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Seminarian discovers God’s love of imperfection by making pottery


In her first call, Presbyterian Study Grant recipient will help church connect to a neighborhood in transition

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

Alexandra Pappas poses with the communion set she created for Austin Seminary. Creating the pottery gave her new perspective on her relationship with God and her struggle over the desire for perfection. (Photo by Randal Whittington)

LOUISVILLE — When seminarian Alexandra Pappas felt the call to ministry while in her late teens, she was intimidated and afraid. Doubtful that God could possibly call someone like her to be a pastor — she constantly battles the desire for perfection, especially in worship and preaching — Pappas decided to go to seminary anyway.

“I felt like it might be a space where I could learn and ultimately discern God’s will for me,” says the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary senior.

Now, as she reflects on her seminary years, Pappas sees how much of that work has been done. Just before entering seminary she served a congregation going through a rough time of transition. It made her afraid of working in a church, so she figured she’d seek an alternative ministry context.

But through what she calls great teaching and conversations with fellow seminarians, she began to realize her pull to serve in alternative ministry was coming from a place of fear. Now, more confident of God’s call and love for her, this Presbyterian Study Grant recipient is prepared to enter into parish ministry this fall as a ministry resident at First Presbyterian Church in Shreveport, La.

Part of what grounded Pappas was returning to her love of making pottery. In her middler year at Austin, worship professor Dr. Jennifer Lord agreed to do a directed study with Pappas during which they talked about the history of art in the Protestant church.

In those conversations, Pappas agreed to make a communion set for the seminary.

“I was anxious about having such big task to accomplish,” says Pappas, “but Dr. Lord walked with me every step of the way. It turns out making pottery part of my life again has given me new perspective on my relationship with God.”

She came to realize how much God loves her, even when she fails. Increasingly thankful for this kind of grounding love that came through the image of God being our potter, and of us being the clay and the work of God’s hand (Isaiah 64:8), Pappas began to understand that this is what she wishes every person knew — and could get into their hearts, that God loves both their best and their worst parts.

“God loves you when you act small and when you’re the best peson you can be,”  she says.

Pappas says she’s excited for her two-year ordained ministry position at First Presbyterian Church in Shreveport, where she’ll have an opportunity to think “big picture” about how churches can support and stabilize neighborhoods in transition.  As part of her Stoer residency, she’ll be working in one of Shreveport’s most progressive and culturally diverse neighborhoods. In the Highlands community neighborhood restoration work is underway, which is a perfect fit for Pappas.

“What would it look like for the church to go out into the world and share the good news through our actions and relationships, instead of using that kind of outreach as a way to lure people back into our church building? I think the world we live in calls us to go out, not to retreat in, and I believe God has given us all the tools to do that. We just have to live into that call.”

Graduate students enrolled full-time at PC(USA) seminaries in either a Master of Divinity  or Master of Arts in Christian Education program are encouraged to apply for the Presbyterian Study Grant from Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Financial Aid for Service, with awards of up to $6,000 in 2019-20.

Supplemental awards for people of color and students arriving at seminary with significant educational debt could increase the total to $10,000.

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