process in 2008, I faced a lot of suspicion that environmental ministry wasn't a real call. Maybe they worried I would never get a job, or that as a young woman no one would take me seriously. IT forced me to  hone my elevator speech as to why/how caring for creation is humanity's original vocation, and over the years I've only gotten older. 

As a "community chaplain" I had to be able to talk about my job was more than just a job--and that I didn't just drive to rural North California for fun. Ultimately the powers that be were supportive, but I always get questions like "but where's your church?" One more sentence please

Describe why/how you see your work as "ministry" rather than just a "job?”

As a chaplain to a migrant farming community at Puente, I talked  to faith communities about how they could support our work, the ministry was rooted in reading stories to kids or facepaint or to bake right kind of cake for someone's birthday celebration. Ministry is about showing up with our whole and authentic selves and staying there authentically, vulnerably , faithfully and joyfully . As I try to approach my work and studies in each of these communities with joy and a sense of wonder for the individuals and communities I get to encounter.

Where did you go to college? Seminary? Were there any professors or other people who were important to you during your time at either place?

I went to college at Illinois Wesleyan University, and McCormick Theological Seminary for my masters. Dr. Carole Myscofski introduced me to ecofeminism and Dr. Tom Gerschick challenged me in soclologically at IWU. Drs. Ted Hiebert, Anna Case-Winters, Jennifer Ayres remain conversation partners at McCormick. And I'm blown away by the mentorship of Dr. Laurel Kearns at Drew University. 

Anything additional thoughts you’d like to share?

This is one of my favorite poems, and I try to carry it etched into my heart:

Wild Geese (mary oliver)

You do not have to be good. 
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves. 
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. 
Meanwhile the world goes on. 
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes, 
over the prairies and the deep trees, 
the mountains and the rivers. 
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 
are heading home again. 
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 
the world offers itself to your imagination, 
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Abby is a regular blogger. You can find her work at:  http://www.featheology.org/

Abby's most recent articlehttp://justiceunbound.org/carousel/dont-let-the-stones-cry-out-in-your-place/

Profile of Ministry: Christian Rice

Christian Rice

Where do you work?

I am the Assistant Dean for Civic Engagement at Ursinus College.  I direct the Bonner Leader Program and teach in the Philosophy and Religious Studies department.

What social justice issues does your ministry/organization address? How do you address them?

Students in the Bonner Program are passionate about the need for greater social justice.  Our students are exposed to social inequality, as they commit to working intensively with non-profit community agencies that address social needs.  They serve in our local communities at food distribution centers, after-school programs, environmental organizations, a local prison, and many more.  The Bonners also spend a lot of time reflecting on their service and thinking about social change.  Over time, many of them come to realize that their weekly service commitments often fail to address the root causes of the social problems they have encountered in the community.    

I have created the Peace and Social Justice Studies minor and co-direct the Joseph Melrose Center for Global Civic Engagement.  These curricular and co-curricular initiatives enable students to make connections between the academic knowledge they gain in their classes and the social problems they encounter as members of the local and global community.      

What inspired or led you to do the work you do?

I think the deepest inspiration for my work has come from my belief that all of us are children of God and that all of us lead interconnected lives.   To quote my hero Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.  I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.”  This is a profoundly religious insight.     

Were you engaged with this or other social justice issues while you were in college or before you went to seminary?

To be honest, I was only minimally engaged in social justice issues before Divinity School.  It was at Harvard Divinity School that I began to understand the deep connections between social justice and my own Christian faith.  I remember sleeping outside in Harvard Yard with my fellow Div. School students to express solidarity with the Harvard janitors in their fight for a living wage.  I also explored other religious traditions in depth for the first time, such as Buddhism and Judaism, and realized that what profoundly unites these disparate traditions is a fundamental commitment to human flourishing. 

Why did you decide to go to seminary?

I went to Divinity School because I wanted to learn more about how we as a society think about and seek to bring about the common good.  I was a Politics major in college but found myself attracted to the normative dimensions of politics.  I also find it endlessly fascinating to think about religion and its effect on our political discourse.   

How did your friends/family respond to your decision to go to seminary?

My grandmother always said that she thought I’d be a Christian pastor one day.  Well, that didn’t exactly happen, although I do have ten years of theological education. 

What obstacles did you have to overcome in order to get where you are today?

I’m a first generation college student from a working class home.  Growing up, I didn’t even know what it meant to go to graduate school!  At the same time, I’m also conscious of my privilege as a straight white male in our society, so I don’t think it’s really fair of me to dwell on my obstacles.

Describe why/how you see your work as "ministry" rather than just a "job"?

One of the highest compliments I ever received was from someone who described my work with students as “Christian’s ministry.”  I truly feel called to the “ministry” of student development.  I love helping students discover their own sense of vocation through a combination of their academic study and their work in our communities.  According to my late friend and former Ursinus president Bobby Fong, liberal education ought to be about soul-making. The education of the mind, while important, is not sufficient; the heart must also be educated if we are to form the soul properly.  And the heart is educated once students are forced to confront the realities of those who find themselves in different circumstances than they are.  Educators must find a way for their students to enter into the worlds of others and should understand such work as a fundamental responsibility of teaching. 

Where did you go to college? Seminary? Were there any professors or other people who were important to you during your time at either place?

 

I have been blessed with so many incredible mentors, both as an undergraduate at Ursinus College and at Harvard Divinity School.  The people that changed my life took an interest in me beyond the classroom experience.  They always had time for me, they supported me, and sometimes they didn’t allow me to get away with sloppy thinking.  

Profile of Ministry: Vanna Fox

Vanna Fox Wild Goose

Where do you work? Describe your program/ work/ ministry/ organization.

I'm the Senior Vice President of Wild Goose Festival. The festival name is derived from the Celtic tradition where the Wild Goose is the symbol for the Holy Spirit.  Our goal is to be a transformational, experiential festival grounded in faith-inspired social justice. We learn and grow together by co-creating art, music, story, theater, and spectacle, and we engage in robust and respectful conversation with thought leaders and artists who share our commitment to spirit, justice, music and art. Because we are rooted in a progressive Christian tradition, we are hospitable to all and welcome people of all faiths to seek the common good together.

What social justice issues does your ministry/organization address? How do you address them?

Our goal is to address every social justice issue. We do this by bringing in leaders, as well as those being served, to discuss and hold interactive panels regarding their area of ministry. Throughout the 4 days, you will find groups of people continuing the conversation at their campsite and becoming a support group for one another. But we go beyond just talking about justice, we explore the issues from the spiritual perspective. Then we create together music and art that is inspiring and captures our vision as we move forward. 

What inspired or led you to do the work you do?

At the age of 12 I committed myself to serve the Southern Baptist Mission Board as a music missionary. When I walked through the campground gates of Hot Springs to Wild Goose 2013, I knew these were my people and serving them would change my life. I began a discernment process that included Wild Goose board members as well as my faith community . At the end of the process my amazing church, Greenwood Forest Baptist Church in Cary, NC, voted to ordain and commission me to serve Wild Goose.

Were you engaged with this or other social justice issues while you were in college or before you went to seminary?
 
My mother taught me passion for social justice, although we certainly didn't call it that. We talked about love, peace, equal rights, racism, serving the hungry and homeless, caring for the sick...the list was endless. By the time I reached high school, being active in issues of social justice was second nature

What obstacles did you have to overcome in order to get where you are today?
The biggest obstacle was being a woman at a time when we weren't allowed in the pulpit. But I survived the split of the Southern Baptist Convention and have been lovingly embraced by churches aligned with the CBF and Alliance of Baptist. There's still a widespread belief that all Baptists are Southern Baptist. My solution for overcoming that obstacle is to frequently inform others that "I'm not that kind of Baptist".

Describe why/how you see your work as "ministry" rather than just a "job"?

There's a fine line between describing your work as a ministry or a job. I don't believe your job needs to be religious in nature to be a ministry. For me, the answer lies, not in the job itself, but rather in how you serve in that position. If I'm doing it because I can't imagine not, and it's a soul fulfilling mission, then to me that's a ministry. One of the most important things we do at Wild Goose is providing a safe place for everyone to examine their journey. Whatever I can do to advance that, is my ministry.

What opportunities are available for seminary students through Wild Goose?  
The LEADNow program we offer at Wild Goose is inspiring. We offer full scholarships to seminary students and first call ministers. The energy they bring and the passion they show for social justice brings a deeper level of conversation for all attendees, as well as renewed hope for the future as these students become our leaders.

 To learn more about Wild Goose, visit http://wildgoosefestival.org/

Profile of Ministry: Rev. Julian DeShazier

Julian is the Senior Minister at University Church Chicago, an Emmy award winning hip hop artist (JKwest), Adjunct Professor at University of Chicago Divinity School, and Community Engagement Fellows Mentor at McCormick Theological Seminary.

The What

I’m grateful to be the pastor at University Church in Chicago (6 years).  I’m also a hip hop artist/emcee known as J.Kwest. A lot of what we do at University Church is create a safe space for believers, seekers, and doubters, and definitely fight for justice. I think my music could be described in the same way - a safe space for folks that aren’t necessarily super church-y to hear dope music and still explore their faith, and I spend a lot of time making art that is based in reality and hope.

The Work

I like to think of this work is “being part of the most important conversation in the community.” We work on what’s going on around us! Right now we have an immigrant living in Sanctuary at the churchand we’re honored to be providing hospitality to Jose Juan.

We also were heavily involved in the campaign to bring a Level 1 Trauma Center to the Southside of Chicago. Sometimes that means making theological sense out of happenings; sometimes that means using our relative neutrality to bring competing voices together; and sometimes that means flat out condemning injustice and helping give agency to the oppressed. In everything it’s about deep listening for the wisdom of the community and the Spirit of God.

The Inspiration

As a performer, I’ve been to a lot of places and seen a lot of faith communities - large and small - that were disengaged with the realities around them. It always felt, um…off…to have such an elaborate investment in what was going on inside the church but be divested from the surrounding community. So instead of blaming, I decided to take on the challenge of leading a faith community that was as passionate about spiritual transformation as social transformation. Both are the same to me in a lot of ways.

The Background

I’ve always cared a lot about the health of communities.  I was also encouraged by mentors to focus on my education and spend time listening - to not be anxious about getting busy. When I was at Morehouse College, I focused on studying voices like Howard Thurman and MLK and Benjamin Mays, and studying the issues beyond the assumptions. I was pretty quiet in college, and at the same time have always admired the students that can find ways to be active while studying. 

The Decision

I have heard a lot of bad theology, never felt right, wanted to learn for myself. Religious voice has shaped American ethos, for better and worse, and I want to be part of constructing a Christian response to life that is ethical, loving, and inclusive. Ultimately, the reason anyone would be crazy enough to do seminary? I believe in the potential of Church!

The Family Reaction

Kinda shocked, because I had already deferred from seminary right out of Morehouse to pursue music. So when the tour ended and I was interested in going back, a lot of people were like, “Why???” Momentum in music is EVERYTHING and I had a lot of it, but I felt like I was living into only half of my vocation. I don’t feel like I wasted 3 years of my music career; I see it as becoming my full self. It’ll come full circle real soon.

The Obstacles

Self-sabotage - believing in myself and that the uniqueness of my voice had a place in the world. I was taught - by a person I trusted deeply - that I could either be a pastor or a musician, but not both. That was the last time we ever spoke and I left that church, and since then I’m always reminding myself that affirmation will often need to come from within, that the inner voice is the true voice, and not to stifle it.

Why Ministry?

Anything you do that requires your whole self is a ministry. Anything that is about loving and serving others - at its core - is ministry. I mean, it’s a JOB too, and sometimes very tedious and technical - but that’s ministry too. 

The Academic Journey

I went to Morehouse College for undergrad and University of Chicago Divinity School for the Master in Divinity. Dr. Melvin Rahming (and Ms. Dinwiddie in HS) pulled me aside my freshman year at Morehouse and told me I had great ideas and wrote with confidence, but “you don’t write well…yet.”

That was a turning point, because he crushed my ego and stayed with me until I could. Dr. Anne Watts told me I wasn’t Rhodes Scholar material, even though I had a 3.82 GPA, and then stayed with me to show me how to craft a life based not on the expectations and standards of others - to dare to be different and excellent in my own way. My favorite professors are the ones that gave it to me straight and walked alongside me.

 

The Last Word

I am who I am because of the mentors I have - folks that saw me, took the time to say something, and invested in me. Try not to be defensive against potential mentors in your life. Also, if you see someone, take the time and invest. Our selves are expanded as we risk. Finally, shut up sometimes. Don’t make an enemy of silence in your life. 

 

 

For more about Julian's music go to http://jkwest.com/

For more about Julian's Church, go to http://universitychurchchicago.org/