As the summer intern at the First UMC of Chula Vista, it is my… um… privilege?… to participate in all three worship services on Sunday morning. While I don’t always love arriving early enough to prep for the 8 am service each week, sitting alert in the chancel for those three hours does allow me ample time for the morning’s message to fully set in. Or at least, one would think so.
Out of the nine weeks I have served at this church in various ministries and capacities, I can still say Sunday mornings are my favorite. I love interacting with the congregation—sharing with them in the joys of their week, hearing stories about their families and recent vacations, and lifting words of support or comfort when they offer up tender places of need. I love experiencing the ways individuals come together to uphold one another by the unique bonds formed in a community of faith. I also appreciate the way their openness and vulnerability tends to pull me out of myself—loosening my grip on being the “best intern I can be,” and joining them in the humble journey of our life together.
In these years as a seminarian, I find there is a surprising ease with which I fall into the trap of self-exaltation. (a.k.a. “seminarian snobbery.”) With all of my fresh (if not still shallow) knowledge regarding the historicity of the gospels, traditional liturgies, and cultural sensitivity, it becomes harder and harder to sit in worship/meetings/casual lunches without examining all input through a (hyper)critical lens. In many ways I give thanks for this noticeable proof of learning—the way my education has become deeply embedded in ways that I cannot tune out in even the most sacred spaces. But, as I witnessed this Sunday, especially, my new scholarly perspective may at times cast shadows over the simple Good News intended not just for those in the pews, but for those of us in the fancy seats too.
This Sunday, my supervising pastor preached on the story of Nicodemus, and how even the most faithful people can get caught up in the external rules and functions of their religion—missing the true essence of what it means to be born of the Spirit. He preached, as John Wesley did, about awakening to God’s presence inherent within us as creatures of God’s creation, and inheritors of the kingdom.
It was only by the third go-round that I actually heard the message within the message. It sounded to me, then, more like this:
Despite the challenges, stress, and seemingly constant to-do lists associated with being a seminary student and candidate for ministry, you are still called to be fully present to God and others. Though there will be times when it seems your work is what is most important, what truly matters is your engagement with your community and in the practical movement of the Spirit. Though you might find yourself emotionally drained, physically weary, and mentally fatigued, God is with you and in you—strengthening you that you might be fully present to others as a conduit of God’s love and mercy. Wake up. You’re missing it.
As much as I love Mumford and Sons, Psalm 57:7-10 also reminds me to awaken from my frequented state of sleep-walking—from the disengaged distance of scholarly criticism and accidental liturgical snobbery—to be fully present to the reality of God’s glory all around us. And, while I am truly thankful for my newly acquired theological education, I am perhaps more grateful for the simple ways God gathers me back to Godself each and every day to remind me of my place in the kingdom as one who is in fact Spirit-born and called to bear witness to that Spirit in the world.
Darin is entering her third year as a Candler MDiv student. She is a native of Southern California, and her Candler Advantage internship allowed her to spend the summer at “home.”