Category Archives: ministry

A month in ministry: September

What have you been doing?  

A common question during my first month as Associate Pastor at St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship. Here is a look at what I’ve been up to:

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Enjoying the amazing weather by meeting outdoors for our third session on church visioning

Sept. 5-7 was our annual church retreat. The congregation packs up and moves to Cuivre River State Park for the weekend. We spent the three days with guest speaker Roland Kuhl, examining our church vision and direction. On Sunday, I was officially installed as Associate Pastor during our outdoor worship and communion service.

The following week, Sunday School started back up for the term. I’m teaching an incredibly energetic (and other chaotic) group of 3rd and 4th graders—mostly boys. Two weeks in, we are attempting to find and settle into our routine. We’ve managed to talk about Noah and the scariness of the ark and the 900-mile journey that Abram, Sarai, Lot, family, servants, and animals made. We had a bit of a disagreement over whether or not Pennsylvania is in the south, and repeated memory verses in high, squeaky voices; deep, low voices; and i n c r e d i b l y  s l o w voices.

I led “Who are the Mennonites” with a student group from Greenville College. Greenville, a Free Methodist school, sends students on religious tours of St. Louis, where they get to meet and ask questions of various faith groups. They come to St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship and visit the fair trade store the church started, Plowsharing Crafts. It is always a fun time of sharing a little about Mennonite history and belief—and answering all sorts of questions about how we connect with the Amish, what “book” we use in worship, and what the whole peace thing means. It is fun to hear students ask questions that seem particularly near and dear to them—and me (what is the role of women in the church?), and see them make connections with a denomination that is not their own. We are planning to take the “Who are the Mennonites” idea to our community. We’ll be offering a similar event of our own, inviting our friends and neighbors to come and find out where we hide our horses and buggies in the middle of South City (disappointing spoiler alert: we all arrive to church in cars, on bike, or on foot. I don’t imagine many of us have any experience with horses or buggies).

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Finishing the setup for our Meet the Neighbors Yard Sale

This past Saturday was our annual Meet The Neighbors Yard Sale. We organized table after table of clothing and household goods and interacted with our neighbors as we sold merchandise at ridiculously low prices to benefit Isaiah 58, an amazing ministry and food pantry we participate with. Children were invited to play games, and all were able to enjoy free snacks and chat with the various church members scattered throughout. The unofficial count is that we heard 5 different languages during the day.

This coming Sunday, we will begin monthly prayer walks in our neighborhood. Following Sunday School, I will lead a brief devotion and we will go out in 3s and 4s to walk our neighborhood and begin to connect in new ways with our environment as we seek to encounter our neighbors as those made in the image of God. I imagine we will learn all sorts of unexpected things that will help shape the direction of our community ministry.

I’m also in the process of beginning a book study. In October a group of church and community members will begin discussing The New Jim Crow. In post-Ferguson St. Louis, I think many groups are trying to take a closer look at the ways we can recognize and eliminate racism in ourselves and in our communities. Addressing racism is one of the priorities that the congregation has been discussing through the church visioning process. Whether it ends up as one of the points in the final vision or not, it is certainly an important thing to discuss and examine from our Christian faith.

javawithpastorjenniferToday I have set up office in a local coffee shop (well, technically I suppose it is a gelato shop where most people sit around drinking coffee). I plan to be somewhere in the neighborhood at least once a week. While today will be mostly spent in sermon prep, future weeks will be spent getting to know local shop owners and inviting people into conversation.

Other activities have included meeting church members for breakfast, coffee, or afternoon snacks (my life these days tends to revolve around food); attending celebratory potlucks (we recently celebrated a 10 year anniversary of a release from prison); and trying to connect with speakers representing the 8 languages on our peace pole to come and talk about what peace means to them during our World Communion Service on Oct. 5. I am learning that we have an awful lot of cultural organizations right in our church’s neighborhood. Many are doing incredible things, but have been hidden from my radar. The things you learn.

Thank you all for your prayer and financial support! I deeply appreciate your prayers for my ministry, my church, and our community. At this point, I’m a little over halfway to my year’s salary goal. If you’d like to contribute, talk to me about how to mail your check OR give online now through my indiegogo fund!

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Why I’m fundraising my salary

I’ve received a lot of questions and concerns about why my church would create a staff position they cannot pay for. I’m assuming that means far more people share the question. Here is a bit more of the story:

I first met St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship when my friend Leslie gave my name to Pastor Samuel to come speak to a Sunday School class about the Baptist denomination. As I prepared, I looked at SLMF’s website and poked around into their beliefs and practices. What I discovered was a theology that matched my own. I said to Allyn, “Oh no, I might be a Mennonite.”

After an incredibly hurtful experience at another church, I began to attend St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship when I was not supply preaching or doing interim work elsewhere. Soon after, I approached Samuel about doing my final seminary internship with the church.

During that summer internship, I asked a lot of questions about what it would mean for me to be a Mennonite, about how all the processes worked, about the image of the wider denomination. By the end of the summer, I had fallen in love with SLMF and used it as the model when answering questions about my “dream congregation.”

I made the denominational leap to become a Mennonite and have continued to be a part of SLMF for the last two years post-internship, often dreaming about what the next steps would be.

My husband, Allyn, and I have felt called to be in St. Louis, which certainly limits ministry options . . . particularly when you have joined a denomination with all of two churches in the entire metro area (the other is entirely African-American). But still we felt (and continue to feel) that this was the place where God wanted (wants) us.

For awhile, Allyn and I wondered if I was supposed to start a church. About a year ago I had a conversation with Samuel, which led to occasional meetings of our families and a conversation with our conference minister about what all that might mean. As we talked about dreams, it seemed that what was emerging was not a separate congregation, but a new ministry within St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship.

All the while, my role at SLMF was changing. When Sam and Rachel’s son was born, I filled in for several weeks of paternity leave. I was asked to take two of our teenagers to camp. Various church members would come to me for pastoral care. A few teasingly referred to as “Pastor Jennifer.”

We began conversations about what this next phase of ministry might look like. I knew from the very beginning that there was not yet any available funding. We talked about a volunteer role as associate pastor . . . and it felt incredibly awkward. The leadership team didn’t feel right assigning me tasks because they didn’t want to presume too much. And I didn’t want to simply dictate what I would be doing, because that didn’t feel right for the structure of the church.

I began thinking about the new church model. The common model for the beginnings of a new church is to ask people for support. What we were proposing at SLMF was similar—a new ministry start. So I talked to the leadership team about this “missionary model” of funding (so named because almost all missionaries in almost all denominations are currently required to raise their own support). It opened up a new level of freedom. We were able to work together to design a job description that fit the needs of the church and my gifts and desires for ministry.

The congregation was afraid at first. No one wanted to do something that was unfair to me. Let me be clear: it has never felt unfair to me. In this position I will get to work beside some of the most loving and generous people I have ever met. And that isn’t unfair—it is an incredible gift.

In addition to pastoral care and some Christian education, I will be doing new work in our surrounding neighborhood, a place where something like 60 percent of the residents are first generation immigrants—most refugees fleeing from violence in their home countries. Our neighborhood has a lot of hurt and a lot of poverty. It will be my job to get to know the neighborhood and find ways that our congregation can partner with residents of our corner of St. Louis.

This is ministry that I am passionate about in a place that I am passionate about. My entire seminary program was based on being forward-focused, on realizing that the church landscape is changing. One of the things drilled into us was that the funding of church positions is changing. And so St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship agreed to take this step of faith with me. It is, I believe, a Holy experiment. We have agreed to listen to this whisper of the Spirit and see where it takes us over the next two years. I hope you will be willing to partner with us and see where the Holy Experiment leads you.

I do have an online fundraising site here. I’m also looking for those who wish to give monthly gifts (see this post for more information on how to do that).

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New beginning

communion

Serving communion at the SLMF church retreat in 2012.

On the day of my Starbucks seminary graduation, Dr. Molly Marshall advised me not to settle for a bad ministry fit, but to create an opportunity that utilized my gifts. For the past several years I’ve been talking with Samuel Voth Schrag, pastor of St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship, about what that might look like and what options were available in Mennonite Church USA. Various ideas came about—starting a church, launching new ministries, etc.—but it became clear that my ministry dreams fit well with the desires of SLMF.

At the last members meeting, the congregation invited me to be their Associate Pastor. The position will involve pastoral care, providing support for the Christian Education team, and expanding ministry to our surrounding community in the South Grand/Chippewa neighborhood—an area that is home to a large number of refugees.

Since this is a new position and new ministry, funds are not readily available. For the first two-year term, I will be raising my own support. I invite you to partner with me in a number of ways.

I invite you to pray for me and the congregation of St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship as we begin this new ministry journey together.

I invite you to partner with me financially—either through a one-time gift or a monthly pledge. I will be working to raise $23,326/yr (The MCUSA recommendation for a halftime associate position in St. Louis). Gifts can be made using the response slip below.

I am incredibly excited about this new ministry and would love to talk with you about it!


Enclosed is my gift of: ____ $20 ____ $50 ____ $100 ____ (other: $___).MCUSA_Symbol_Blk

This gift is a: ___ One-time donation ___Monthly pledge.

Please make checks out to St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship and write “Jennifer Harris Dault” on the memo line. All donations are tax deductible.

Mail to: St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship; 3752 Giles Ave., St. Louis, MO 63116

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Moving from “B” to “b”

Today I ended my internship with St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship. I stood outside, looking into the faces of dear friends who were sitting on log benches that made a semi-circle around an empty fire pit. I read the Mennonite communion litany and spoke words of institution over ciabatta bread and grape juice while a dog begged at the base of the table. I then proceeded to speak “God bless you” over lots of children while offering them ranch crackers and grapes. Ciabatta and ranch crackers are not exactly the typical makings of communion in the Fellowship, but on church retreat communion supplies can be difficult to separate from the bread at dinner and crackers available for snacking. I felt a little like St. Francis as I offered the leftover communion crumbles to the birds and wildlife of the forest. “May God bless you, too.”

The night before, we had arrived to the camp grounds around 8:30 following class in Kansas City. I was promptly presented with a Snapple to toast the progress of my book. At lunch today, another friend handed me watermelon pickles which she brought for me to add another new food to my “30 before 30” list.

The summer has passed quickly, but with the sort of connection that takes years to build at many places. I’ve quizzed these new Mennonite friends, trying to figure out just who they are, and if this congregation is rare or part of a larger group that looks very similar. In the process, I’ve felt my grip on Baptist life opening.

Before this retreat, I spent time with my ministry mentor. I confessed to her that I had fallen in love with the Mennonites. As I described St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship, she begged me to tell her something bad. She confessed that I may have converted her, as well. We talked about what this might mean for me, for my heritage and life as a Baptist. I said that I feared affiliating with the Mennonites might mean an end–goodbyes that I do not want to make. She asked if I could imagine another way. I offered that my mental image is one of holding hands with both the Baptists and the Mennonites.

As I talked to Mary, a Mennonite missionary to Ukraine, she offered a similar story. She works with many Baptists in Ukraine, and we shared tales of our desire to live in a wider world.

The Baptists came from the Mennonites, after all. A group of separatists stumbled across the Mennonites, came to accept believer’s baptism and worshiped with the Mennonites for a while. Part of them simply joined the church, the others left as the first Baptists.

Today, I’m embracing a new life as a little “b” baptist, a term many have used to refer to a larger tradition that joins the Baptists with the anabaptists. In doing a web search for the term, I realized that my friend Leroy has written a very similiar blog post, called “Baptist with a Small ‘b.’” This summer I learned about another friend with a deep love for Baptists who has joined a Mennonite church.

Madeleine L’Engle and Anne Lamott both talk about being every age you have ever been. The idea that here at 29 I am every bit as much my 3-year-old self, my 17-year-old self, my 24-year-old self. I think the same applies. As I embrace the “small b” title, I don’t give up my Baptist tradition, I expand it. I am always my Baptist self, even as I am my baptist self.

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A service of blessing and sending

A week and a half ago, I gathered with a several friends to hold a communion and blessing service for my friend Michelle. Michelle had stage 4 breast cancer and had been told earlier in the week that there was nothing more to be done, that she could no longer handle the chemo treatments. I wanted the church to recognize the holy that is in the death process. Since Michelle was still processing the news that she was on hospice and would not receive any further treatment, I intentionally avoided direct references to death (except in songs — they may have been a bit more direct). Michelle was being transferred to another part of the state where family lived, so references to sending out refer to the trip she would be making away from us. Michelle died a week later. She had turned 28 a month before her death.

Here is the service we held:

Hymn – “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”

Litany:

One: Even before we call on Your name to ask you, O God

Many: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

One: When we seek for the words to glorify You, You hear our prayer

Many:  My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.

One: Even with darkness sealing us in, we breathe Your name

Many: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

One: And through all the days that follow so fast, we trust in You

Many: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

All : Unceasing love, surpassing all we know; endless your grace, beyond all mortal dream.

(Adapted from Pilgrim’s Hymn – Michael Dennis Browne, Matthew 11: 28-30, 2 Corinthians 12:9, John 14:27, Romans 8:35)

Sharing of the Bread and Cup

Blessing and Sending – All

Hymn – “Be Still My Soul”

Unison Prayer:

“And now, O God, give me a quiet mind, as I lie down to rest. Dwell in my thoughts until sleep overtake me. Let me rejoice in the knowledge that, whether awake or asleep, I am still with Thee. Let me not be fretted by any anxiety over the lesser interests of life. Let no troubled dreams disturb me, so that I may awake refreshed and ready for the tasks of another day. And to Thy Name by all the glory. Amen.”
(John Baillie)

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Tears at the gate

What do you do when a man breaks down in tears on your doorstep? A man who also appears to be angry, shaking his fist at God… or the gods… or the bad situation that brought him to this door to begin with. What do you do when you have none of the resources that he thinks he wants or needs?

“Have you tried the church two blocks down? They sometimes have resources to help.”

At this moment, all the pastors are out of the building, as are all of the maintenance guys who tend to double as “security.” And in the city, safety is often the guiding rule.

A man crying (or seeming to, it is hard to tell on the little video monitor that looks out on the door) breaks through the callous that easily develops as the receptionist or secretary — a callous that comes because most folks who land on the doorstep seeking help are rude and demanding, many changing their story several times in the midst of conversation.

Allyn and I have had a lot of discussions about relief vs. recovery — about how the way to treat systemic problems is not through the bandaids that relief provides, but that recovery work is needed. It is hard to know what that does or should look like. It is hard to fix something that seems beyond repair. It is hard to acknowledge that perhaps I have much to learn from the man crying on the doorstep and that I am in as much need of repair as the system in which he lives.

“Peace be with you” (or ya’ll or yinz or you guys), but on days like today, it will have to come from a place higher than me.

(photo credit)

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Letter of hope

Dear Baptist Soon-to-be Women,
Dear Hope of a Women in Ministry Advocate,
Dear Daughters of the Church,

I write to you because you are what who I think about. You are in my thoughts when I talk to female colleagues. You are in my thoughts when I have conversations about a woman’s proper place. You are in my thoughts when I am sitting in class, representing you. You are in my thoughts when I urge my coworkers to be mindful of gender pronouns. You are in my thoughts when I plan the next steps of Baptist Women in Ministry-Missouri. You are in my thoughts when I am in tears mourning the lack of opportunities for gifted women of God.

You are in my thoughts because I hope and pray that your journey is easier than mine. I hope that your gifts are being encouraged, that people refer to you as “the future pastor.” I hope that no matter the gender of your pastor (though at this point, I have to assume male) that you have seen women in the pulpit, preaching and ministering and delivering the word of God. I hope that you know ministry is an option for you. I hope that you have church leaders who see your giftedness and give you opportunity to develop it.

I hope that you are in class with others who look like you – and, of course, those who don’t. I hope that being a pastor can be a “back-up” option for you if you decide the academic life isn’t what you want.

I hope that it is assumed that you are what a preacher looks like.  That you are seen as a valuable resource from the moment you step into the room. That you have a prominent role in local clergy groups.

I hope that you are addressed as Preacher and Minister and Proclaimer instead of speaker. I hope your classmates give you nicknames like “Rev” or “Doc” and ask for your insight on their projects. I hope that you can serve in the tradition of your choice and not have to think about whether your calling or denominational preference come first.

I hope Baptist Women in Ministry will be a group of women who enjoy hanging out and brainstorming together instead of a group advocating for a place at the table. I hope that your daughters wear heels and play church, preaching and serving communion and blessing the world.

I hope your voice is always compassionate and full of authority. I hope your voice speaks truth to power and seeks justice for all of God’s people.

And I hope that whatever you are called to be, that you see a way there. I hope that you don’t have to spend nights in tears wondering if there is a place for you.

I hope for you. I think of you. You are my prayer.

With love,
Jennifer

(photo credit)

thanks to David Cassady for inspiring this post!

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