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I made it! Finished the Bible

I came in just under the wire and finished the Bible in 90 days.

So here’s what I have learned from doing a challenge like this one:

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  1. You get behind so easily. Life doesn’t stop in these 90 days. I graduated, traveled out of the country, moved states, started a new job, and got ordained in these 90 days (life has been wild, I know.) While about 13 chapters a day sounds manageable, when having entire days committed to other things and being way from home without time to do much else other than wake up, spending the entire day doing what you need to do, then going to bed, it is easy to miss a day…or three…or five. And then 13 chapters a day for the five days you missed really stacks up. So skimming becomes a go-to.
  2. You’re not going to absorb much. If you get behind (and you probably will) and you start desperately skimming to catch up and meet your goal, it’s easy to miss a lot…or everything. Just scanning words on a page doesn’t enhance your biblical knowledge.
  3. It’s more about “bragging rights” than anything. So now I can say that I finished the Bible in 90 days, but that’s about it. I’m not a better Biblical scholar by any means. However, I did get a lot of Biblical words ingrained my mind. I got to soak in the language of the Bible, and I believe that has been imprinted in my brain.

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  4. Listening to the Bible is not cheating. When people talk about listening to the Bible, it is usually sheepishly, as if they are cutting corners when it comes to devotional time. While this can be true if you’re doing other tasks while listening, it was a saving grace when I got hopelessly behind in my reading. Listening to the Bible was no worse than skimming the pages. In fact, I caught more phrases while listening than I would have by skimming. I found myself looking up words, phrases, and going back to the scripture itself and re-reading it. Listening engaged a different part of my brain and helped me latch onto somethings I might have missed while reading.
  5. It set me up for personal devotion later on. I now have a list of devotional studies I want to go back to and spend more time with. I missed so much here and there, and my interest was peaked in certain passages, so now I will set a new goal to go back and dig in.
  6. If you want to absorb more, use other tools. I am creating a curriculum that goes through the whole Bible for my youth group, and the Bible Project Youtube series has really enhanced my reading of scripture while helping me build my curriculum. These videos broke down the tougher scripture passages that I didn’t have time to struggle with, while sewing together scripture into a bigger picture. The Essential Bible Companion is an easy read that can be completed in a couple hours, and gives a summary of each book of the Bible. I also read “Inspired” by Rachel Held Evans, which you can read more about in a previous blog. It helped me combat some of the fundamentalism that has been ingrained in my scripture reading and re-frame my understanding of the Bible. I am now reading “What is the Bible?” by Rob Bell. When I finish, I will write a blog about that, so keep an eye out.

So there it is! I am glad I went for this challenge and completed the Bible is 90 days. Again, it’s not for scholarship, but it has exposed me to more tools that have enhanced my understanding of scripture and has peaked my interested for further study. If you are interested in taking on such a challenge, be prepared! It is no easy feat, but it may be a gateway into a deeper desire to understand scripture.

Ordination

I am now Reverend Glory Cumbow. It hardly seems real! After it was declared to me, “You are now officially an ordained minister of word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church” I could not contain my joy. I had heard those words proclaimed to friends, and now it has happened to me! The ordination process is finally complete (of course, the installation is coming.)

It still seems surreal though. I wonder how long it’s going to take to feel like the title truly belongs to me (maybe after my first wedding?)

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While there were, of course, many people I wish could have been in attendance who were out of town, under the weather, or too far away, there were also many there to celebrate with me! I had numerous college friends who were local and some who had to drive a few hours who attended. It did my heart good to see the faces of so many of my friends, knowing that they are still there for me even though I don’t live close by anymore. It was wonderful to have church members there as they had seen me grow up from college to the minister I am now. I had great family support from immediate family to extended family who came into town for this event! And of course, my dear friend Betsy came to represent my CTS family. I also had many encouraging words from friends and family who could not attend, letting me know that they were rejoicing from afar. It’s hard to put into words just how amazing the feeling of support was for that day. I feel so loved! From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all who supported me on my ordination day.

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My husband sang beautifully during the service. Many who were there had never heard him sing before and they were impressed! As they should be 😉 He also placed my stole on me as the “symbol of ministry.” It was a special moment which was affirmed by the sniffles I heard coming from the congregation.

My voice made it! It cracked here and there, but all of my anxieties and fears didn’t stop the service from being beautiful.

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I’m also grateful for little joys along the way. I have seen a number of rainbows recently: walking on the beach a couple weeks ago there was a double rainbow, on Saturday night Andy and I followed a rainbow all the way home from his birthday dinner, and then Betsy sent me a picture of a double rainbow she captured on my ordination day. Also, two nights before graduation back in May, I had a dream about my Papaw. I have rarely dreamed about him in the 5 years since he has passed, but this dream was very clear. He stood in a doorway looking at me. I yelled, “Hi Papaw!” And he gave me an enormous, white, sparkling smile. That was it. Simple, but beautiful and meaningful.

I’m not claiming that these are “signs” or anything. I know some people have strong beliefs about those types of things, but I’m not sure what I believe about that. It’s just nice to find some peace and beauty surrounding me whenever I have anxiety or self-doubt.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you all. This Rev will do her best to make you all proud.

2 weeks in

We’re here in Florida, and so far we are loving being here.

We’ve settled into our little house right by the church. It’s smaller than our apartment, but everything fits! And it’s been fixed up. We’ve settled in pretty quickly and made it our own. There are still a couple boxes here and there that need to be unpacked, but we are a functioning household. We have a garage that Blinky LOVES. And I have this little sun room (It used to be a front porch, but now it’s walled in with windows) and I have claimed it as my reading nook. We have a cute front yard, a decent fenced-in backyard that we might fill with a dog soon! Praise the Lord, we have a washer and dryer! We can walk to a few different local restaurants to get brunch, seafood, and pizza. We can also walk to the beach in under 5 minutes which is the biggest perk. We’ve been taking long walks at sunset about 4 times a week. It’s a great way to find some peace, get some exercise, and unwind.

Of course, we live right by the church so the commute is nonexistent.

Peace is a good word for what Andy and I have found here. We feel good about living on the coast and about the church. We feel good about being away from Atlanta. We’ve realized how much living there sucked the life out of us. We have friendly neighbors who have welcomed us, one even brought over a gorgeous handmade cake! One of the congregation members dropped some plants outside our home to brighten up the place. And two Sundays in a row I have gotten flowers dedicated to worship in my name.

Now don’t be fooled: I don’t want to paint a perfect picture. We had some struggles when we first got here. Our furniture got here early, which at first seemed like a good thing. But the driver couldn’t find any workers to hire to help him unload so it was literally ONE PERSON unloading and putting our furniture together. We helped him put things together, because it was impossible to watch him do it all alone. It was frustrating that we hired full service movers and then we had to help do the work. Of course, it wasn’t the driver’s fault! But we were frustrated with the company.

Our internet and cable took a week to get set up. I won’t even go into how angry we got with the terrible customer service.

And of course, there are the normal things young women must face as a leader and minister. I’m having to establish my individual style and identity as a minister while fighting against being compared to the previous minister, and being called the previous minister’s name. But I am smart, capable, and articulate. I can face these challenges head-on.

It’s early on, but we’re happy and peaceful. Ordination is coming soon, a day I have looked forward to for a long time. But first, VBS is coming…

Halfway through the Bible

So, I am still planning on finishing the Bible in 90 days.

I’m just ridiculously behind.

I got behind during graduation, but caught up.

Only to get behind while traveling to Canada, immediately followed by our apartment hunting trip to Florida.

Then I started to catch up. But we had 2 weeks to pack everything and get out of our apartment.

And now we’ve been living in Florida almost a week.

Where am I in my study?

Psalms.

Where should I be?

Isaiah.

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But I can and will catch up! I will finish on schedule! I am finally getting into the rhythm of life again (more about life in Florida later. I have too much to figure out and get a handle on before I can write about it all!)

Anyway, the read through is tough. There is a lot of skimming. I am running into troubling passages about genocide, rape, and murder, and I can’t really sit in the pain of those passages. They trouble me but I must keep moving on to meet my goal. I knew going into this project that I would get frustrated by breezing through the Bible, so I was ready for this. It’s a good reminder how important it is to really delve into scripture instead of just reading it at face value.

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Despite the challenges, I am glad to be doing this. I am absorbing the stories and the language, even if I’m missing the details. It’s also really helping me as I am writing a (fairly) comprehensive Biblical curriculum for the youth group this coming school year. We’re going through the whole Bible; we might miss a couple books and we can’t hit all the stories, but we’re studying scripture as a whole story. We’re talking about God’s covenantal faithfulness, sin and restoration, justice and community, as one story woven together. Right now I’m working with the title “The Holy Story,” but we’ll see if I stick with that. Biblical literacy is not only important for me in my life, but also for my ministry and the people I teach. I will be using music, movie clips, acting, and other creative activities to engage scripture. I’ll hit some tough topics and important topics so that the youth will see just how relevant scripture is. We’ll talk about mental health, vocation, pain and suffering, consent, abuse, self love and celebrating gifts, etc. I will also be using The Bible Project youtube videos to break down these books and the complex ideas represented in them. We’re learning about the whole Bible in numerous ways through media, activities, creativity, and the reading of scripture. While I am breezing through scripture now, we won’t be this upcoming year.

Between my read through, reading The Essential Bible Companion, creating this curriculum, and watching all of the Bible Project videos, I feel like scripture is truly sinking in and providing the firm foundation I need. I hope to be one of those people who just “know” scripture. I have a long way to go, but I’m on my way.

Moving

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. – 1 John 3:17-18

hate moving.

Packing. Lifting. Bubble wrapping. Stacking. Unpacking.

Putting an angry cat in a carrier and having him cry the whole time in the car.

(We tried the sedative thing last time and he fought it the whole time. It only made him angrier and louder.)

Fortunately we are getting reimbursed for hiring full service movers, so putting everything on a truck and then getting it off the truck will not be our responsibility!

We aren’t moving for another week, but the packing has begun.

I rue my love of books when it comes time to box them up.

As much as I hate packing and moving, It’s nice to relive old memories. My mom boxed up my old yearbooks, trophies, and plaques from school. I looked through them and remembered my accomplishments, saw pictures of myself through the years, and read messages written by old friends. I couldn’t help but laugh at my second grade yearbook. At the front it asks about all the “favorites”: favorite TV show, song, sports, etc. I filled them all in, and when it got to “favorite star” I wrote “Dolly” (as in Dolly Parton.) I am a Tennessee girl through and through! Like most Tennesseans I love Dolly, even though I am not a country music fan. I grew up going to Dollywood fairly regularly, so she is very much a part of my childhood.

It is also cathartic to go through my items and get rid of things I no longer need. I am giving away items Andy and I no longer use, donating clothes and furniture, throwing away expired items, and cutting down the clutter. Not only does it feel good to lighten our load, but it also feels good to give away items that may be of use to someone else, especially someone in need.

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Andy and I have all of these little piles of change lying around the house. We keep saying that we need to do something with our change, but then never rolling the coins and taking them to the bank. One time I found myself sweeping and found a dime. I was tempted to sweep it up and throw it away, and then it hit me: what a privilege to be able to consider throwing away a piece of money. I also know how guilty I am of not having cash on me. Growing up, I didn’t live in area where there were many people on the streets asking for money. It was a shock to see so many in need here in the Atlanta area, and I have regularly had to turn down someone because I mostly use my card and don’t carry cash. So I bagged up all of our change in small plastic baggies and I plan on keeping one or two on hand to give to whoever needs it. It’s by no means a super-cure-all for those in need, but I realized that this money could really be given to someone who could use it instead of me seeing them as coins that clutter my home.

I hope that all the items we are donating and giving away are helpful to others. While cleaning out clutter isn’t a profound theological endeavor, it is eye-opening to see what a privilege it is to have all of this “stuff”, possessions that sit, go unused, and take up space. I hope to take these moments to address my privilege and find a way to use it to give to others, even if it’s just some change, some gently worn clothes, and a couple cheap pieces of furniture.

Graduation

Seminary is by far the hardest thing I’ve done so far in my life. I remember getting to the end of my first year, looking at other seminaries and even other master’s programs to seek other career options, trying not to freak out over the fact that I still had 3 whole years left. I thought graduation day would never come.33027122_10216841036200720_246261471858655232_n

Some people come to seminary for only 1-2 years. Many come for 3 years for the MDiv program. I chose Dual Degree, which combined the 2 year MAPT program with the 3 year MDiv program, for a total of 4 years at CTS. It was daunting to think that I would be here so much longer than many of my peers.

After the halfway mark of finishing two years, I finally made peace with four years. Around that time there was a shift in the social atmosphere at CTS. Exclusivity and power-cliques were being called out, and more people were stepping out of their exclusive groups to promote inclusivity. I started to finally feel at home at CTS. Graduation was still far off, but I didn’t mind so much.

At the end of my third year, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was sad to see so many of my peers graduate. Many of them had been with me through my entire seminary career up until this point. But I looked around and noticed that there were so many of us who had chosen the two-degree, four-year program. We were sticking it out together. And the majority of my friends were in the class that had entered seminary the year after me. I knew that I was going to be fine.

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I overloaded a few semesters so that my final year would be lower stress. After hours of Hebrew and Greek keeping me up late, after an especially tough semester when I wrote about 80 pages in 3 months, after struggling through and passing my ordination exams, I had a lighter load my final year. I interned at two small rural churches, I interned at the Outreach and Advocacy Center in downtown Atlanta working with people experiencing homelessness, and I took numerous electives. I enjoyed my work and I enjoyed my classes. It was a relief to take a breath during this last year and just enjoy the last months of my seminary education. It also freed me up to interview at churches to find a job for after graduation.

I was so excited for graduation day, counting down the days. People would approach me through the year and ask how many days we had left! At long last, I knew graduation was coming. But I also enjoyed my time. I took pleasure in my classes, my friends, the campus community, and all of the “lasts” (last dinners, lunches, meetings.) I wanted to savor the moments, not wish them away, as I looked forward.

I dreamed about graduation day for four years. The actual day was even more exciting and even more joyful than I had imagined. My husband, my mom, my grandmother, and my aunt came to cheer me on. They were all filled with joy, and all told me how proud they were of me. It made my heart so warm to hear these words.

My friends and I all laughed, took pictures, and cheered so loudly for each other when we accepted our diplomas. We were like giddy children. No matter how long we had been in seminary, 1 year or 4 years or somewhere in between, we had worked so hard for this day. Our communities were proud of us. And we were proud of ourselves!

I was surprised by winning two awards on top of my two degrees! I won the “Indiantown Country Church Award” for my work I did in the rural churches last summer. I also won the “William Rivers Waddey Award” for my work with youth ministry and my continued work with youth once I graduate. I was nominated by the faculty to receive these awards, and I had no idea I would be receiving them.

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I am filled with joy and gratefulness. I am grateful for the CTS faculty and staff, my mentors, pastors, and supervisors, my friends and family, my church, and my husband. Without this support I wouldn’t have been able to make it. I’m also a little sad. Goodbyes aren’t easy. But it’s ok that I’m sad. I’m glad CTS became a place that I am sad to leave.

God has reminded me that this call isn’t about me. God poured out the Spirit to calm me when I wanted to run. The Spirit whispered, “Just show up” when I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do. And I did. I just kept showing up, even if I didn’t know why. I wouldn’t be here without God’s guiding hand. Praise God for goodness, guidance, and peace. I struggled. I didn’t always have peace. I just remained as faithful as I could, and God’s grace did the rest.

 

Mini Boot Camp

For learning about wisdom and instruction,
    for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
    righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
    knowledge and prudence to the young—
let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
    and the discerning acquire skill,
to understand a proverb and a figure,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. -Proverbs 1:2-7

 

So I know that I have prepared all that I can from seminary. I have learned from the best! (I could name drop here, but I’ll play it cool.) I also know that ministry is full of surprises and improvisations that you really can’t plan much for. You just jump in and hope the grace of God makes it work out! And if it doesn’t work out….then rely on grace to shine through anyway.

I know I don’t really know what’s coming. I’m fine with this. I learn better in the field anyway.

But as I prepare to jump into my first pastoral role, I am doing something for myself. I have made my own mini boot camp. This is to simply re-ground me in the foundations of my faith. I have studied, and studied, and studied. But I just want to be refreshed by the basics so that going forward, whatever is thrown at me, I have the basic foundation under my feet.

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I am reading “Christian Doctrine” by Shirley Guthrie. I want to have the basics of reformed theology fresh in my mind, and I am pairing this with doing a brief look over of “Introducing the Reformed Faith” by Donald McKim (I’m not reading the whole book, just the “reformed emphasis” portions of each chapter.) I am doing a Bible-in-90-Days read-through to have scripture on the brain, paired with a read-through of “The Essential Bible Companion.” And I am going back through the Confessions.

These are just the basics. Please, don’t tell me that, “The work is just beginning”; “You have no idea what’s ahead of you”; “This won’t matter when you’re at someone’s deathbed.” I know these things, and they have been repeated to me ad nauseam. Those phrases simply aren’t helpful. This is for myself, for own personal spiritual practice that will refresh the foundation in me so that is may help in my ministry.

As for the work just beginning, not knowing what is coming next, and being next to someone in need of pastoral care, I am looking forward to continuing my studies as a pastor learning from the church and the people.

A New Call pt 2

I interviewed with Westminster-by-the-Sea (WBTS) in Daytona Beach in January. I felt like we all clicked immediately. There was laughter in the interview, and so much kindness from everyone in the room. My husband could hear our Skype interview from another room, and even he could tell how quickly and easily we seemed to click with one another. I wasn’t sure at that moment yet if this was the right church, but it was an interview that I had felt was the best out any other that I had. And any interview that I had after that, I would compare to the WBTS interview.

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My positive feelings toward WBTS were amplified when I was flown out to visit in February. The people were as kind in person as they had been in the virtual world. We had a pleasant visit, and I was especially attracted to the traditional worship service they have each Sunday. I could see myself preaching here, writing liturgy for Sundays, and picking some wonderful hymns (and maybe even singing in their fairly large choir!)

I still wasn’t ready to jump in quite yet. I was handed terms of call, but I didn’t really know how to navigate them. Fortunately, CTS held a few sessions for graduating seniors to help them understand benefits, packages, and terms of call. We also met with a financial adviser to help Andy and I set up a budget based on my projected salary. We took time. We prayed. We sought advice. I had been warned not to just jump at the first offer just because it was the first offer.

I interviewed with only one other church after this offer. They had called me to interview before I flew out Daytona, and I was interested in the position. But this placement still didn’t compare to the positive feelings at WBTS. Once I realized that I couldn’t stop comparing other churches to WBTS and I was now well equipped to make such a huge decision, I talked with Andy. He was ready, I was ready. We slept on it. Then I called and accepted the next day.

So! Andy and I will be moving to Daytona Beach around the end of June! We are so excited! I will be the associate pastor at Westminster-by-the-Sea in the Central Florida Presbytery. I will be leading the youth and doing general pastoral duties such as pastoral care, preaching, and leading worship. The church has also expressed great interest in my artistic ability, and they want to use my gifts for drama and art in the church. I praise God for moving in my heart to accept this call. I know that the positive experiences I have had in church where I have been loved, nourished, cared for, and was in turn able to offer those things back, are what drive me to serve Christ’s church to participate in the great commission.

A New Call pt. 1

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:33-34

I began writing this blog, and then I realized just how long it was. SO! I have broken it up into two parts. Here’s the backstory prior to finding my new call:

My final semester has been a whirlwind of finishing classes, completing assignments, and searching for a job. In my four years at CTS I have had anxiety about finding a job after graduation.

What if I reach graduation and I still have no idea what’s coming next? What if I go all summer without finding anything? Should Andy keep his teaching job just in case? How will we pay rent? Would we have to live in my mother-in-law’s basement back home in TN until we find something?

All of these thoughts ran through my mind each spring as I watched my classmates search for jobs. However, I found it interesting to see a quiet confidence in the graduates, even the ones who had no idea what was coming next. There was an understanding that, yes, they are called. And yes, they have certain standards they are willing to fight for when they accept a call. Whether that be based on the type of work being done, or in a particular location they wanted to live, or with the needs of a spouse or kids to keep in mind. Watching the tension of confidence and uncertainty as graduates embraced their future prepared me for my search. It didn’t mean that I would find something immediately or that I wouldn’t have any major stress over it, but that the Spirit would be with me propelling me forward.

 

I have had a number of negative experiences with church. I have struggled for quite some time with my call to the church and specifically to the pulpit. I experienced my first church split before kindergarten, and have been a part of a few others in my childhood. I have felt the pressure to be a perfect role model as a preacher’s kid. I have worked in a church where I was treated with hostility by the pastor, making it clear I wasn’t welcome. I worked in another church where I was hired to save a dead youth group, and it was made clear by the youth and the parents that they wanted the youth group to stay dead. In the months leading to my job search, I was dead set against applying to churches. I only wanted to apply to campus ministry positions, having been burnt time and time again. Like Moses (I cannot speak!), like Jeremiah (I am just a boy!), and even like Jesus (my Father, let this cup pass from me!) I put up a fight to the task to which I was called.

I was certified, ready for a call* just before Christmas. So my PIF* was out just as the holidays hit. And when I began applying, there was a strong gut feeling that I needed to apply to associate pastor positions. These are moments when my faith in God is clear (and believe me, my faith can get really shaky.) God was making it clear that this call was not about me, but about who I am being  moved to serve. I remembered all the moments in working in church when I obeyed the Spirit, God moved, and Christ’s church was blessed. I remembered all the times that I, too, had been blessed by the church and how Jesus kept welcoming me back with love. So in January I began phone conversations, email chains, and Skype interviews for potential church placements. There were a number of churches who I spoke with who were very different in their interview than how they described themselves in their MIF.* But I found one particular church that was honest, genuine, and upfront about who they were.

 

 

 

(*certified, ready for a call in the Presbyterian church means that an individual has satisfied their ordination requirements and can begin looking for ministry positions.

*PIF=Personal Information Form, which the PCUSA uses as a type of resume to connect call-seekers to a call placement.

*MIF=Mission Information Form, which is the church or call placement’s description used to describe themselves and the position to call-seekers.)