On Ships, Harbors and Sailing into Uncharted Territory

One of my young campus ministry colleagues posted something to Facebook recently and I was reminded of this article that I wrote more than a decade ago for publication in the September 2003 issue of the monthly publication I edited back then for the CCOThe Ministry Exchange: an exchange of ideas & resources by & for CCO staff. Maybe it will resonate with someone today?


I’ve been a little bit emotional lately. Between returning to Allegheny for homecoming and missing that place and those people — especially missing the feelings of being known, recognized and loved, and being totally familiar with my environment — and the uncertainties about my position here, things have been a bit rocky inside.

I recently read this passage in one of my old journals. It documents the spring I graduated from college, the summer I participated in CCO Summer Training, and the autumn I arrived at Geneva College as a full-fledged campus minister. It reads like a coming-of-age novel…or maybe a poorly-edited coming-of-age memoir. The above reflection was recorded on October 11, 1988, a little over a month into my time at Geneva.

A few months earlier, on June 8th, just before graduating from Allegheny College, I had made this notation:

A ship in the harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.

These words were printed on a poster which hung on a friend’s bedroom wall. I’d seen it several times before, but reading these words just days before my college graduation added a fresh poignancy.

The transition from college student to working woman was predictably uncomfortable. Even my relative familiarity of the CCO couldn’t cushion the very real fact that my carefree undergraduate days were now a thing of the past. Even if your first job out of college is to work closely with college students, the fact remains: you are not in college anymore.

Going into New Staff Training, I believed that I was well-prepared to minister to college students. After all, I had been an active participant in the CCO-advised Allegheny Christian Outreach all four of my college years, attending large-group fellowship meetings and leading Bible studies and discipleship groups. The summer before my senior year, I immersed myself in the Ocean City Beach Project, and it was at OCBP that I discovered that I just might have what it takes to do campus ministry. A year later, I found myself with 17 other new CCO recruits at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, preparing to fulfill a four-year commitment to this ministry which had changed my life.

And then I arrived at Geneva College.

I was an intern at Geneva, which, at that time in CCO history, meant that I would move on to spend three years working at a different campus after completing my first year on staff. It also meant that I had a very fluid and flexible job description to allow for extra meetings and the study to which I had committed through the intern program. Ultimately, it meant that many Geneva students never quite figured out who I was or why I was there.

Was I a resident director? Not exactly — although I did end up filling an abruptly-vacated RA position shortly into my first semester at Geneva. I also supervised a group of upperclass students who served as mentors to the entire freshman class via small groups. (The irony here was that I was piloting a brand new freshman orientation program while basically feeling like a freshman myself.) When the mentoring program wrapped up at the end of the fall semester, I transitioned into my new duties — assisting the Assistant Chaplain (CCO associate staff member, Brad Frey) in administrating Geneva’s arts and lecture series.

And through all of this, I was learning how much I had to learn about doing campus ministry.

Beaver Falls may only be 75 miles from Meadville, Pennsylvania, but as far as I was concerned, Geneva and Allegheny Colleges may as well have been different planets. At Allegheny, I freely visited friends of both genders in their residence hall rooms at any hour of the day or night. At Geneva, I was expected to patrol the halls, making sure dorm room doors were propped open during the occasional (two or three per semester) open houses, when men were allowed to visit women in their rooms. Drinking and dancing were regular practices among Allegheny students, and strictly forbidden at Geneva. And then there was the whole Geneva College Sabbath-observance thing — no sports, no studying, no doing laundry on Sundays. (Is it even necessary to suggest that this would not compute at Allegheny?)

The external differences between my alma mater and my first-year ministry setting were merely symptoms of the biggest challenge of all. My experience as a college student had taught me that being an evangelical Christian meant being in a distinct minority, a member of “the remnant,” part of a fellowship which was merely tolerated as a recognized student activity, not encouraged. At Geneva, RAs were trained to lead Bible studies, close to 300 students showed up for the first Sunday Night Fellowship meeting, and we took turns leading devotionals at student development staff meetings.

At Geneva, even if a student did not necessarily embrace the Gospel message, she knew enough to “talk the talk” — whether or not she chose to “walk the walk” as one of Jesus’ disciples. How to minister to her?

And that illustrates one of biggest lessons I learned as I left the harbor of my undergraduate experience for the uncharted waters of campus ministry.

I learned that ministry is not about formulas or programs or doing-it-the-way-I’ve-always-seen-it-done. Ministry is about real people — individuals created in God’s image. Ministry is about God’s power working through my humility.

Ministry is about leaving the harbor and taking the risk of sailing into choppy waters — and trusting that the One who can walk on water will be right there, keeping me safe and doing the real work of ministry — softening hearts and changing lives.

sailing ship pic 1600X1200

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On Advent and the “new normal”: my December newsletter

As we enter Advent, this season of celebrating the first coming of Jesus Christ, and waiting and anticipating His promised second coming, I am experiencing another kind of waiting. I am bracing myself for December 27, two days after Christmas, and the first-year anniversary of my father’s death.

The last time I saw Dad outside of a hospital room was on Thanksgiving Day 2013, at my Uncle Paul’s and Aunt Barb’s house. A week later, his leg went numb and he was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Three weeks after that, he died from complications following surgery.

My brother, Vern, hosted us this year for Thanksgiving—John, Cindy, Katy, and I traveled over the rivers and through the snowy woods to eat turkey together and experience New York City through the eyes of my sister-in-law, Cindy, who had never been there before. The amazing photo below was taken by my niece, the 19-year-old Selfie Master, Katy, as we traveled across the New York Harbor on the Staten Island Ferry.

It was good to be together, to remember our parents, and to thank God that we still have one another. God is good—all the time.

I also thank God for you, friends and family members who have carried me through this difficult year. I thank God for the meaningful work He has given me to do here at the CCO, calling college students to serve Jesus Christ with their entire lives. One of my biggest anxieties in the wake of losing Dad was wondering how my support-raising needs would be met now that my most generous supporter is gone. Thank all of you who have so generously helped to close that gap. There is still work to be done for me to be fully funded, but I am humbled and more grateful than you know.

nyc selfie 2014

I need to raise a significant amount of my monthly salary in order to work for the CCO. Are you interested in joining my support team? Donate online, or find out other ways to give. Thank you!

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Telling Sandie’s story: my September newsletter

Sandie and Nathan are there for you in every way that you need,” Zach, a junior on Edinboro University’s wrestling team, told me when we talked on the phone a few weeks ago. “My family says they are Christians, but they curse a lot and are really negative. Sandie and Nathan are like a second set of parents for me.”

One of the coolest things about my long tenure with the CCO is that I get to see how God works over time. The latest issue of On Campus magazine is a great example of this.

Amy and SandieI first met Sandie Starr Everhart when we were both students at Allegheny College. I was a student leader of the CCO’s Allegheny Christian Outreach, and Sandie helped start the CCO-sponsored Fellowship of Christian Athletes group. When she was a senior and I was a junior, we co-led a discipleship group for freshmen. A couple years later, we were both on staff with the CCO—and we still are.

And there was that time in 1989 when we accidentally showed up at our friends’ wedding in the exact same dress. How embarrassing! (And hilarious!)
Sandie has always been a gifted campus minister. This looks different today than it did in the ’90s, when she was single and ministering to students at Ohio Wesleyan University. Now, married to Nathan and stepmother to three mostly-grown daughters, Sandie’s outreach to students at Edinboro no longer involves late nights hanging out with them in their dorm rooms. Now it’s about inviting students into her home and feeding them—both literally and spiritually.

nathan-sandie-johnnySandie goes to track meets and football practices and wrestling matches. Her background as an All-American collegiate athlete helps her connect with student-athletes in unique way.

But it’s her warmth and humor and love for students that really gets through—and that points to Jesus Christ.

“Throughout the week, I get texts from Sandie to see how I am, to make sure nothing’s wrong,” Zach told me. “Sandie and Nathan opened my eyes that you really can live the life of a good Christian if you surround yourself with people who are positive. They’ve helped me to grow into the person I need to be.

Thank you for making it possible for me to tell stories like Zach’s and Sandie’s. (You can read the full On Campus article about Sandie here!)

Because CCO staff members like Sandie are on college campuses, students’ lives are being changed. And because of your love and support of me—and this mission to college students—this ministry continues to thrive.


I need to raise a significant amount of my monthly salary in order to work for the CCO. Are you interested in joining my support team? Donate online, or find out other ways to give. Thank you!

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On September 11, 2014

During a lunch break last week, a few of my co-workers and I were remembering where we were when John F. Kennedy was shot (for all but one of us, not yet born), what we remembered about the day the Space Shuttle exploded (three of us were sophomores in college), and finally, what we remembered about September 11, 2001 (the youngest of us was in fourth grade).

It’s interesting to pause and remember the days when we could freely meet friends and family members at the gate of their arriving flights, or when we didn’t need to remove our shoes or empty water bottles to go through airport security. When it wasn’t a jolt to see a an image picturing the Twin Towers as if they are a matter-of-fact part of New York City’s skyline.

And when I look at this picture of me with my cousin Cheri and my Aunt Sonia, I remember the Mother’s Day trip we took (along with my mom and Cheri’s mom, my Aunt Helen) to visit my brother Vern in New York City in May of 2000.

Here we are enjoying a leisurely dinner at Windows on the World, on the top floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, a little over a year before the world changed forever.


Here’s the post I wrote three years ago, on the tenth anniversary of The Day that Changed Everything.

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All my favorite people are broken

I signed up for the Glen Workshop about a month before my dad died. If I’d known that my dad was about to die, I’m pretty sure I would not have signed up. But I did, and I had talked my friend Jen into signing up, too, so I didn’t feel like I could back out.

Thank God.

I have been hearing about the Glen for years, mostly from my friend Denise, who has participated many times, first as an MFA student, and since graduating, to continue to hone her craft. I never really considered it, because I remembered the vulnerable feeling of workshopping my writing in an undergrad fiction writing class. I don’t much like that feeling of vulnerability.

So, what compelled me to register for Glen West 2014?

  1. A pre-end-of-2013 price break I found out about from an email newsletter sent by Image Journal.
  2. The opportunity to participate in a workshop led by Susan E. Isaacs, author of one of my favorite memoirs, Angry Conversations with God.
  3. A chance to breathe the same air as and enjoy a performance by Over the Rhinethe source of my blog title.
  4. Santa Fe, New Mexico.

And did I mention that I invited my writing friend Jen to come too, and against all odds i.e. two small children and a working husbandshe said “yes”?

I sent in my nonrefundable deposit before Thanksgiving.

Two days after Christmas, my father died of complications from surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm.



During the eight months between Dad’s death and my departure for Santa Fe, I often wondered if taking this trip made any sense at all. As I grieved for my father and served as executrix of his estate, I also faced a need to attend to my own financial needs; I am responsible to raise a good bit of my salary, and my single most generous donor is now gone.

Could I afford to go? Could I afford not to?

I also knew I had to submit a work in progress to present at this workshop on “spiritual writing” (or creative nonfiction). I suspected I might find the experience emotionally challenging. Which means I took one obvious essay topic off the table immediately: no writing about my dad—or about my mom, who died nearly eight years ago. My newly orphaned state felt too new to be articulated and dissected. Plus, I would cry.

And so as the time crept closer and I still hadn’t started to write anything fresh and new, I revisited an essay I wrote 10 years ago, about a trip to New York City with two dear friends. Entitled “Being Known,” I suspected it had the potential to elicit the emotions I was trying to resist. But at least it wasn’t about the kind of loss I’ve experienced recently.

The bottom line? I went, I read, I wrote, I cried. I learned. I grew.

I shared a part of my story, and these new friends and fellow writers received it with grace and encouraged me with concrete suggestions of how I might tell it more effectively. I received the gift of their stories, and we all recognized the truth of what it means to be alive on this beautiful, terrifying, messy planet.


As Over the Rhine sang on Saturday in the closing evening concert, all my favorite people are broken.* I knew then that this was the theme of my week at The Glen.

Perhaps it’s the theme of my life.

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just want to hold you and let the rest go

All my friends are part saint and part sinner
We lean on each other, try to rise above
We are not afraid to admit we are all still beginners
We are all late bloomers when it comes to love

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Awful believers, skeptical dreamers, step forward
You can stay right here, you don’t have to go

Is each wound you’ve received just a burdensome gift
It gets so hard to lift yourself up off the ground
But the poet says we must praise a mutilated world
We’re all working the graveyard shift
You might as well sing along

Cause all my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
As for your tender heart, this world’s going to rip it wide open,
It aint gonna be pretty, but you’re not alone

All my favorite people are broken
Believe me, my heart should know
Awful believers, skeptical dreamers, you’re welcome
Yeah, you’re safe right here, you don’t have to go

Cause all my favorite people are broken
Believe me, I should know
Some prayers are better left unspoken
I just want to hold you and let the rest go


*If you’re interested, I found Linford Detweiler’s notes on the process of writing this song

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Snapshots from The Glen

For years, I’ve been hearing gushing, amazing, inspiring testimonials about Image journal’s annual Glen Workshop. My friend Denise has participated as a part of the Seattle Pacific University low-residency MFA program, and has continued to do so since graduating in 2009. I have lost count of the number of times she has encouraged me to come and participate. To be honest, I didn’t think I ever would.

But here I am!

Glen East takes place in June at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts, and Glen West takes place in August at St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Glen East would be the more geographically accessible destination for this Pittsburgh native. But Glen West is where I find myself this week, experiencing the high desert beauty of New Mexico (a place I’ve never visited before now), in a community of open-hearted artists. Poets and painters, novelists and musicians, photographers and essayists, all gathered to explore the intersection of faith and art and their own giftedness in those areas of creative expression.


angry-conversationsI am one of 14 participants in the “spiritual writing” workshop, which many of us agree would be more aptly titled “creative nonfiction,” since all of the writers here are doing “spiritual writing.” We have been shepherded through this experience by Susan E. Isaacs, actress, comedienne, and author of one of my favorite spiritual memoirs, entitled Angry Conversations with God. She is performing her one-woman show of the same name tonight after dinner.

It has been a humbling, encouraging, scary, rewarding journey. We all read each other’s work before showing up to our first class Monday morning, and given the personal nature of our essays, it’s safe to say we knew more about one another than one would expect to know on a first meeting.

With her screen-writing background and experience as a memoirist, Susan has guided us through to helpful exercises, including mapping our stories (and our lives) with Post-Its.


Throughout the week, we have each had an opportunity to read our work aloud in class and to receive feedback. Given the vulnerable exercise of not only laying our writing out for critique, but the stories (often poignant and sometimes painful) of our very lives, it’s been a blessing to feel cared for and encouraged by this diverse group of people, even while receiving constructive critique and suggestions to make the work better.


Today, the final readers read, and we celebrated afterwards by dancing around the room to “Love Train.”


Tomorrow morning is our final session together, and tomorrow evening, Over the Rhine performs a closing night concert. I’m not sure what could be more amazing than that.

Sunday, my friend Jen and I head south to Albuquerque to prepare for our journey home to Pittsburgh. I will be processing for quite a while the gift of this week. Not only has my own writing (and desire to write) been rekindled, but I have been given the gift of the stories of these people, most of whom I did not know a week ago at this time. It is a valuable gift indeed.



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The one who has God lacks nothing

I was at a support-raising seminar with our new CCO campus ministry staff last week. I am putting more effort into my own ongoing support raising, now that my #1 benefactor—my dad—is gone.

During one portion of the two-day workshop, we were each asked to share Scripture passages that help inform our view of doing this counter-cultural thing: raising the money to provide our salary. It can be anxiety-inducing, to say the least, so I felt led to share from Matthew 6:25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life ?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

And then I shared a prayer from Saint Teresa of Ávila.

During my first year of doing campus ministry at Gannon University, this born-and-raised Presbyterian spent almost every Tuesday evening sitting cross-legged on the floor of the freshman women’s residence hall, learning the Roman Catholic mass from the dorm chaplain, Father Susa. It was 1989, and this weekly gathering was retro even at that time; “Mass and Rap” was a throw-back to the 1960s, before Hip-Hop was a thing and when “to rap” meant nothing more than sitting around and talking.

Fr. Susa had a rotation of prayers that served as benedictions, but this prayer of St. Teresa is the one that has stuck with me through the decades:

Let nothing disturb thee,
Let nothing frighten thee.
Everything is changing,
God alone is changeless.
Patience attains the goal.
The one who has God lacks nothing.
God alone fills all our needs.

When I shared it in the context of this support-raising training, I naturally got a little choked up. Because that’s how I roll.

A few days later, the new staff came to visit CCO HQ here in Pittsburgh, and one of them asked if I could write the prayer down for her. Yesterday, I got a thank you note in the mail:

“Thanks for the prayer you shared in class and printed off for me. I taped it in my journal, as it has given me words…to fill in the moments when I’m feeling desperate but unable to pray because words have felt trite or I quickly twist them to complain in unbelief.”

I was moved that she took the time to thank me, and I was awestruck at the ongoing movement of the Spirit, a ripple effect through the decades—through the centuries! (Teresa of Ávila was born in Spain in 1515.) If I can judge the age of most of our newest staff, Erin was likely little more than a toddler when I first heard Fr. Susa recite that prayer in the lounge of Finnegan Hall.

As one of the college students who sat next to me during many a Mass and Rap puts it now, “That prayer got me through unemployment and cancer. It really is a one size fits all!”

The one who has God lacks nothing.
God alone fills all our needs.



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