An article regarding people who shaped my faith cannot begin anywhere but at the beginning: that is, with my parents. Both my mother and father were the first people in their families to become Christians. As such, they worked out together what it meant to raise my younger brother and me in a Christian home. Similarly, the preacher at the church where I grew up, who was also the youth minister during my time in youth group, modeled commitment to scripture as instructive for daily life.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention Sara Barton, who was my minister, my mentor, and my boss while I was at Rochester College, and is now my friend and my colleague in the D. Min. program at Lipscomb. It seems strange to write an article about a fellow author, so I will just say that Sara is the person who first modeled for me engagement with scripture as the story of God’s work in the world.
Myriad professors both at Rochester and at ACU should also be mentioned, and I could write an article about how each of them has directed and influenced me for the better, without whom I may not have ended up on my current path: David Fleer, Greg Stevenson, Ken Cukrowski, Doug and Linda Foster, Stephen Johnson, Brady Bryce, Rodney Ashlock, and others. Each of these professors hold in common the ministry of presence; they took the time to talk, or more accurately, to listen.
But no one has modeled the ministry of presence for me more than Eric and Natalie Magnusson. My last two years of college were difficult (or seemed to be at the time, which might not be any different) for a variety of reasons. It was during this time that I met Eric and Natalie, who both worked at Rochester. Their friendship and support was invaluable. They gave me a place to sleep off-campus when I just needed to get away, a listening ear for my confusion and venting, an appropriate amount of probing and challenging, and they had the discernment to know which to offer at any given time. They were the tangible presence of Christ for me.
When my core group of friends and I began to realize that we were about to graduate and go our separate ways, we didn’t feel like the spiritual level of our relationship was as formed as the social level. We felt that, in order to continue our relationships, we needed to put some serious effort into forming our spiritual connections. We approached Eric and Natalie and, essentially, made them start a small group for us. I’m not sure how they would have said no, but the grace with which they said yes was another example of their ministry of presence – especially since they had just had their first child. (Now that Jamey and I have a baby, I think they might have been crazy to be as hospitable to us as they were!)
In this small group, Eric and Natalie brought our spiritual lives into conversation with each other, facilitating our relationships with wisdom, laughter, and coffee. That year, my spiritually was in “recovery mode” and was based mostly in that small group. I began to feel God’s presence again in community. Since my relationship with God had recovered in that group, when I graduated, I was nervous (scared, sad, etc.) about leaving that group – and Eric and Natalie – behind. On the drive from Rochester to Abilene, Eric texted me: “There is no end, but addition.” These words were timely and thoughtful, as Eric and Natalie’s words always are.
As with many mentors, our relationship transitioned over time to a friendship – and weaves back and forth between those two categories as needed. I hope and seek to pass on this ministry of presence (and wisdom, laughter, and coffee – of course).
There is no end, but addition: the trailing
Consequence of further days and hours,
While emotion takes to itself the emotionless
Years of living among the breakage
Of what was believed in as the most reliable-
And therefore the fittest for renunciation
~T. S. Eliot – Four Quartets: The Dry Salvages, II