“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” – Jeremiah 29:5-7
Grow. Join the community. Plant some roots among those different than yourself. Be fed by that community and feed that community. As you grow, it will grow. As it grows, you will grow. This passage speaks deeply to my life in transition, as I return to the city that shaped me, as I work for a university whose students were heroes to me growing up, as I discover the gifts of Ignatian spirituality and community for my life as a Presbyterian. Certainly more moving than my own personal experience of this scripture was the joy of engaging in reading this scripture with the the Ecumenical Ministry Team. Sunday night, we listened together for how Jeremiah’s vision for beloved community might influence our vision for ecumenical community on Xavier’s campus.
Just a few weeks ago, I was a Presbyterian pastor serving a small, multicultural congregation in Oakland, California. My time was dominated by worship planning and pastoral care, transitioning the congregation to its closure over Labor Day weekend. I was the last in a long line of pastor’s over the churches 120 year history that included many decades of decline. Today, I overlook a campus founded long before Oakland was really even a city, pastoring students from a breadth of religious traditions, the second in a short line of ecumenical/multi-faith ministers among a staff with a long history of robust campus ministry. Not terribly long ago, I could not have imagined my new day-to-day reality. My time is dominated by getting to know a dynamic group of students. With roots in a solid Protestant work ethic, it feels almost wrong to enjoy my work this much, and yet I am counting on the joy of this calling to heal the grief of the way my last call ended.
Each day on campus is still filled with surprises as I figure out where and how to be, but I am deeply aware of living the truth of Jeremiah’s message to the exiles. In the prosperity of this campus, of this community, of the ecumenical ministry here, in that I will find my prosperity. I will grow as we grow, I will change as we change, because some of the healing I seek will be found in doing this work with joy, discovering the hope for the world present in the faith on this campus.
The challenge will continue to be on campus as Jeremiah challenged his people to be in exile–rooted in a community full of differences, but fully myself as participate in that community. For me, that means deepening my identity as a pastor, as a Presbyterian, and as a beloved child of God. It means bringing all of my skills to ministry (including my unhealthy addiction to tweeting, my love of doodling, and my inability to sit at a desk for too long) even when it seems like I do things too differently. It means discovering ways to integrate my life and the life of my family into my work here, as well as building bridges from my work on campus to the ways to the broader life of this city.
And so, on Sunday night, I shyly rolled out an eight foot doodle of Xavier’s campus, and asked the Ecumenical Ministry Team to consider how scripture would impact their work on campus, using the drawing to record their thoughts. We will continue to build the drawing into a piece of artwork over our meetings this semester. Written across the spiritual heart of this campus as the spiritual gifts of this team of students: leadership, charisma, joy, insight, wisdom, compassion, humility… and a deep and honest desire to do good.
My breath caught in my chest at that.
A deep and honest desire to build the community of God here among us, to do the good work of bridging difference, of planting seeds, of loving one another.
What a privilege to be invited into work with such a community.
Rev. Abby King-Kaiser is the Assistant Director of Ecumenical and Multi-Faith Ministry at the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice. With her husband, her daughter and the family’s very neurotic dog, she has recently moved back to her hometown of Cincinnati after six years living in the Bay Area. Don’t be disturbed when she doodles her way through a meeting–she really is paying attention. So, she says.