This article appears in the Stories edition of the Calvin Seminary Forum
When the call went out to churches to make opportunities available for preachers at Calvin Seminary who are female, Palo Alto CRC, a congregation currently without a pastor, responded enthusiastically. Located in Silicon Valley, California, between the West Coast cities of San Francisco and San Jose, this small, vibrant congregation has been worshiping without a pastor and remotely throughout the COVID pandemic.
Luke Seerveld, a member of Palo Alto CRC, was tasked with finding pulpit supply for the Advent season which brought him to Calvin Seminary’s website. “In perusing the Calvin Seminary’s website, we noticed that churches without pastors could make a request to have a seminarian preach for them. For each request there was a nominal limit of three Sundays. An email exchange resulted in asking whether a group of seminarians might be willing to collaborate on a series for Advent.”
When the request went out, Jodi VanWingerden, a current Calvin Seminary Master of Divinity student, was first to hear of Palo Alto CRC’s need. She reached out to fellow classmates to band together around a common idea: “What if we worked as a team to develop an entire Advent series for this church?” Jodi, together with her classmates Rebecca Hall, Lynette van de Hoef, Lorinda VanderWerp, Julianna Kempema, and Kristy Bootsma, created a series entitled Songs of Redemption, focused on the lives and songs of the women in the narrative of Christ’s birth.
“Collaborating with other seminarians to serve as pulpit supply for a congregation in need was a novel and beautiful instance of the Church at work. I felt so uplifted by the cooperative spirit which led to a creative thematic Advent and Christmas series.” reflected Rebecca, “Being all women, the suggestion was made that we work with songs of women throughout the Bible, starting with the obvious Christmas angle in Elizabeth and Mary's Songs. The challenge was to incorporate “a Christmas theme into Old Testament songs” and finding “God's salvation narrative through the Old Testament proved to be one of the riches of this series.”
Leaders at Palo Alto CRC were enthusiastic about the entire plan. The congregation went out of their way to welcome the students, recording the sermon as well as arranging a personal “Meet the Seminarian” video. The congregation took this second step simply to make sure that everyone would get a chance to meet the student preacher for each week.
“The opportunity to be ministered to by our denomination’s pastors-in-training in such a holistic way, while feeling alienated from each other and the world during a pandemic, was a wonderful gift. We received feedback from the participants on both sides that they were lifted up by the experience and God was glorified! We are truly grateful for the seminarians and the seminary for making this possible,” said Luke of the experience. “Apart from the obvious blessing of being led by varied voices in a series that hung together so thematically and organically, it was also a purposeful opportunity for us as a congregation to become more comfortable led by more than one gender so that when we get around to calling a new pastor our default will be more diverse.”
By all accounts the sermon series was a great success. It combined team work, the envisioning of a spiritually nourishing sermon series, a partnership between Calvin Seminary and a local congregation and great, adaptive preaching from our student colleagues.