As a teenager and into her young adult years, my youngest daughter loved the Harry Potter book series. She prepared for the release of each upcoming Harry Potter book by rereading every previous volume, in order!
Somewhat like my daughter’s Harry Potter practice, I commit to a morning practice as the new year approaches, from Christmas to Epiphany, of taking a look back and reflecting on the previous year. This period of assessment and discernment provides me with an opportunity to make adjustments that will strengthen my physical, mental, and spiritual being and my awareness of the people and world around me. It is also a time to more clearly see God’s activity and faithfulness in the world, in the church, and in my life, and to “measure” my personal and vocational fidelity to God.
At our January Office of the General Assembly staff retreat, we received the opportunity to pick an Epiphany star word as part of our closing worship service. As I randomly selected a paper star from the basket, I realized that it was actually two stars stuck together. Encouraged to keep both, I gently separated the stars and read out loud, "discernment" and "wonder." These are the words I am to reflect on during 2023.
Interestingly, these are two words that are well-used in my vocabulary. Helping people and groups discern is what I do for much of my ministry — both paid and unpaid. The Holy Spirit has prepared me for the work of discernment that God calls me to, and it is a gift and talent that I care for and develop through study and engagement with others. Asking folk to share their sense of awe and wonder often leads to interesting conversations and is an important part of the relationships I nurture with others.
Our capacity for awe and wonder feeds spiritual capacity within ourselves, with others, and with God. In turn, spiritual capacity heightens our awareness of compassion, emotional well-being, and our ability to recognize what is sacred in life.
In future articles, I will connect you with an amazing group of ruling elders, to engage with them and their journey of faith and hear how God calls them. We’ll explore their calling in terms of how they live and serve, not only on their sessions and in their congregations, but beyond the walls of their churches as well.
You’ll hear the faith stories of ruling elders such as Frances Lin, stated clerk of the Presbytery of San Diego, who describes how God has put together the journey she has traveled. Raised as a Buddhist, Frances came to the United States from Taiwan when she was 14. She is now a Presbyterian, and Frances has responded “here I am” each time God has called her to serve. She has served the denomination in a variety of ways and places that she says were never intended or what she was seeking. I am still moved by her words: “It’s incredible how God has been so faithful. God never quit. God was faithful and waited for me to catch up.”
Ramona Williams, a commissioner to the General Assembly in 2022, will also share her story. Ramona, who had been hurt by the church, said, “Well, God, if you really want me in church, you’re going to literally have to show me which church you want.” After visiting several churches, she felt called to join and be baptized. Ramona now leads Bible studies and serves on session and several presbytery committees, all while working as a store manager for a major grocery store in Florissant, Missouri. “It has been an exciting spiritual journey,” Ramona shares. “My hope is that my learnings, my love for Christ, shows in a way that I am attracting people.”
- What inspires awe and wonder in your life, in the life of the session, and in the congregation where you are a member?
- What practices do you engage in to open yourself to discerning God’s call in your life and in the life of the community in which you live and serve?
- How do you further develop the gifts you’ve been given?
valerie izumi is a ruling elder serving the Office of the General Assembly as an assistant stated clerk, coordinating the General Assembly nominations process.
Throughout 2023 and 2024, monthly "Regarding Ruling Elders" articles will alternate between a deep dive into the ways ruling elders discern and measure the life of a congregation through the ministry of members and stories about how ruling elders are using their call and gifts as they move about, within and beyond the walls of the congregation.