Story of a Different Kind of Loneliness
Mary Susan Henderson Fiedler, FU'12
It has been a privilege and an honor to be on staff with MCF so far this year. My role for the 2017-2018 academic year is the Pastoral Ministry Intern. MCF was awarded a grant in 2016 from the Forum for Theological Exploration to help fund this position, and so far it’s been an enriching experience. The idea for this internship is to provide practical learning and mentoring for someone exploring a call to ministry. It’s a space to get my hands dirty in pastoral care, while being afforded the luxury of time and space for discernment of the call I think I’ve heard.
I graduated from Furman in 2012, and have been wondering and wandering in regards to vocation since I received my diploma and walked across the stage. The job I had in between college and MCF was a fantastic one: it grew me and I learned an array of valuable skills that will serve me for the rest of my life. But then I reached a place where I was maxed out --work had become easy and there was no challenge. Some would wonder, "why leave a situation like that?", but it left me with an emptiness that I felt could only be filled by utilizing my giftings that weren't exercised at the time. That emptiness began to weigh on me, and it seemed God was revealing a little at a time that ministry (broadly) would be a place that I wanted to explore using these giftings. I wanted and needed time and space to explore, practice and discern, which is why I am so grateful an opportunity like this internship exists in the upstate.
In the short time I’ve been with MCF this fall, it has been kind of a wild ride thus far. Jumping back into a college lifestyle after being out of that lifestyle for awhile, is, well, kind of wild! Not only that, jumping into a college ministry in the middle of the prime planning season--let’s just say that will get you into the MCF groove very quickly. Despite there being a little bit of a learning curve in the transition, I’ve been transported easily back to the thoughts and feelings and emotions I experienced as a Furman student. Some things have changed about being a Furman student, but some have not. I’ve found this ability to be transported back into those emotions and questions of a Furman student has been profoundly beneficial for my relationship building with students so far this year.
Each week, I lead two small groups (we call them Followship Groups around MCF!) of young women. This has been the highlight of my week since class has been back in session. They chose to study our organization’s namesake, Mere Christianity, and what a delightful time it has been! We’ve faced tough questions together and have seen parallels with C.S. Lewis’ words in relation to the events of our world today. The meat of my interactions with these girls occurs when we can take a walk around the lake, or have lunch together, and we are able to discuss how C.S. Lewis’ ideas relate to what’s going on in their life. Getting to know them on a more personal level--what makes them tick, dreams, goals, friends, boyfriends--that’s where I see their faith, or exploration of it, blossom. And what an incredible opportunity it is to be a fellow journeywoman, walking along side, there for support when needed. Having the chance to interact with these young women, and other students involved with MCF, has helped me see my giftings more clearly and it has allowed me to see more of my true self. To me, those revelations have been priceless.
While here at MCF, a description of vocation or calling was brought to my attention. Calling is something that is broad and perhaps constant throughout life. We can experience different ‘assignments,’ if you will, to live that calling out throughout our time here on earth. In so many ways, this feels freeing and comforting to me, so much so, that I’ve gotten attached to this particular take on how life might flow, and it leaves me a little more excited about finding the next assignment versus the next forever endeavor (which is the pressure I was applying to myself previously). So where does that leave me finishing out this internship, or continuing to explore and discern while in it? I can honestly say I am not sure, but that is an ok answer for me today in the midst of this current assignment. I hope in my time here to discern a more clear calling, and perhaps some possible assignments to live that out in the years to come.
Vocation & Calling
I first became involved with MCF the summer after my freshman year, through the Servant Scholars program. I came into the program that summer feeling lost. I was a newly declared Religion major and had started to take religion classes and discuss religious thought and critiques in class and with friends. I was spending much time talking about the flaws of religion in general, but not a lot about what it meant to practice faith in the world, or how to live a Christian life. That first summer was a time to refocus. Servant Scholars was a huge learning experience for me surrounding the ideas of Christian vocation and ministry. I believe very strongly that faith demands action. God loves us, and we are called to love others in concrete ways, caring for the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden. Throughout my four years at Furman, MCF through the Servant Scholars program, $4 Dinners, and my Followship Groups, provided a loving community where my faith could grow in harmony with my academic exploration of Christianity.
Through the Servant Scholars program, I’ve learned more about what I do and do not want in a career. My first summer I spent with Project Host -an amazing soup kitchen and culinary training program. I loved my time there and felt like I was able to contribute well, but came out of that experience knowing that nonprofit leadership was not my calling. I think many times learning what isn’t right is just as useful as figuring out what is. The MCF facilitated discussions on Christian vocation was one of my driving motivations for law school.
After spending a second summer in Servant Scholars interning for Safe Harbor, a domestic violence organization, I am confident that law is right for me-a way for me to embody love, justice and mercy in the world. I worked with their Legal Advocates to create meaningful change for the clients that we served. Walking into the courtroom my very first time and watching our lawyer validate our client’s needs and rights and fight to protect them was a deeply confirming experience. I knew as I was leaving that courtroom that my career goal was to do the same thing. It was a concrete way to define justice and mercy for others, and something I plan to pursue.
I’m sad to leave Furman and the friendships I have cultivated there, but I’m excited to use those experiences as I begin law school and continue to see how my faith shapes my vocation. This fall, I’m going to Boston University’s School of Law, focusing on international human rights. I’m hoping to do similar work to what I did at Safe Harbor – listening to the stories of those who have been marginalized and hurt, love them faithfully, and figure out how to address injustice wherever I work and serve.
Furman, Followship & Forums
My decision to become involved with MCF is perhaps one of the most important decisions of my Furman career. MCF has not only been a source of friendships, fulfillment, and theological exploration in my life, it is a second home to me. Through programs such as Followship Groups, Forums, and Vista House dinners, I’ve gained many of my closest, and most unlikely friends at school. My faith has grown immensely as I glean wisdom from a diverse group of peers who challenge me with a variety of thoughtful Christian perspectives. Truly, MCF has been integral to my personal and spiritual growth at Furman, and I couldn’t be more excited about our recent efforts to re-vamp theological Forums and strengthen
Followship Groups. I believe the steps we have taken are directly filling areas of great need on Furman’s campus. Furman students yearn for a space where they can explore something deeper, more meaningful than the superficial matters of passing conversation. Most Furman students live and work at a fast pace—jumping from classes to club meetings and sports practices. As a result, vulnerable conversations are often placed on the back-burner. My peers regularly express their frustrations with this pattern, pointing out the striking emptiness of common conversation. They feel isolated and yet often remain dissuaded from pursuing authentic conversation.
By revamping our Forums and Followship Groups, MCF is addressing an area of great need on Furman’s campus by providing a setting for students like me (students who yearn to grow closer to God in a community of thoughtful believers) to pursue theological exploration as a lifestyle, rather than a passing event. Forums and Followship Groups are spaces where students feel encouraged to share, and explore their most deeply-held questions and beliefs. They teach students to pursue a Christian lifestyle of growing and learning by connecting students with faculty members and other experts in a casual environment outside of the classroom.
Most importantly though, our Forums and Followship Groups instill a sense of responsibility in Furman’s population to take an active role with God mending the universe by “working out their own salvation in fear and trembling.” Not in fear of our big questions but in fear of leaving our big questions unexamined and unanswered!
MCF’s formula for Christian community is simple. We believe that a group of thoughtful minds, a common desire for figuring out the Christian walk, a wise facilitator, and a table of food, combine to produce a robust community of students who sharpen each other and explore the messy uncertainties of life together. I look forward to witnessing more and more students experiencing the same growth that I have enjoyed as MCF continues to create dynamic contexts for Christian theological exploration on Furman’s campus.