Church and State

    Yesterday morning I read that the IRS is investigating the UCC because of a speech given by presidential candidate Barack Obama at general synod. It appears that the distinction between church and state may have been breached because Obama, who has always identified as UCC, accepted an invitation to give a speech to his own denomination during their general synod.  According to what I have managed to read so far, the crowd at the synod, which most definitely included a wide spectrum of political opinions, was informed and warned before Obama took the stage that the speech was not in any way campaign-related, but rather was intended (ironically, in retrospect) to address the question of “how personal faith can be lived out in the public square, how personal faith and piety is reflected in the life of public service.”  Personally, I think that is a great idea and probably was a wonderful speech.  Obama is known, at least in the circles in which I move, for his ability and desire to live out his faith through his work, and it strikes me as fitting that the UCC would call upon one of their own, an inspiring young representative of our often-times uninspiring government, to infuse the denomination and especially the youth and young adults of their denomination with a bit of hope for the future.

So then, I can’t help but wonder, what does it mean when a candidate who happens to be a person of faith is disallowed from speaking publicly within his or her denomination?

Considering the  close relationship that President Bush likes to appear to keep with Christianity in general and the religious rhetoric that he has consistently injected into not only his presidency but into the campaign that got him there, it strikes me as odd that Barack is the one who is getting in trouble.  It seems like just yesterday that discussions of Obama and faith centered on the question of his relationship to Islam rather than Christianity.

But really the point here is the sad fact that the UCC, a wonderfully hopeful and vibrant community of Christians, may be forced to pay the price for supporting one of their own.  If the IRS determines that the UCC is at fault, then they may lose their tax-exempt status, and anyone who knows anything about the church knows that the UCC cannot afford that kind of blow.

At this point, it is unclear how this is going to end up.  As for me, I can only continue to pray that the UCC and those who are affiliated with them, as well as other denominations and their memberships who will no doubt be affected by this decision, can continue to feel safe and encouraged to live out their faith publicly and to talk about it with others.  I pray that those who devote their lives to public service might feel encouraged to speak about their work with others, whether in a church or a meeting house or a general synod.  And I will continue to pray that separation of church and state will be used as it was intended rather than as a means of silencing people of faith.


update on my last post– things went well!  I was recommended by my CPM for candidacy and will be appearing in the presence of Presbytery on April 5th…. so soon too! 

As for the process, I will say that this time around was much less nerve-wracking than the previous two meetings with CPM, which is weird because I was expecting the experience of moving to candidacy to be much more stressful.  Instead, I found myself once more in the company of good and gracious folks, faithful Christians intent on helping folks like me discern my place in God’s plan.  They were ever so kind, ever so obviously intent on walking alongside me rather than standing in my way, and as a result I left that meeting feeling built up in the way I believe we are intended to feel.

As for particulars, here are the sorts of questions I was asked:

1) What sort of frustrations have you experienced as you practice ministry?

2) How has the academic environment at Harvard shaped your ministry?

3) With which biblical character do you most relate?

4) How do you understand the mission and task of pastor outside the walls of the particular church?

5) What gifts for ministry have you discovered during your internship?

Really, it was a wonderful experience.  I felt as though I was able to talk about my experiences authentically, which is more than I can say for many of my friends who unfortunately have found this process to be much more stressful in their own presbyteries.  On every account I was affirmed, and in fact I cannot recall a single moment in that meeting where I felt that I was being judged or criticized. 

I feel almost like its bragging to say this went so well, but the fact is that I know that it only went well because the Holy Spirit is truly present with that committee.  I could feel God in those people so strongly, and in turn was able to feel confidently that God is working through me, even when I cannot see it clearly.  In fact I often question my call, and the most vulnerable aspect part of being in that room was knowing that my future is not in my hands.  Then again, to know that other people are walking alongside me, and that when I fail to see God acting through me they are there to reassure me that God is indeed present in my life,  that is truly a blessing that cannot be ignored.

Into the fire

It’s D-Day.  And by D-Day, I mean my annual CPM meeting.  Now, granted, I love my CPM.  They are great folks and I every year I leave with the sense that they are truly committed to this process.  They are loving and supporting (and to my knowledge none of them read this blog so, no, I am not lying or embellishing.  They really rock.).

But then again, every year I find myself so nervous as I approach that meeting.  This year is no different, and if anything it gets worse because I am finally applying to be moved to candidacy.  This year I was asked to bear my theological soul, bite the bullet and put in writing what I believe about God and ministry and my calling.  And I did it, but doing it makes me vulnerable to these people in a way that I wasn’t before.  Things which before were only mine (my dreams, my beliefs, my fears) are now in their hands, and they can choose to accept them or criticize them at will.  It’s as profoundly scary as it is empowering, and I can only hope that I would remember God is in that room with me, and with them.  Because God is in that room.

 But just in case…. pray for me, would ya?

When Email fails; blog.

Who knew that in this day and age of dependence on email, that email might actually fail me? I have spent the last week trying to email the following to Broad Street Ministry with no luck… I chalk it up to internet demons.

Anyways, if you are out there Bill, its me, Sarah, eagerly waiting to bequeath you with the reasons for why I would love to work at Broad Street this summer.

Ahoy there! It’s Sarah from Harvard.. It was great to get a chance to chat with you lat week; it truly felt like the Spirit is up to something, from being pointed in the direction of your church, to the parallels between your mission and my passions, to the awesome convo. I took very seriously your invitation to be creative, and thought perhaps I might construct an epic poetic account of myself to describe “Who Am I” but then remembered that I have seriously suboptimal poetic skills (I could give you some references for that if you want.) Anyways, if you want more info, I have a blog (of course I do, right?… and you are currently on it, so welcome to your first internet blog. I hope I don’t disappoint.). I also have a resume, which you mentioned might be helpful.

When I could Start: June 1
When I would have to leave: end of August

Anyways, in the absence of bad poetry, here goes nothing:

Who Am I?

Here are some phrases that describe who I (think I) am:
-passionately seeking to live like Christ
-missionally-minded: in other words, I believe that my whole life is a mission of love and service, and that our calling as Christians extends beyond Sunday and beyond the physical church
-a Presbyterian seminarian in search of a communal ministry that embraces the radicalness of Jesus.
-not content to stay where I am comfortable, but rather impelled to explore the fringes of my faith and my experience
-inspired by the ordinary radicals in my midst to be and live as they do

So those are a few things that characterize me, although for the most part these are things that not only characterize my psyche but stretch beyond the now to how I seek to be in my ministry and my life. For the more “fact-based” account of who I am, perhaps this would suffice:
My name is Sarah Glass, I am a 2nd year seminarian at Harvard Divinity School and a Presbyterian (PCUSA) under care with San Jose Presbytery. I am currently an Inquirer who will be going before CPM next week to make the case for Candidacy in the Church. I came to HDS considering military chaplaincy, which I believed and still believe is the most invisible youth ministry out there to the church, one with amazing potential as well as intense responsibility attached to it. Somewhere along the way I perceived that God might be calling me to something else, in particular doing the nontradition within traditional ministry settings in PCUSA. I am still trying to figure out what that non-traditional would look like, but I have a good idea–I feels strongly passionate about urban ministry, particularly urban youth ministry, as well with a ministry that engages the economic and social challenge of the Gospel.

How I found out about Broad Street Ministry

I knew early on this year that I wanted to have a chance to do something radically different the traditional ministry experience that I had this past year. I wanted to practice ministry somewhere that engages the things that I am passionate about, a place that, as you put it, “Gets in the mix” and is not afraid to engage the odd and risky and often scary aspects of following Christ. I wanted to find a place that would leave me passionately excited about my call. Anyways, I started looking (naturally online) in places that embodied the values I cared about. One place I looked was, a blog for Presbyterians who are seeking to live up to the challenge to be reformed but always reforming. Broad Street was listed as a church that embodies those values, and so I checked out the website. Based on conversations with people on that blog and on my research, I had a strong feeling that Broad Street was doing what I dream about.

What I want to get out of this summer

To be honest, I think it all boils down to passion. I have spent the last year and a half learning about the theoretical and the academic aspects of ministry, and while I have spent the last six months doing good ministry in a good church, I know that God is calling me to explore something different from what is traditional. I came to seminary feeling strongly that God was calling me to work with youth, particularly young adults, particularly in settings that engage the world outside the church. My hope is that by the end of this summer I might have a stronger sense of that call, that I might feel as passionately in practice about my vocation as I feel about it in theory.

Election Fever

I admit it. I am obsessed with primary election gossip. Cnn’s “Election Center 2008” is hot-wired into my search engine history and now I only have to type the first “C” to get what I am looking for.

But I ask the question– What is it about this primary process that has me, and for that matter, that has America hooked? Why is my 18-year old brother passionate about the election?
While it seems like a cop out or perhaps a tired refrain to say “it matters now more than ever,” I think that perhaps the answer could perhaps be found by looking at the question of passion. Passion permeates the campaign, with each nominee staking their claim to “hope” and “change” in their own ways. And this time, more than ever, the candidates, at least externally, represent a great deal more of variance than they have in the past. There are evangelicals and liberal protestants, men and women, traditional and non-traditional. The fact that Huckabee is still sticking it out and WINNING states and REFUSES to bow out tells me that there is something to fight for on both sides, that it isn’t just the Democrats who haven’t made their mind up yet.

But again, I want to get back to the idea of passion. It feels as though people have woken up, or have been awakened, this year to the sense that things don’t have to be “the same old same old.” We have a choice. We have a voice. We may not be united in terms of what we want, but Americans seem more united than ever in our passion for something different, something better. We seem to be getting the message– Historically it seems that we always knew that our country is worth fighting for and perhaps even worth dying for, but we finally seem to be saying with our votes and our voices that it is also worth living for and dreaming for.

So while I may secretly hope that my candidate of choice blows everyone else out of the water and wins in a tidal wave of popular public opinion, I am grateful nonetheless to see that our country, on both sides of the aisle, seems passionate once more.

In the Struggle there is Hope

I went on a retreat a few weeks back with my fellow seminarians where we spent almost two days in seclusion on the property of some Cistercian nuns in Southern Massachusetts. It was a great experience for me, to a great extent because it was intentional space set apart from the world around me, space in which I could think and reflect before diving into a new semester. It was meant to provide peace and comfort, community and grace to those of us who came.

And it did. For in many ways, now that I am in the thick of classes, and feeling the beginnings of stress again, that retreat reminds me that it is always possible to set aside time for oneself. One of the most meaningful things that we did while we were there, actually, was to practice silence. Which can be lonely, but in a room full of people, it felt so full and spiritual. I was also touched by the rituals in which we partook. At the end of the retreat, in particular, we were asked to each write something to ourselves, something that we wished to take with us when we left the retreat center. Then, we placed our wishes for ourselves in a bowl and each of us picked a new wish to take with ourselves out of the bowl. My new message said the following:

“Be at peace with the struggles and joys of the journey– you are on the right path.”

I cannot tell you how often I have found myself returning to that small piece of lined yellow paper in the past few weeks. For this semester has not been easy. I had begun my spring thinking that I had addressed the major problems and concerns of my last semester, confident that this was the time to figure them out, to explore more intentionally what was meaningful to me and to be unabashedly myself. Then I watched in disbelief as my safety net began to crumble. My character was attacked by a fellow student. Then my roommate began to have problems. I found myself being attacked by those who are in pain themselves, people whom I did not ever try or intend to hurt, but people who nonetheless feel hurt by me. I began to wonder– is this where God wants me? Did I take a wrong turn? Why all of this suffering, God?

And still I wonder. I am worried out of my mind for my roommate, who becomes more paranoid by the day and whom I feel helpless to aid. The issues that surround that such that I don’t want to go into it on a blog, but I can say that she is very hurt and that many of the things that I believe in and participate in, both in school and in faith, are painful for her.

How does one protect oneself when the one who is attacking her does it not out of anger but rather of pain? Knowing my roommate, she is a kind person who is suffering. I feel as though I am targeted by her because of what I represent, but at the same time I know that what I represent and how i relate to the world makes her feel unsafe and attacked. Who is to blame then? How does one heal? What can we do? These are all questions that I have no answers to. I can only hope there is an answer somewhere, and trust in the little yellow sheet and the soul that formed it, that there is hope in this struggle, that there is peace, and that this is the journey I was meant to take.

One less hoop…

So today, whilst many a folk was probably enjoying the weather, or reading a nice book, or whatever folk do, I was doing the final preparations to send my forms for candidacy to the Committee on Preparation for Ministry in San Jose, CA who oversees and handles my ordination. It was a pretty big deal, because this year I am requesting to be moved from the status of “inquirer” to “candidate”, indicating that I am fairly certain that my call is within the church and request that they confirm that call. Overall it requires a lot of paperwork and even more spiritual discernment. And to be honest, it took me over 3 months to finally finish the questions, because I found that whenever I sat down to write about them I would end up reflecting on the meaning of the questions for hours. I think that is better, actually, but it ended up being an intensive process that I, for one, am relieved to take out of my own hands and finally place in the hands of the committee.

I guess I thought that, in honor of finishing that process, I might finally make public my statement of faith, probably the most important part of this process. I am quite proud of it, but I also know that it will probably change as I learn more about God and faith and the church. I also have realized in writing it how valuable of a process it is, because by writing a statement of faith I had to think about what I really do believe and then find a way to express that belief.

So here you go. Enjoy. (as a note, the references in my statement of faith are to places within our Book of Confessions that are in line with my theology).


I believe in a “living and true God” who was and is ever present in the unfolding drama of this world, a God who “created the world good and makes everyone equally in God’s image,” a God who does not love a single created thing any more or less than any other and whose “sovereign love is a mystery beyond the reach of our minds” (WCF, BSF, Conf. of 1967). That same God cries out in solidarity with a world that is lost, a world that often fails to see God’s grand vision for this place. This God seeks constantly to “act with justice and mercy to redeem creation,” to set right what has been wronged, to teach us to live not in this world but in the possibility of this world (BSF). I believe in a God who walks beside us, who both rejoices and laments with us, who seeks always to challenge us to imagine and to work towards a way of living that more fully realizes God’s vision for this beautiful but fragile planet.

I believe in a God whose “reconciling act in Jesus Christ is a mystery,” a God who loved this world so much as to be willing to die for it (Confession of 1967). God’s sacrificial love for this creation was realized in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s “eternal wisdom, the substance of God’s own glory,” the one called “Immanuel” by the prophets (SC). Christ lived and worked alongside creation, giving of himself completely to those whom God loved. Christ taught us how to build up the kingdom of God here and now on earth through love and humility and self-sacrifice. Christ’s life and Christ’s message of hope are recalled to the church through the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Christ’s act of reconciliation, both in death and life, makes possible the reconciliation of humanity to God through grace, love of justice and love of neighbor.

I believe in the Holy Spirit who moves within the lives of us all, “comforting us and abiding with us forever” (HC). The Holy Spirit is the still small voice of God in our hearts which “creates and renews the church as the community,” encouraging us in our lives as we seek to live more fully in God, with God, of God (Conf. of 1967). That Holy Spirit guides us through our daily living as divine inspiration, lending us vision and courage as we seek to love our neighbor and our God more fully. The Holy Spirit transforms our hearts as we are born into the family of God through the sacrament of baptism.

It is in this God, a God of infinite and indescribable love and grace, a God who inspires me to look beyond myself and to participate with my whole mind and soul in the glorious work of reconciling the world “to whom alone I must cleave, whom alone I must serve, whom only I must worship, and in whom alone I put my trust” (SC).