Mid council leader expresses the gift of Presbyterian theology that she received as a child
December 2, 2022
Video URL: https://vimeo.com/742002692
For the Rev. Jennifer Burns Lewis, “love makes room” is the umbrella of her theology. Along with Micah 6:8 — to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God — it is the shaping framework of her work as the vision and connecting leader of the Presbytery of Wabash Valley.
On a recent edition of Everyday God-Talk, Lewis told host Dr. So Jung Kim that she is very aware of her privilege of being the recipient of a gift and her responsibility to share it. Raised by a single parent, Lewis grew up with three professional women — her mother, her aunt and her grandmother. They gave her an inheritance of expansive theology based on love and inclusion.
“My family of origin were raised Jewish, but mostly culturally, not theologically,” she said.
Her mom, who was a seeker but didn’t drive, would walk with her small daughter to a Presbyterian church. Laughing and calling it providential, Lewis said, “Who knows what I would’ve been had my mother been a driver?”
As it turned out, Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco was a field education congregation for Princeton Theological Seminary. So, growing up, Lewis had the opportunity to hear many emerging theologians and see lots of examples of women in ministry. Her faith journey took her to college and seminary. Early in her career she did new church development work with her husband.
Lewis sees something beautiful when faith communities grapple with what it means to truly be countercultural. She recognizes the extreme difficulty of leading congregations during this time in our culture which seems to reinforce the opposite of the love and acceptance of the gospel. That’s why the 1001 New Worshiping Communities program fills her heart with joy and hope.
“They are such adaptive and beautiful expressions of love making room,” she said.
Over the past few years, Lewis sees a shift happening as a result of Wabash Valley being a Matthew 25 presbytery. Serving those who are predominately white, the presbytery’s Committee on Representation (COR) has created a toolbox filled with resources. Congregations can now learn about what radical welcome is, do antiracism work, and think about people with varying abilities or challenges and how faith communities might welcome them.
“I’m sinfully proud of the COR for embracing this work,” she said.
For 2½ years, Lewis spent time at the Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beach Grove, Indiana. Twice each year for 10 days at a time she participated in prayer with women from many different denominations from all over the U.S. and Canada. Learning from the sisters of St. Benedict about the Benedictine Rule helped her begin to understand what it means to pause and stop for prayer, and to sit still before God.
A prayer that she’s been praying for the last six months comes from the Corrymeela, which is a spiritual faith community in Ireland. It’s a prayer for courage, written by Pádraig Ó Tuama. In it he uses the Irish word for heart, croi.
“And the croi, which means heart, is the name for the chapel space,” Lewis said.
The prayer goes like this:
Courage comes from the heart
and we are always welcomed by God
the croi of all being.
We bear witness to our faith,
knowing that we are called
to live lives of courage,
love and reconciliation
in ordinary and extraordinary
moments of each day.
We bear witness, too, to our failures
and complicity in the fractures of our world.
May we be courageous today.
May we learn today
May we love today.
Everyday God-Talk is a production of the Office of Theology and Worship in the Presbyterian Mission Agency. For previous Everyday God-Talk conversations with Presbyterian leaders, subscribe to Theology and Worship’s YouTube page here.
Paul Seebeck, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: Presbyterian theology
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