Baptismal Ministry Testimonials
Called to be Called “Mommy”
Growing up, I always assumed that I would be a mother. It’s just what people did: they went to college; they got married; they had kids. But as I grew older, the choice became more complicated.
My job is demanding. I genuinely love (almost) every minute of it but I wondered if I could be the priest I wanted to be while being what I consider a good parent. When I’d observed the hectic pace of the lives of colleagues who had children, I did not envy them. Clouding the issue: my partner and I couldn’t get pregnant “the old-fashioned way.” So for many years, I found it easier simply to ignore the issue, focusing instead on the authentic joys and challenges of my work and my relationship.
The thing is, the question wouldn’t go away. This nagging question about motherhood hounded me as fiercely as The Hound of Heaven. It hounded me from the outside, as people asked me if we were planning to have a family. I usually turned the question back to them: “We think about it, but it just seems overwhelming,” I would say. Inevitably their faces would drop into a momentary expression of utter fatigue, as they recalled the trials of their daily lives. But their fatigue quickly would transform into a transcendent smile, as they’d say, “Yeah, it is overwhelming. But I’ve never known deeper joy.”
The question also called to me from within. I knew plenty of women who’d made deliberate choices not to have children. Some women reported they’d never considered motherhood. Others said they just didn’t “get around to it in time” and aged out of the option. Many of them said they find great satisfaction in their deep involvement in the lives of their nieces, nephews and godchildren. Some told me that they wanted to have children but, for some reason or another, kept making different choices. Most of these women seemed to live with regret. Theirs was the answer that resonated most deeply with me. At some level, I knew that if I closed myself to the question, I would live with regret.
The fact that my partner was reluctant complicated the matter. Was it fair, much less loving, to harangue the person I promised myself to for the rest of my life into taking on all the changes and responsibilities that come with parenthood?
But the more I tried to close the door on the possibility of parenthood, the more a burgeoning grief began to fill me.
And so, I said to my partner, “I have tried to stop thinking about having a child. But I can’t. Will you explore with me the issue of being parents together? We may not end up with a child at all. But, one way or another, I need to put this question to rest and I need your help.”
“Okay,” she said. (That felt far too easy after the years I’d spent struggling with this call to parenting without her!)
We began exploring our options. We went to some adoption-agency orientations and spoke with adoptive families. We talked with parents who had used Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART). (Many more couples than I’d ever dreamed use ART.) We interviewed fertility doctors. And finally we found our answer. We chose a doctor to work with us, to learn if I was able to get pregnant and carry a child to term.
My partner and I had no choice but to be intentional about our decision to become parents. But my hope is that others might recognize parenting as a vocation, not a given, and take time to ask themselves: “Am I called to be a parent? Do I have the desire to uphold and support the physical, spiritual, emotional, social and intellectual development of a child, from infancy to adulthood? Do I have gifts that will allow me to be what I consider a good parent?” If you think you’ve found your answer but the question still won’t leave you alone, I hope you will allow the question to work on you some more.
I believe that by following the questions that haunt us, we discern God’s call on our lives.
My partner and I are now parents of a fabulous, full-of-herself little girl. My days now look astonishingly like those of those harried colleagues. But my fatigue surrenders to the pure joy of our daily adventures with our toddler.
Not long ago, I asked my partner, “Should we should start thinking about having another one?” She responded, “I love our daughter with a depth and delight that live in the center of my heart. I can’t imagine our lives without her. But another one? No.”
Yet, I still remain open to the question….
The Rev. Aimee Delevett
Rector, Church of the Holy Nativity, Clarendon Hills IL
Steve Heyman - Baptismal Ministry Testimonial
The religious tradition in which I was raised gave me a strong sense of a God who was transcendent and who had revealed a law for people to live by. But over time I found myself increasingly drawn to the Christian message that love is the fulfillment of the law; that God is love and that we are called to embody that love in the world. I was fascinated by the theology of St. Paul and St. Augustine and charmed by the writings of C.S. Lewis. I was inspired by stories of faith like that of Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, as well as by the conversion stories recounted in Emily Griffin’sTurning. While travelling in Israel, I was moved by the graceful simplicity of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, by the serenity of the Sea of Galilee, and by the dark, twisted olive trees at the Garden of Gethsemane. Above all, I was drawn to Christianity through my relationships with others, especially with my wife (who is a faithful Episcopalian) and with a close friend who was traveling the same path I was.
Yet the conversion stories that inspired me also made me realize that becoming a Christian involves a deep personal transformation – an idea that I found rather overwhelming. For a long time I remained on the fence, torn between competing traditions, attending services from time to time and reading a variety of books, but without having a clear sense of spiritual direction. After our son was born in 1998, I felt impelled to clarify my religious beliefs and to find a language in which I could express my sense of love, gratitude, and meaning in the world. I began to attend the Church of St. Paul and the Redeemer, a warm, supportive, and intellectually vibrant community with a beautiful and spirit-filled liturgy. In 2002, I was baptized on the feast of Pentecost. As I heard the Scripture, sang the psalms, saw the sunlight streaming down from above, and took Communion for the first time, I felt that instead of leaving the tradition that I had been born into, I was living it out in a new and, for me, richer way.
Although I knew that becoming a Christian would transform my spiritual life, I had no idea that it would also transform my understanding of the work I do in the everyday world. I am a professor at a law school in Chicago, where I teach courses like Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, and the First Amendment. In these classes I encourage my students to see the perspectives of everyone involved in a case, and especially those who have suffered injustice. What would it be like to be a victim of domestic violence, or to wake up in middle of the night and to see a cross burning in your front yard? How can the law best protect people in such situations?
The same themes play a central role in my scholarship. My first article was about a 1989 Supreme Court case called DeShaney v. Winnebago County. A four-year-old boy named Joshua DeShaney had been placed in his father’s custody after a divorce. The county department of social services knew that Joshua’s father was severely abusing him but it did little to protect him. Ultimately, Joshua was beaten into a coma and suffered devastating brain damage. In the DeShaney case, the Supreme Court declared that, under our Constitution, states have no duty to protect their citizens against private violence. I criticized this decision on the ground that the first duty of a community is to protect those who cannot protect themselves — a principle that lies at the heart of the social contract and that was incorporated into the Constitution during Reconstruction, when the newly freed slaves and their Unionist supporters were being terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan.
If there is a thread that runs through my teaching and scholarship, I would say that it is the need to recognize the inherent value of all persons — especially the most vulnerable among us — and to protect them from injury and oppression. Of course, you can make a case for this position based on secular notions of individual rights and social welfare. This case is sound as far as it goes. But I believe that our longing for justice runs deeper than this. It is founded on what Jesus tells us are the greatest commandments of all – that we should love God with all our hearts and should love our neighbors as ourselves. In our Baptismal Covenant, we commit ourselves to resist evil, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. These commitments can help us to find the strength and courage to pursue these values when they conflict with the powerful forces of injustice and indifference that are present in the world. While I have always wanted to do work that promotes the ideal of justice, I have come to see that this is not only a job but a calling – a way of life that helps to bring about the kingdom of God and that also fulfills one’s own deepest nature.
Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law
Church of St. Paul & the Redeemer, Chicago IL
Susie Dutcher - Baptismal Ministry Testimonial
My understanding of the ministry of the baptized has been expressed practically in different ways that reflect the changing stages of my life’s journey.
This understanding of baptismal or lay ministry has always been separate from any service or responsibilities connected with the church or the diocese. I have felt that service or leadership roles inside the church were part of the responsibility of belonging to the group and don’t fall in the category of lay ministry.
Nearly all my adult life I have worked in healthcare (in the hospital laboratory and, later, for a pharmaceutical company). My sense of ministry has evolved and deepened over the years, but I tried to see my employment as ministry by keeping these two concepts in mind:
- Excellence: producing the best quality work, reliably and with integrity.
- Mentoring: intentionally focusing on an under-recognized group to listen to, advocate for, and promote.
In my last job, I focused on the administrative assistants, asking them to take on responsibilities others said were beyond them and showing them how to use their experience to improve their work life.
Excellence and mentoring are my way to “respect the dignity of every human being” (Baptismal Covenant, BCP p. 303). I could cite many examples of failure and falling short, but linking my intention with God’s intention has been source of strength for me.
After I retired last year, I felt called to a more active ministry in my parish. So after completing training offered by Bishop Anderson House, I now serve as a lay pastoral care visitor. In the future I hope to expand this ministry outside the parish.
St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, Deerfield
Liz Ryan – Baptismal Ministry Testimony
My ministry is my passion! As I look back on my life I can clearly see the design of the Holy Spirit…since I was a child I’ve enjoyed working with and educating children. In my school career I was always amazed at the openness and wonder with which children viewed the world. In the twists and turns of my years as a lay leader in the church, I have consistently found joy in sharing God’s love through the work I’ve done with children and youth. When I was asked to become a member of the Commission on Ministry I was excited to contribute my gifts and experience to the Diocese. Our work in discerning ministry, both lay and ordained, speaks to the heart of living a Christ-centered life. Each of us is given gifts to carry on Christ’s work in the world…and once we truly know and embrace those gifts we find the place we’re meant to be…doing what we’re meant to do…the place where your joy and the needs of the world intersect! I experience that as the Director of Youth & Children’s Formation at St. Charles Episcopal Church!
Liz Ryan, Youth & Children’s Formation Director
St. Charles Episcopal Church
St. Charles, IL