Seminarian Reflection: Small Moments, Lasting Change

I spent the last few years preparing to be a Lutheran pastor. This involved spending Sunday mornings leading worship at a neighborhood church and completing seminary classes on topics like systematic theology, Reformation history, and biblical Greek. It also involved volunteering every week with Faith in Place.

It comes as a surprise to some that working with an environmental organization was an integral part of my ministerial formation, but the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) where I studied considers community leadership to be an essential skill for future pastors. My work with Faith in Place was part of a service learning program called “Public Church Fellows” that connects students with local nonprofits as a method of bringing theological learning out of the classroom and into the world.

I had the honor and privilege serving as a Public Church Fellow with Faith in Place for two years, providing program and communication support.

Bristol Reading & Gab Sauder setting up lunches for Green Team Summit 2018.

During my time as a Public Church Fellow, I was involved with all kinds of amazing programs and events through Faith in Place. I gathered with hundreds of people of faith from across the state at the Green Team Summit to learn how we can create change in our own contexts. I traveled to the state capitol in Springfield to advocate for clean energy policies. I joined Executive Director Rev. Brian Sauder on stage at my seminary’s commencement ceremony when Faith in Place received the Community of the Cross award for its important work.

These were all incredible experiences to have during my time in seminary. I witnessed firsthand the impact that people of faith can have in the public conversation about the environment. These exciting moments left me feeling inspired and prepared to empower and equip my own congregation to work for environmental change.

Bristol holding a sign at our Annual Advocacy Day Rally outside the IL State Capitol, May 9, 2019.

But I was also inspired by all the behind-the-scenes work that made those moments possible. I sat in on conference calls and planning sessions and staff meetings. I assembled mailings, filed petitions, stocked goodie bags, and updated PowerPoint presentations.

Those seemingly mundane moments reminded me that creating lasting change takes collaboration, intention, and dedication over time.

It turns out that’s a pretty important lesson for future pastors, too. The beautiful music and beloved stories of big festivals like Christmas and Easter can certainly be spiritually moving, but so can all the seemingly mundane moments of ministry: honest conversations over coffee, quiet prayers at a hospital bedside, a successfully balanced church budget. Most of the Christian life is not about big flashy moments of conversion or transformation but about the everyday rituals of worship and fellowship that we experience together.

Spending a quiet moment during our June 2018 Staff Retreat, Bristol Reading hugged a tree.

The process of creating lasting change in our communities, whether environmental or spiritual, comes with lots of moving moments of celebration, and it also comes with lots of ordinary moments of hard work. Volunteering with Faith in Place reminded this future pastor that inspiration and holiness can be found in both.

Bristol Reading spent two years as a Public Church Fellow with Faith in Place while she was a student at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. She is currently in the final year of her Masters of Divinity program completing a full-time pastoral internship as the Vicar of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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