Journey of Faith
I believe strongly in the power of an unorthodox cloud of witnesses, for it is a set of perpetually unforeseen circumstances and unconventional saints that have revealed truth, beauty and goodness most clearly to me throughout my life. My family has loved and supported me for my entire life, teaching me at an early age that I was, indeed, somebody. This gave me a sense of inherent self worth that no one could take away, proving to me that I was made in the image of God and that my life held a purpose. My grandmother, who passed in 2015, was the closest friend and greatest hero to my sister and me. She taught high school English and P.E. for 42 years in North Charleston, SC, teaching the majority of students whom no one expected to graduate. She had a quick wit and a zeal for life that is, to this day, unparalleled. Though we never spoke in theological jargon or prayed together in the pews, my Grandmother’s thoughts were a theology and her life a prayer. She was a continual example in my life, from early childhood to young adulthood, of what faith looks like in action. I saw God so clearly through the work and laughter of my grandmother that I began to believe in a relational God, who calls us to love and serve one another and to be joyful and strong.
I grew up with my home church, Shandon Presbyterian, as the backbone of my development in multiple ways. Shandon is responsible for giving me many of my favorite memories; it was the place in which I was baptized and later confirmed, the preschool room where I cut my bangs, the pulpit where I preached my first wobbly sermon and the risers where I sang boldly but terribly off pitch as a part of the choir for 12 long years. Shandon gave me community growing up and friends who embraced me, and still do to this day. Shandon taught me from an early age that my thoughts mattered, and that part of being faithful involved asking the difficult and messy questions. It is the first place that I learned to speak my mind and the spot that showed me the importance of vulnerability from a circle of worn-out bean bag chairs.
My college experience at Furman allowed me to press into topics of religious study, interfaith collaboration and fellowship. Interning with Greenville Area Interfaith Hospitality Network, an affiliate of the Family Promise Network, was the most significant turning point in terms of my understanding of God’s call for my life. GAIHN, which was an ecumenical nonprofit collaboration involving local congregations, sought to transition families out of homelessness. This was the place where I began to believe in the nexus point where the church meets the world. This experience taught me the importance of practical compassion, humility and preservation of dignity. I began to understand these as integral parts of faithful and responsible advocacy. I have since come to know them as central pieces of pastoral care as well.
Over the course of my time in seminary, I have completed internships in campus ministry, parish ministry, non-profit and hospital settings. I have worked in urban and rural locations, my areas of concentration spanning from youth to older adults. I have become fascinated by the role of wisdom in creation from the book of Proverbs and have been moved to tears by the sacrament of baptism, even as I practiced on a baby doll with one eye and countless crayon markings. I have continued to foster a fascination for congregational perception of mission and outreach, and I have discovered a passion for pastoral caregiving, particularly in times of death or acute crisis. I have learned theology in the classroom and well beyond it. My time in theological education has been one of experiential growth, reflection and learning, and I know that the process of discernment is ongoing. I can say firmly, however, that I believe in a God of both justice and mercy revealed not only in the sacred but so often in the ordinary. I believe in a God who seeps into places of brokenness, bringing about restoration and reconciliation. Most deeply, though, I believe in a God who never leaves us or forsakes us, holding us up when we cannot stand on our own and believing for us when we can’t muster up hope for ourselves, for this is the God who has been revealed to me time and time again.
When I think specifically about the role Practical Theology has played in my life and education over the past four years, I think about the "re-oreintation" it has provided me. Growing up in a church tradition and educational system that primarily value scripture, tradition and reason, I had little experience calling "lived experience" a theological spring board prior to seminary. My studies in Practical Theology have given me a new lens and a new starting point, helping me to believe that everyone is a theologian, with or without formal training. Practical Theology has also given me a home as it has helped me to make sense of my own interdisciplinary sense of call. It has given me a framework to piece together my love of seemingly unrelated things, helping me to understand the intricacies that make up all of us.
Next year, I'll be using my MAPT degree to complete a residency as a hospital chaplain in Greenville, SC. I have learned that I feel most called to work that involves education, accompaniment and advocacy, and I am grateful to get to lean into these things deeply as I continue work in a clinical setting.