In July 2020, the Collegeville Institute hosted a virtual writing workshop led by Dori Baker and Patrice Gopo called Our Deep Wells: Writing on Vocation Across Race and Culture. The workshop invited faith leaders and scholars who center the voices of marginalized communities and/or grapple with power and privilege as an element of vocational discernment. Writing about vocation that is rooted in an individual’s distinct identity holds power to transform people, communities, and the world.
The online workshop began each day listening to participants’ responses to the prompt: “Tell a story about a specific person, practice, or tradition that called you to life.” The writing prompt was inspired by an interview with Patrick Reyes, author of Nobody Cries When We Die: God, Community, and Surviving to Adulthood, for Bearings Online, in which he defines vocation as following God’s call to survive.
We are pleased to share this second collection of three short responses from the Our Deep Wells writing workshop cohort. To view others in this series, please click here.
I haven’t always felt this way. Not sure when I became so emotionally invested. I’m talking tears-crawling-down-my-face-without-my-permission kind of investment. Regardless of the whens and whys, I cannot deny that there is something about the ritual of holy communion that blesses my soul.
I attended my mother’s Methodist church when I was a child. Everything about that space was grand, from the high ceilings to the thunderous sounds of the pipe organ to the congregation singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” as the choir processed in on Sunday mornings. I don’t remember taking communion in that church. I’m sure it happened. Probably by passing trays with those miniature plastic shot glasses of grape juice and bland cracker-like square substances. My love of communion started somewhere, but not there.
As an adolescent, I joined a Baptist church where baptism preceded communion participation. Making the decision to be baptized and actually being immersed in the arctic waters of the baptismal pool meant everything to me. After baptism, communion seemed anticlimactic.
In my mid-20s, I began pastoring a church and presiding over communion by welcoming people to God’s table. Everybody, the broken ones and the poured out ones, walked forward to partake. We invited the children who loved the Hawaiian bread on the table more than the Jesus of the table. We served folx who sometimes could not afford the cost of the bread and juice. There was room for folx I had visited on the psychiatric ward the previous week and folx who always tried to hide the weed they were smoking or the other juice they were drinking whenever they saw me in the neighborhood. At that table, they resolutely consumed the promises of God.
I can’t tell you the day or the hour when it changed from practicing communion to loving communion. The closest I can get to an answer is that storefront church when I welcomed people to God’s table. Perhaps I fell in love somewhere between the tiny hands of children reaching hungrily for a piece of bread and the calloused hands of the wearied dipping bread into the cup. Perhaps.
Rev. Dr. Karen E. Mosby serves as the Chaplain at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and works with the Academic Affairs office as an Advising Counselor for first year Masters’ students. She is an ordained minister with 25 years of experience serving in local church pastoral ministry.
I was eight years old when I discovered God loved me. It was in Harlem. Harlem, New York. Harlem before it became gentrified. Harlem before $500,000 condos. When I grew up in Harlem, it was an impoverished, under-resourced community. At least, that’s how some ivory-tower academics might describe it. To me, I was a baby born in the ghetto. And that’s where I discovered God loved me.
I became a part of the local congregation that was right down the street. It was a Mennonite church. 7th Avenue Mennonite Church. And the people of that church welcomed me and my brothers and my sisters. And I remember my time at 7th Avenue Mennonite Church with joy. I went to Sunday School there. I experienced worship there. I was part of the children and youth activities there.
I don’t remember the Bible stories they taught, but it was something about their dedicated devotion that continues to linger.
This was the church that took me to my first circus. Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden. These people made a way for children of the ghetto to witness things they’d never seen before. I got to go to Radio City Music Hall every Christmas. See the Rockettes. See the best A Christmas Carol movie that premiered in the ‘70s. The original Mary Poppins; I got to see it all at Radio City Music Hall, because of 7th Avenue Mennonite Church.
We moved to the Bronx, and because of 7th Avenue Mennonite Church, I wanted to stay with a Mennonite Church; so I took a bus to the local Mennonite Church in the Bronx. Burnside Mennonite Church. Every Sunday.
It was a member of Burnside Mennonite Church who threw me a surprise 13th birthday party. I never had a party before that. To be honest, I haven’t had many parties since then; definitely not a surprise party. I keep giving hints … but it hasn’t happened. But that experience stays with me.
And it was at Burnside I was baptized. It was at Burnside I chose God … because I found people who chose me.
Reggie Blount is Associate Professor of Formation, Leadership and Culture at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL. He also serves as Senior Pastor of Arnett Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Chicago.
I walked out of the retreat house into the frozen air, and when I looked up and saw Orion’s dying red star shining brightly, it made me cry—not in wonder, but in anger, because I couldn’t remember when I’d last seen a star so clearly. Most of the time, they were hidden behind the screen of unfamiliar city lights. And now, I had no home to go to where the night sky spread wide.
I ventured a hesitant foot onto the frozen surface of the lake. As I steadied myself, I quietly railed at God, breathing whispered frustrations into plumes of condensation: Why did you bring me to school, to the city? I thought this was temporary. What do you want me to do? Where on earth do I go now?
Just a few months before, nearly my entire family—parents, siblings, nephew, grandparents, aunts, uncles—had disentangled their roots from my southern Indiana home and relocated to the shores of Florida. I felt left behind on a foundation thinner than the ice below my feet. The promise of returning home—to my people, my land—had been my sustaining hope throughout seminary. Now I desperately sought solid ground again.
Slowly, my angry words evaporated into silence, and my thoughts settled around one simple truth: I didn’t have what I needed. Closeness to family, nature, or community: each previous stage of my life had held at least one. I knew with sudden clarity that in the next several months, I had to make my way to one of these three. I took a deep breath, and I prayed again. Show me the way. Show me one next step. But mostly, show me that you are with me.
I looked east of the big dipper, and I saw a bright, flaming light rise up from the ground on the opposite shore. It took me a while to realize what it was: a floating paper lantern. It drifted higher with warm, miraculous brilliance. I was rooted watching it, wrapped by a sense of awe and comfort. With the snowy ice beneath my feet and the cold moon far above, I watched the glowing lantern glide up toward the spark of Orion’s stars, just barely aware that, within me, a new spark was growing, too.
Cassidhe Hart works in the Office of Student Life and the Chapel at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, where she received her Master of Divinity in 2017. While her current writing focus is eco-conscious liturgies, she also revels in a good poem and a story well told.