by Angela Williams
Serving my seminary internship with Fossil Free PCUSA and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has opened my eyes to so many different facets of ministry in our beloved Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The seminary experience is always perfectly imperfect. I learn much about worship, polity, and theology with my brilliant professors, classmates, and assigned authors. However, the tensions between the theoretical and practical dimensions of learning always remain.
The past eight months working with Fossil Free PCUSA/PPF has exemplified the intent of the Supervised Practice of Ministry, the name my institution gives to this internship. I have definitely benefited from the weekly supervision of abby mohaupt. We delved deeply into the practical sides of ministry through planning and then living out the PCUSA Walk for a Fossil Free World. Our work was certainly ministry as we created community on the walk, learned from phenomenal teachers, and worked around the edges to move our denomination toward divestment from the fossil fuel industry.
One of the greatest takeaways I am bringing from this work is challenging the notions of business as usual. We live in a world broken by white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, ablism, capitalism, colonialism, and many other big, scary things. But it does not have to be like this. Being God’s people in this world does not mean we need to be conflict avoidant, passive aggressive, or risk averse. We do not have to stay silent when people speak or act inappropriately for fear of being called indecent or out of order. We do not have to stay at the table when the table is on fire. We can choose to side with the oppressed of the world, using whatever privilege we carry to act in solidarity with those living in poverty. In fact, that is exactly what God calls us to do. I knew most of this coming into this movement, but working with abby has strengthened my courage and stamina to act boldly, drawing from our deep biblical and Reformed theological roots. We name these sins whenever we see them, even in ourselves, and to work toward bringing the reign of God to this beautiful, broken world.
Those are a lot of big, theological words. How do we actually do this? This is the practical nature of the work. The practice of dismantling these systems and spreading the liberative gospel includes showing up and putting our bodies on the line. It is using our time, energy, and resources to learn about climate change and listening to the stories of frontline communities. It is walking across two whole states to listen to those stories and form connections with other stories. It is centering the perspectives of those most impacted by our investments in the fossil fuel industry, those who cannot wait any longer for power brokering in corporate boardrooms. It is coming together with our hearts, souls, minds, and full strength to worship God. We do this by speaking up and speaking out in committee rooms and on the floor of General Assembly, as well as in building relationships with individuals inside and outside of our denomination.These are the tangible, practical ways we engage in ministry.
Joining this movement for climate justice and divestment from the fossil fuel industry has deepened my understanding of what ministry is. As a hopeful future pastor and community organizer, I feel energized to dream strategically about how to build relationships to create meaningful change. Still, no matter how much preparation for ministry we do, the Spirit continuously surprises us, showing up in unexpected people and places. She nudges us toward discomfort that ultimately brings us into deeper relationship with God and with each other, showing us where our treasure is and where our hearts are. The Spirit remains even when we feel beaten down, discouraged, and angry. In those vulnerable places, the spark of ministry ignites communities to support each other with love, compassion, and sometimes righteous anger. This is what ministry is, can be, and ought to be.
Through this experience of outstanding supervision, engaged practice, and deep ministry, Fossil Free PCUSA and PPF have sharpened my skills as a community organizer and pastor. I am so grateful.
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