Mommy Goes to Neland Avenue

by Shannon Jammal-Hollemans, M.Div. ’13

There’s a running joke around my house. If any of my three children ever complain that they can’t fall asleep at night, just have mommy come in and preach her most recent sermon and you’ll be out in minutes.
I started Seminary in the fall of 2007, when my children were seven, five, and two years old. Five years later, my youngest daughter doesn’t recall a time when mommy wasn’t in Seminary. In fact, she attended more of Dr. Van Reken’s Ethics classes than I care to admit (I’m hoping they’ll have a lasting impact!).
Because of my role as mommy and wife, I stayed close to home for my pastoral ministry internship. I am completing the bulk of my internship hours over the course of a year at the CRCNA offices, but this summer I had the opportunity to serve as an intern at Neland Avenue CRC, on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, for ten hours each week.
While Neland is just a mile away from our home and church, moving family to Neland for the summer wasn’t simple. Neland is a church that does worship well, almost to a fault. Our family struggled to worship in services with such detailed liturgy. Neland is also a very white-collar church, whose pews are filled each week by professors and professionals. As a result, my blue-collar husband, as well as the rest of us, found it difficult to feel at home there.
But it was at Neland that I clearly heard God affirm my calling to the ministry of reconciliation. While there I preached, helped to plan worship, made pastoral care visits, and worked with the high school youth team. It was during my work with the high school youth that I had an epiphany.
For one week, I led the high school team in devotions each evening before they helped with Vacation Bible School. One particular evening, I was quite excited about the illustration I was going to share on the nature of Christian witness. I planned to explain that being a witness for Christ is not all that different from the role of a witness in a court room. We are not called to judge, not to prosecute, not to be on the defense or even to be the offender. We are called only to testify to what we have seen, heard and experienced. I thought it was brilliant. So I opened by asking the group, what does a witness do?
Now here is where I should mention that the group was made up of suburban girls—the children of church members—and urban boys who lived in the church’s neighborhood.
After asking my question, four of the young men, almost in unison, responded “Snitch.”
Yup. I’ve been in an urban church for sixteen years. I knew precisely why they answered that way. Witnesses in urban, south east Grand Rapids, are not respected, but looked down upon. The fact had completely slipped my mind.
In spite of all of my best intentions, my experience and knowledge; I saw that to do ministry well, I had to be entrenched in the community. My heart, my mind, and my life, were not. But I am confident that God used me, in spite of me, and that God will continue to do so, through his grace alone.
In my internship as in Seminary, God has continually pushed my intentions aside, and replaced them with his purposes. Yes, it can be painful. But kingdom rewards are far greater.