She’s moving clear across the country to a city where she has never lived and doesn’t know a soul. But something is calling her away from this familiar place to something that is new. She’s clearing out clutter and packing her bags to make room for change.
“How do you feel?” I asked her.
“Excited and terrified.”
I laughed. I know those feelings well, just a couple of weeks away at that time from a wedding. There were so many beginnings in my life – I was walking into a new marriage the next weekend and the week after that taking on new responsibilities as moderator of our Conference Board of Directors.
In both cases, I was afraid that I might fail and crash the boat. But something was calling me too. I knew if I didn’t say yes to these opportunities in my personal and professional life, I would step away from something that wanted to grow and bloom in me. To say no, I would have to step away from myself. But I was scared too, apprehensive.
“What enables you to step through the fear and go anyway?” I asked her.
“My faith”, she responded.
“I don’t believe in a God who makes things happen but I do believe God is present in all things. If I go and things don’t work out, I know God will be there in that as well.”
That’s just the kind of faith I need – the kind of faith that might enable me to step into the unknown in hope and trust. It’s the kind of faith I long for.
The theme of our Conference Annual Meeting in Wenatchee was “Out on a Limb.” Folks shared stories like Kathryn and Hillary about how they stepped out of their familiar into a new thing – giving a year of their lives to live work for the United Church of Christ Justice Leadership Program. They lived in community, did work they had never done before, and lived on a small stipend. While other friends were stepping into jobs and further education, they were stepping out to make a difference in the world as they felt called to do.
And folks shared stories like Bill who heard Jesus’ calls to go be with those on the margins and learn with them.
Their stories give me the courage to step forward into new life, a new marriage, new work, new beginnings.
May the witness of those who step into the fear and go anyway be inspiration to all of us today to do the same.
Kathryn Murdock: You can’t go much more out on a limb than taking a year of your young adult life to do justice while living on a $400/month stipend, in intentional community and in a very tiny apartment.
Going out on a limb through the Justice Leadership Program wasn’t always easy. In fact, going out on a limb is not supposed to be easy – it should stretch you and enable you to grow. While going out on a live can be hard, it can also be profound and life-changing.
In the Justice Leadership Program, I learned how to live out my passions and how to be a leader in ways I would have never learned if I had not been a part of this program. It also helped me to find my place, both in leadership and community, as a young adult in the church.
Hillary Coleman: For me, the Justice Leadership Program enabled me to live out my passion through working at the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness. Of course the program was challenging but it also helped me grow and it has been exciting to see the advocacy work I’m working on, on a daily basis reflected in churches work around the conference.
The other way I went out on a limb through this program was being part of a new church community at All Pilgrims Christian Church which was a big change for me since I had grown up and attended University Congregational UCC my whole life. Through this experience, I learned new ways of worship and different ways of how to be in community together.
The Pacific Northwest Conference has done a gone out on a limb to support the Justice Leadership Program by supporting young leaders and encouraging churches to not just talk the talk but walk the walk by doing justice and advocacy work. It’s now time to take the next step with the Justice Leadership Jubilee Program by supporting older members of our congregation to lead in advocacy work as well.
To learn more about the Justice Leadership Program check out http://justiceleadership.org . And for more info about the program and/or how to apply contact Elizabeth Dickinson firstname.lastname@example.org and Rev. Rich Gamble email@example.com
Bill Kirlin-Hackett: At University Congregational, as we celebrate 125 years, not as old as some and older than many, we look at our mission in various ways, to include around housing and homelessness. It is truly timely. A tent city resides in one of our parking lots. In the past two weeks, regional conversations on homelessness met in our space and focused on evictions. Here is a description of an eviction from Matthew Drummond’s new book, “Evicted.” The movers hired by the landlord have started moving all the belongings of this tenant onto a truck to be put into storage at the tenant’s expense.
“As the move went on, the woman slowed down. At first, she had borne down on the emergency with focus and energy, almost running through the house with one hand grabbing something and the other holding up the phone. Now she was wandering through the halls aimlessly, almost drunkenly. Her face had that look. The movers and the deputies knew it well. It was the look of someone realizing that her family would be homeless in a matter of hours. It was something like denial giving way to the surrealism of the scene; the speed and violence of it all; sheriffs leaning against your wall, hands resting on holsters; all these strangers, these sweating men, piling your things outside, drinking water from your sink, poured into your cups, using your bathroom. It was the look of being undone by a wave of questions. What do I need for tonight, for this week? Who should I call? Where is the medication? Where will we go? It was the face of a mother who climbs out of the cellar to find the tornado has leveled the house.”
This happens hundreds of times every week across the country. To change this harm, we at University, and others, will need to go out onto the limb. For some of us, shock will come; for others, at minimum, significant trauma. We can dull our senses in response, go into retreat, or open ourselves to greater awareness and action. The truth is that our being out on the limb isn’t about us. The limb onto which we go is not empty. It is already occupied. A few look like us perhaps, but most are less easily recognized. We call them the least, the lost, the lonely, and the left behind. More often than not, when we arrive on that limb, when we see faces that have that look, we hear from them, “no matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” Amazingly, outside our sanctuaries, on the limb, we are welcomed by unexpected if imperiled hosts. Leaving our palaces, as happened in Exodus, to go out in humility onto a limb where others barely survive. God accompanies us. Yes, God is already there before us.
To learn more about Bill’s ministry in the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness, see http://itfhomelessness.org