From FEMA to Disaster Ministries

Jon Wallace is shown here standing with Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin during an Oklahoma City bombing commemoration because he is all too familiar with its devastating aftermath. Prior to attending the Iliff School of Theology, Wallace worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In addition to the Oklahoma City bombing, he has responded to more than 40 presidentially declared disasters and dozens of smaller disasters around the country.

I left federal employment and the stresses that it holds, including an expectation of my federal oath which stipulates how I am to be in life while I’m a federal employee which can be somewhat constrictive. You know, I couldn’t speak out and protest about things that involve the Second Amendment.

In 2010, while a student at Iliff, Wallace developed and field-tested a peer support pilot project designed to facilitate workplace resilience for employees of FEMA in Denver, Colorado. Wallace recognized that in order for the Department of Homeland Security to fulfill its mission of ensuring “a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards,” the needs of its workforce also needed to be met.

For a long time, I was concerned about the stress, death and destruction exposure of federal workers on disaster deployments. Many of them had multiple experiences of such exposure. I was disappointed when I became aware of the scarcity of work-life programs to assist them in dealing with these stresses.

Wallace found that disaster response workers were also reluctant to utilize the few existing programs because they were in fear of it affecting their positions. In response, Wallace designed the first program as chaplaincy where disaster relief responders would be able to seek and access needed support from qualified Peer Specialists. (Wallace’s pilot program is published as “Field Test of a Peer Support Pilot Project Serving Federal Employees Deployed to a Major Disaster,” Social Work & Christianity: Journal of the North American Association of Christians in Social Work, Vol. 43, No. 1 (2016), 127-141.)

When Wallace graduated from Iliff, he took a break.

I worked on my ordination paper which is finally finished. I looked for something completely different to get disaster recovery out of my brain and body.

Even though Wallace looked for a different vocation, he was called back into disaster ministry in October of 2016 when Hurricane Matthew hit the Carolinas and impacted portions of Virginia as well.

Hurricane Matthew is the largest disaster in North Carolina history. They were shy of 94,000 applications for federal assistance. I traveled through 16 communities and out in the areas surrounding them.

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Wallace’s experience and skills were put to needed use. As a result, he is now serving in his new role as Conference Disaster Ministries Coordinator for the Southern Conference of the United Church of Christ.

This role has expanded to include meeting needs that remain long after the hurricane has gone.

The other part of what I’ve been doing is that we’re going to have people coming from all over the country to rebuild and repair homes. Again, the Holy Spirit nudges. This moved me to think that we should go the extra mile and orient our volunteers to the history of North Carolina that includes poverty and racism.

We want to teach people about White privilege. We want to give them a sense of urgency for justice. We have them for such a limited time. I think we want to integrate some of the White privilege material from the UCC website but I also think we want to rely on the African American storytellers here to tell the story.  Not too far from here there is a slave boat port. There’s also the Franklinton Center [a former plantation] which was a whipping post. Slaves were brought to the tree and broken.

Franklinton Center

And I have been thinking it through. Powerfully, we can orient our volunteers to the reality of racism and privilege through the lens of someone who has experienced it. Then, when people are working on houses and rebuilding, they will have the story in their hearts. It will significantly add to their ministries and relationships that they build when they are here. When they go home, they will be significantly different.

Jon Wallace with the Franklin People

Tesdahl’s “Deep Joy and the World’s Needs” Collide in Flight

Jasmine Tesdahl (M.Div ’13) is a chaplain and 1st Lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve. She took some time to share her calling to ministry and, more specifically, to chaplaincy in the United States Air Force. Tesdahl describes being inspired and led by a myriad of voices and experiences.
Martin Luther said that everyone – monks, priests, mothers, fathers, farmers, artisans – has a calling, and that we are all called to glorify God, to grow in faith and in love for neighbor through our callings. I read something from Frederick Buechner once that said that our callings are where our deep joy, and the world’s deep needs collide.  My dilemma was that I didn’t know what I was called to!  So I searched for a long time, and I tried a lot of different things.  And in the meantime, I had become very active in my church.
The most unexpected part of her call came through the voice of a Jew.
About the time that I felt like I couldn’t stay another day in my job as a call center manager, I experienced God speaking to me through an Orthodox Rabbi on NPR.  The story was part of a series called the Young and the Faithful, and every week there was a new story about a young person in ministry.  They had shared a story about a young Christian woman who worked for a non-profit. They had shared a story about a young Imam who was a chaplain in the Army. [T]his day, it was a young Rabbi, the same age as me, with a daughter the same age as mine, who left all he knew to move to Wyoming and help create community for Jews who he was pretty sure were living there.
And as I heard his leap-of-faith story, I heard a voice, in my car.  And it said, “You could do that.”  And I felt galvanized.  As soon as I got to work, I called my pastor, and my intern pastor and the deaconness at my church, and said, “I need to talk to you!  I need to learn about what you do!”
This is when she found out about Iliff.  It just so happened that three Iliff alumni were also pastors at her church.
So I made an appointment to come and visit, and as I walked through the doors, I felt like I was home. And so I headed off to Iliff not quite knowing what I was doing or why I was there, but I figured, I was in the right place, and God had come with me this far…so I was sure that God would be with me in that discernment of ministry.
Tesdahl’s discernment as to the specific nature of her ministry came to her in an Iliff praxis course, led by Larry Graham and Carrie Doehring, called Spiritual Struggles in the Combat Zone.
Through the first two quarters at Iliff, I had discerned that I was called to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament (to be a pastor in the ELCA), and not the Ministry of Word and Service. I told myself, “If I’m a pastor, I’m going to have military families in my congregation, and this could be helpful.”
[This] was a pastoral care praxis and we were in small groups led by former and current military chaplains from all the branches of service.  We were asked about how our families had been affected by war, and as I told my story, that my grandfather had a purple heart from Hacksaw Ridge in World War II, and that my dad deployed to Operation: Desert Storm when I was ten, I suddenly realized that I had been deeply affected by war, and, unbeknownst to me, I had been carrying around anxiety and sadness surrounding that time for almost 20 years. . . I had never been able to share (with anyone!) the fear that I experienced as a child.  Thanks to Larry and Carrie, I was able to work through those emotions, but the whole experience made me mad.  No one had ever taught my mother how to talk to her kids about the scariness of war.  So we didn’t talk about it.  And in 2010, I knew that there were children who were being much more deeply affected by war – whose parents were coming home broken, with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) or with PTSD, or who weren’t coming home at all.  And I wanted to make a difference to those kids and their parents.
And about the time I was feeling pulled in this direction, not knowing how I, with a Master of Divinity, would be able to make a difference to these people – an Air Force Chaplain who was helping lead the small groups in this class said, “You know, the Air Force really needs people like you.  We really need female chaplains.  We really need liturgical chaplains.  And we really need open minded, welcoming chaplains.”
And as I considered this, it just really fit.
It was here that Tesdahl learned about the Air Force Chaplain Candidate Program. This program provides an opportunity for students, while they are completing the required graduate course work for ordained leadership in their faith traditions, to commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force. Concurrently, they are able to train and do internships in the summers. The result is that at the completion of their graduate work, they are prepared to reappoint as Chaplains.
I talked with more alumni – Air Force Chaplains Dallas Little and Jim Parrish – who were on assignment at Iliff doing Master’s degrees in Pastoral Care – about what they did as chaplains.  And both of them encouraged me to try it out and to see if it was where God might be leading me.
I tried it, and it really spoke to me. For me, chaplaincy feels like the place where my deep joy and the world’s deep need collides.
Tesdahl with Cadre Team
An Iliff influenced education of Air Force chaplains extends beyond Dallas Little (MAPSC, ’10), Jim Parrish (MDiv, ’87; MAPSC, ’12) and Tesdahl. While recently serving on the leadership team for a summer internship training program at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, AL, Tesdahl also ran into classmate and alumni Chaplain, Captain, Joe Breault (MDiv, ’13).
Chaplain Breault is serving as a chaplain at Officer Training School, providing much-needed pastoral care and counseling for the hundreds of professional students (doctors, lawyers, nurses, chaplains, and others) who train at Maxwell before heading out to serve the nation and the world.
Tesdahl’s initial motivation to care for Air Force children and their families has broadened to include an even larger constituency of people in need.
When I got in, I found a deep need for female chaplains, for chaplains trained to care for victims of sexual assault, for chaplains who can care for LGBTQ+ Airmen and their families and for chaplains who are trained and ready and able to work in the pluralistic environment of the Air Force and of the Chaplain Corps.  And I give thanks every day that I get to do this important work on behalf of the kingdom.
Tesdahl explains her use of the term “Airmen” to describe all of the military personnel in the Air Force.
Airman is the official Air Force “gender-neutral” term for all people in the Air Force.  As you can see, this is problematic.
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Tesdahl’s sensitivity to communicating gender-neutral language is one of the significant indicia of an Iliff education. She credits Iliff for having a significant influence on the type of chaplain she is today.
Iliff is uniquely qualified to prepare military chaplains for the pluralistic environment in which they will work. As a candidate, I realized that my education at Iliff had given me the chance, very early on, to learn how to relate to and work with faith leaders of a variety of traditions different from my own, while still grounding me in my own faith identity as a Lutheran pastor.  It also prepared me to be at the front of conversations currently facing the military and the chaplain corps regarding LGBTQ+ service members and their families.
Unfortunately, not every seminary offers such a broad view. Bottom line: Iliff makes good chaplains.  And our military really needs well-trained people, prepared to have the conversations that happen every day at Iliff.

Kiboko Kiboko: Accidental Pastor?

Not every calling to ministry is obvious to the one who is being called. In fact, many ordained ministers will say that even if they were not resistant to their calls to ministry, they were oblivious to it. It may be difficult to discern what was happening in the case of Reverend Kiboko Kiboko.

Looking back over the years, Kiboko realizes that he planted churches in the Congo without even knowing he was doing it. He would organize people to meet in various homes. Some of these “gatherings” eventually grew to worship with 2,000-3,000 people.

When he came to the States to learn English at Wichita State University, he found himself working with youth.

I just couldn’t stand how the youth were being disrespectful toward their parents and so I got involved in whatever they were doing. And I said, “No, you’ve got to show some respect.”  The turning point was when I walked in this church and my English was not quite ready yet. The pastor of that church looked at me and said, “God spoke to me and you are the person in charge of the youth group — Junior and Senior High.”

And I said through an interpreter, “He must be out of his mind, because I don’t speak English yet.”

He said, “Sorry. God Spoke to me.” And he left.

The next Sunday, Kiboko found himself in a room with lots of teenagers. He made a deal with them. If they taught him English, he would teach them French.

He brought two books of the Bible with him for this language exchange: John and the Song of Songs.

So, I spoke French to them and they spoke back in English. I knew they would really fall in love with that. And so, they loved the French. It was just great. And then I used that as a way to work with them and develop a relationship with their parents.

About six months later, their parents came to me and said “What did you do to our children? What’s going on? My kids can say sorry. They can walk in the kitchen and actually help me do dishes. They can say please. Oh please, in whatever you do, don’t forget to go to seminary to be a pastor.”

Kiboko and his family then moved from Wichita to Iowa where they were told they were not welcome.

We [were] sitting in the pews and the ushers walk [up] to us and say “45 minutes away from here is a Black congregation. We don’t worship with people like you.”

And so, we went home. And the next Sunday my wife said, “Well, let’s go to church.” And I said, “Did you get the address?”

“No. We are going to that church over there.”

“Did you hear what they said?”

She said, “I heard. We are going back there.”

So, we went back there.

The people in that congregation made the same statement. But Kiboko and his wife still  worshipped there. His wife even said they were going to go back the following Sunday and join that church. And so, they joined that church.

And one Sunday the pastor got sick. He didn’t show up. And one of the ushers came to me and said, “When are we going to start the worship?”

I said, “Well I don’t know. Where is the pastor?”

“Oh, you didn’t know? The Pastor is in the hospital. You are in charge. He called us and told us you would lead the service.”

So, I led the service. That happened twice.

They said, “Well, you have to just go to seminary.”

And I said, “No, I don’t feel that calling.”

Kiboko was unable to deny his calling, but he had to have several more encounters before he finally recognized it. The first of these chance meetings took place while he was writing Bible studies for the Idianola church camps. A couple wanted to talk to “Pastor Kiboko.”

 I said “No, I am not a pastor. My sister is a pastor, but she is in Denver, Colorado.”

They said, “No, we are not looking for a she. We are looking for he. You don’t know who we are. Five years ago, we were on the verge of getting a divorce, you brought us together.”

And then I said, “No, I don’t even know who you are.”

They said, “No, you don’t. We were going to get a divorce because our daughter had been involved with drugs. We were blaming each other and so you crossed paths with her and you changed her life. She went back to school and even finished. She is a nurse now. Because of you. We have one message for you. We need more pastors like you. Could you go to seminary?”

When he returned home, he encountered the women of the Mission Committee.

They said, “We are just upset because Pastor Jordy told us that you are not a pastor. Is that true?”

And I said, “Well, I am afraid yes. He is right. I am not a pastor.”

“Oh, what does it take to become a pastor?”

“Well one has to go to seminary.”

“Well, then, go to seminary.”

That same night, the pastor came to Kiboko’s home and told him that Kiboko had to go to seminary.

And the next day, I called Iliff and said, “Send me the application forms.” And the rest is history.

Serving as Superintendent of the East Central District of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church, Kiboko has great vision for the church body.

My dream is to see church people before inviting anybody to their church, they should be able to invite them in their own homes for meals and start those relationships. Otherwise, it’s not transformational. It’s just a show piece. We are not in show business; we are about transforming lives.

And everywhere my sister [has] been as a pastor, the school systems will tell you, this school is what it is today because of that church over there. Was it easy? No. It was difficult to change the ethos of that church [and] to change the way that they have been doing business (just waiting for people to come to them). Just imagine us going to them. Imagine us going Monday through Friday in our schools systems [and] reading stories to children.

 

Radical Welcome in the Heartland

Alejandro Alfaro-Santiz is currently serving two congregations: Trinity Las Americas UMC and Wesley UMC. Both are inner city parishes in Des Moines, IA.
I served as the pastor of Las Americas Faith Community, a Latino congregation, for three years, until last December when Trinity UMC and Las Americas decided to officially merge into one congregation, becoming the first multicultural congregation of the Iowa Annual Conference of the UMC.  There’s only one worship service and it is completely bilingual (English and Spanish), we pray and sing in different languages (in addition to Spanish and English).
The people of TLA
Alfaro-Santiz describes Trinity Las Americas UMC (TLA) as a social justice-oriented congregation. It was the first Reconciling Congregation in Iowa, during the 1980s. It was also a sanctuary for people fleeing war from Central America.  Many people in the congregation support interfaith relations, the fight for $15 per hour campaign, and efforts to stop homeless camp evictions in Des Moines. He also says that many in the congregation support immigrant and refugee rights, environmental justice, prison reform, asset based community development, [and] faith based community organizing. He gives a lot of credit for the strength of the merger of the congregations to  Rev. Barb Dinnen. She was the pastor at Trinity and now serves full-time at Trinity Las Americas. Alfaro-Santiz is grateful for her leadership and mentorship.
Fight for $15
There is a lot of activism at TLA! After the election in November 2016, we held an event called “Chicken Soup for the Soul and the Body.” We invited the community to lament and express their concerns.  Forty-five people, from four different continents, Muslims, Christians, immigrants, refugees, Latinxs, Asians, African Americans, white people, school teachers, and neighbors all came together.  It was amazing to see a Salvadoran Christian man start to develop a relationship with an Egyptian Muslim man and think about how to organize for the benefit of the community. We are a very diverse congregation, we are black, brown, white, different sexual orientations, have different levels of formal education, different citizenship/immigration statuses, different physical and mental abilities, different socioeconomic classes, and people identify as Catholic, Methodist, Buddhists, Unitarians, agnostics and spiritual seekers. We have babies, children, teenagers, adults, and seniors.
Message on church door after Nov 7 2016
 Alfaro-Santiz sent the following picture, created by Alyza, one of his young parishioners.
Alejandro's Little Parishioner
About her and the picture, he said:
She is a 12-year-old, African American,  very sharp young girl. What she wrote captures the radical hospitality of TLA.
Gay Pride Parade2
There’s always something happening at the church building, which is known by its big, red doors, from Sunday to Sunday.  An estimated 300 people go through the doors of the church on any given day.  Besides worship on Sunday, there are ELL classes, citizenship classes, we give away produce twice a week, and there’s donated bread everyday that people can come get whenever they need it.  There’s also a prison van ministry that drives people every two weeks to different prisons in Iowa because there is no public transportation for people to visit their loved ones who are incarcerated.  Children and Families Urban Movement, CFUM, is a non profit that operates in the church building. CFUM started in the 70’s as a ministry of the church offering breakfasts, after school programs, and a community dinner meal that is open to anyone from Monday to Saturday.
 Alfaro-Santiz provided this 3 minute YouTube video to help describe TLA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzLNfgzwEwc
Alfaro-Santiz also has great hopes for his other appointment.
Wesley UMC has a lot of potential to replicate the work being done by TLA. Right now we are on the early stages of working with the congregation to be in relationship with the neighborhood.  The church hosts the neighborhood monthly meetings and have started to host a weekly meeting of Latino students from East High School called “Al Exito.” Friends of Iowa Women Prisoners meets monthly at Wesley and every year in February the UMC Advocacy Day starts at Wesley UMC before heading across the street to the Iowa Capitol building.
In solidarity with muslims brothers and sisters
I’m incredibly blessed to be serving in such a progressive and social justice minded congregation that focuses on doing ministry with people instead of for people. When I preach on Sunday I can share my understanding of who God is and what it means to follow Jesus, without having to hold anything back.
Alfaro-Santiz views ministry as both within the congregation where he is appointed and throughout the state of Iowa.
In the UMC I serve as the Iowa Annual Conference Peace with Justice Coordinator, I’m part of the Conference Operative Team for Spiritual Leadership Inc., as well as part of the Central District Operative Team.  I am the Dean of the Spanish School of Lay Ministry for the IAUMC. I’m part of the Do No Harm group in Iowa (Reconciling Ministries in IAUMC).  I’m also part of the design team for Route 122 in 2017.
Immigration Forum
Outside the church I’m the vice chair of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund, I’m a member of the Iowa Clergy Allies of Immigrants, I’m involved in the Des Moines Workers Alliance, and I’m a member of Concerned Citizens of Iowa. I believe that as a follower of Christ (not just as clergy) I need to be on the ground working with people for justice and helping everyone realize that we are all interconnected. Iowa has been a great place to be a follower of Christ.
Des Moines Rally
My time at Iliff helped me to understand issues from an intersectional perspective and to do ministry “outside the box” or to do it with the people instead of for the people.

Journey from the South to Iliff Strengthens the Soul

Ann Henderson hails from North Carolina. When she was first called to ministry she wanted to stay close to home.

I was looking at Duke and Candler. I didn’t really like either of them. I felt like I had to choose between the two of them because my pastors back east were either from Duke or Candler. Iliff was my third choice.

She eventually chose Iliff.

The other two institutions were just counting bodies. They didn’t seem to care about me. They were just wanting to fill their enrollment. Larry Gulledge [Iliff’s Admissions Representative at the time] remembered me from my visit.

Henderson’s visit with her sister who was studying abroad in England confirmed her decision that Iliff was the right place.

 

I realized how much the culture of an area impacts how much you learn. I decided that if I really want to learn something different, I need to get out of my comfort zone and go somewhere different.

Denver is a different culture. I wanted to learn from culture and from a different school.

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Henderson, who expects to graduate this year with a Master of Divinity, reflected on one of the significant challenges she experienced her first quarter at Iliff.

I grew up in a Conservative Christian household and I was struggling with my identity. I thought I was going through an identity crisis because I thought I didn’t want to be a Christian anymore. What I realized is that I didn’t want to be that kind of Christian anymore.

I was realizing the separation and segregation that that type of Christian was. And I just couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to affiliate myself with that. I considered switching paths. But I stuck with it.

Henderson continued to take the required courses for first year students. She felt like this curriculum helped her to grow because it exposed her to a variety of viewpoints on the world and Christianity in the world.

After taking these courses, I started to reconstruct and realized that I am a person that believes in God but I am just not the same person that I was when I came to Iliff and that’s okay.

She also realized that she didn’t need to leave the church or Christianity.

After my first year, I thought and pondered and prayed on all of the education I had in that one year and came to the realization that I am meant to be a part of the church –maybe not working in the church — maybe working in the world to be a liaison between the two. I realized that I am still meant to be a Christian but I could possibly rephrase the way that Christianity is viewed in our world today.

ann-henderson_creek

I asked her to describe how she might articulate a new vision of Christianity for today’s society.

I think if I just start with myself first and the way that I treat people. There were so many ingrained behaviors within me that I was taught as a child about people who were different from me and how I should view them — that if you’re in a certain part of town you lock your doors.

I noticed these behaviors weren’t necessary. [I] started to try and reconstruct them. I asked, “Is this necessary for me to think this way?” If it wasn’t, then I started to make a point to correct the way in which I viewed people.

That is something that certain Christian believers don’t do. They keep themselves in the groups where they belong and don’t step out into those other groups and other cultures.

I started embracing and wanting to connect with and be a part of other people, other cultures and other faith groups and allowing that to be okay for them and for me – -mainly, for me.

Despite the difficulties Henderson has experienced in helping her family to understand her new understanding of Christianity, she says she has never regretted her decision to attend Iliff.

There’s a lot to being able to coexist and accepting that because one thing that bothers me about particularly my family is that they think Christianity is the only way to be and anything else is pagan — Satan worshiping — I guess, demonic. If it’s not Christianity, you’re worshiping an idol.

Then I started to learn that Christianity wasn’t a thing when Jesus was around. Jesus was Jewish. Who’s to say that that’s wrong? We each have clung to the thing we personally feel connects us close to God.

[It has been difficult] allowing that to be okay with me and trying to share that with my family in a way that they would understand but without them thinking I joined the dark side [and] trying to reshape the way my family thinks of me as a Christian without them thinking I’ve lost my soul in this process. I actually think I have strengthened my soul in this process.

 

 

 

Pastor Embraces his Poetic Voice and Engages his Pastoral Imagination

Dale Fredrickson describes himself as a pastor by day and a poet by night. But, he knows that both roles intersect in all that he is and does. A published author of three books, I asked him to describe how this works as a practical matter.

I like to think about highs and lows and pains and aches. Then, I use my mind to help me think about the world so it comes up naturally. As a young pastor, I started to write the pastoral prayer moment and I started to think about what’s going on in our world and in people’s lives and the more honest I got in terms of it, I started to get more poetic. It’s not really good in a pastoral prayer to name “Suzy’s got a knee surgery and Tom can’t stand his son right now.” If you’re more poetic, you can lead people to mystery and beauty and truth. That’s when I started to think, “Ahh, this is who I am.” Then, I took  on trying to be more poetic in my sermons as well and studying things that move me the most.

For me, the poetic images often in a way that you hear a comic. When you hear comedy, it takes you about ten minutes to realize you’re laughing about things you shouldn’t really be laughing about. [This] is the same way I think poetry works in congregations and in people’s lives. It moves us and warms us to a vision of beauty and opens us in ways we couldn’t otherwise be opened.

The way I think about it is, there’s a rhetoric that bends and there’s a rhetoric that breaks. When you work with people and human life and when you’re working for transformation and change, I have found it is authentic to me that I want beauty to change the world. I want what I say to place a new vision of seed– something that grows anew.

For me, the straight-forward of “you should do this” never worked for me. And it doesn’t work with my kids. [It] makes you tighten up [and] harden inside.

dale-fredrickson-with-family

A married father of two, Fredrickson describes himself as a feeler/thinker from childhood.

My mom tells stories of how I would talk for my younger brother and tell the world about his needs, until a moment when my brother was like, “yeah, I got this.”  And now when my brother calls me, who I just love  when he calls me, I found myself like– he owns a business, I mean, he is a business man– and I’m telling him the business stuff that I’m reading and he’s just like, “I got this. Did I not say this when I was two?”

So I was always a feeler-thinker when I look back. We always talk about how those childhood inclinations, those essences are essential. I love Listen to Your Life by the Quaker Parker Palmer. That stuff is so good. Who are you? What is your essence? Instead of the way we were taught to think about vocation in some of our church traditions. It’s so helpful.

So I was always using words to paint visions.

dale_doubters_stills_webres-2

Fredrickson talked to me about perceptions that were obstacles to him fully embracing  his poetic self.

I got away from it when it was starting to be perceived as not manly and not good to say. It has taken me until my mid-thirties to say, “this is who I am. I am going to be a pastor and poet and I don’t care what people think or say.” I think Iliff was a big part of that.

I asked Fredrickson  to explain how Iliff contributed to his self-acceptance.

I found the story of Christianity quite liberative and quite beautiful. So I came to Iliff kind of not understanding some of the aspects of my calling. But [at Iliff], no matter how different you were, you were embraced as a person who had sacred worth and dignity. It was safe here– safe to ask questions. So I always loved that. That allowed me to let that seed within me to flourish and not be afraid of it.

Then it just took me awhile to say, “you know everyone sees the world in a different way and I see Christianity as inherently beautiful and flexible and filled with possibilities and uniqueness.” I think one of the things I came to appreciate is that you can’t judge any religious tradition based on its worst adherents. So that sort of blew my mind. It made me have a deeper reverence and respect for other traditions as well as an even deeper owning of my own.

Iliff gave him an understanding of some of the complexities of this world. Fredrickson found that he still needed to explore the most effective way to pastor in this context.

After I got content, and after I learned the beautiful lessons from Iliff in classes like Race, Gender and Class, I found what I needed most was an imagination. I needed a pastoral imagination to see my life and who I am and what I could possibly do with my life.

Eugene Peterson was the first, in his book, to point me to what it means to develop an imagination for your career– for your vocation– for who you are. That helped me to see that what I got [at Iliff]… isn’t so easily boxed, I had to have an imagination for people too. It’s not this nice, neat box. I had to shape and form it. I had to be more patient to see that seed sprout and bloom in people’s lives.

dale-performing

Fredrickson refined his imagination while serving as youth pastor in Anaheim, California.

Best example is when I left [Iliff], I went to Anaheim United Methodist Church in California. They had a man there named Bob [not his real name], a classic blue-collar white mechanic.

Anaheim is Hispanic 90% Latino/Latina. The white flight from the neighborhood is huge in Southern California. Anaheim had been this stalwart in the 70’s but then everyone had moved away. The church had to face questions of diversity and what they were going to do.

Bob had lived in that neighborhood his entire life. He lived in the same house for 60 years. He had language that was super abrasive to me.

When I heard Bob’s language, I was faced with this pastoral imagination question right away. It was kind of like,  Iliff taught me that you ought not say those things and my mom taught me that you shouldn’t say those things.

But the irony of Bob is that he listened to my sermons. He still showed up every week. I was mystified by him. I would think– we’re not on the same team.

Along those same lines, every time, four years in a row, I would take [the youth] on the Sierra Service Project where we served the elderly on Native American reservations. It’s such a wonderful educational experience because you don’t realize that there are pockets of America that are like Third World countries. The young people in the Shoshone tribes are able to move and get jobs but the elderly have to remain. They have terrible living conditions.

I brought the youth and we were able to do things like patch roofs that are raining in their living rooms and make handicap accessible ramps. This is when teenagers are able to see for the first time, here is the really ugly/beauty of the world.

Well, Bob was so concerned about us going every year. I would often think, “What’s going on in you? Don’t you realize that we’re ruining these kids for the rest of their lives [by making sure everyone can participate in this project]?”

That’s what good churches do, you know. We ruin people to see the world in all of its ugly multifaceted dimensions.

Bob would not only make sure that people who wanted to go would be able to go, he would pay large sums of cash for them to go and he didn’t have large sums of cash. He would also make sure that we had enough money to be able to get ice cream on the trip.

So that’s pastoral imagination. In my example, we don’t often get insight and understanding into spiritual formation inside human souls.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a mechanic for 40 years and hear a young pastor tell him he needs to stop his world view. But then something is growing in him– that mystery of that kingdom– that mystery of that love divine. Then he can say, “Even though my language is stuck and caught and all in tension with itself, my actions are bursting forward into something new and wonderful and beautiful.”

So, this makes me think, what if this is the nature of the world? This tension within us. This garden that wants to grow out of us us. But we pastors have to be patient because we can’t see it. We need to have an imagination that they may not speak “Iliffian” but that the tools you gain here can help you to sow those seeds and see them grow in real and powerful ways.

Pastoral imagination is huge. But you have to hold it playfully because in my twenties, I was so serious. I am going to change the world but no– then, I came to realize that changing myself is enough.

Workers’ Rights, SNCC and School Integration Ally Dies

There are always those Iliffians I wish I had known. Conard  “Con” G. Pyle (July 26, 1928 – September 21, 2016) is one of them. The following obituary, provided by his son, David Pyle, shows that Con Pyle embodied a commitment to enriching the lives of everyone he met.

Con Pyle passed away at the age of 88 in the presence of family on September 21. Having come to the Grand Junction community in 1974 as lead Pastor with First Congregational Church, Con served the Western Slope community in countless ways. After leaving First Congregational, Con served as staff Chaplain with the Grand Junction VA hospital, managed a pastoral counseling services for families working to overcome domestic violence, and founded Men Against Domestic Violence, an organization working to end domestic abuse in the Grand Valley.

Con was born in Marshall, Indiana, growing up Quaker with two brothers, Kenneth and Herman, on a family farm. He played basketball, raised his share of ribbon-winning cattle, and graduated from Earlham College. Con, along with his wife, Wini, moved to Colorado in 1950 to attend Illiff Seminary in Denver. He fell in love with the Colorado outdoors, beginning what became a lifelong passion for hunting and fishing.

He was ordained in the United Church of Christ and served his first church, Community Congregational in Walsenburg, Colorado. From there, Con moved to Green Mountain Falls, Colorado, where he served the Church in the Wildwood. Con and his family moved to Denver in 1965 to serve as pastor with Christ Congregational Church. During that time, Con became active in a number of social issues, working to support worker rights in the Hispanic community in Southwest Denver. In 1966, he travelled to Mississippi with a group of clergy to support students with SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) in working to end segregation and other discriminatory practices. During his time in Denver, both Con and his wife, Wini, were actively involved in the school integration movement.

Con and family moved to Grand Junction in early 1974 to serve First Congregational Church and to begin his years of service in the Grand Valley. His marriage with Wini ended in 1976 – although they remained in touch through the rest of their lives in coordinating the care of their disabled son, Tony, at the Grand Junction Regional Center. Con remarried with Jacqueline Pyle in 1978, a marriage that lasted until her death in 2007.

In his over 60 years of service across Colorado, he worked personally with thousands of individuals and families in helping them to find pathways to spiritual and personal health. He played a role in the social issues that shaped our region. His friends can attest to his robust sense of humor as well as his grace and kindness.

In his final years, Con remained active with First Congregational, singing in the church choir and continuing to serve his community in a variety of ways. He was proud of the stained glass window that he commissioned and had installed in the chapel during his time as a resident at Mesa View. In his final weeks, he found the strength to conduct a service from his wheelchair and to preach a sermon on one of his favorite themes – the immediacy and presence of Christ in our lives – with the residents of Eagle Ridge rehabilitation facility.

Con is survived by his three children – his son, Tony, of Grand Junction; daughter, Connie, of Grand Junction; son, David, and daughter-in-law, Tina, of Windsor, CO, and his grandchildren, Jordan and Christopher.

The hearts and prayers of the Iliff Community are with the family of Con Pyle.