Vestry Devotion: Finding Your Faith Roots

Each month, Good Shepherd’s Vestry meetings begin with a devotion offered by a Vestry member, and, for the past year, we have been including these devotions in the Sheepskin. This month’s Vestry devotion is submitted by Karin Elsen. Karin is completing her second year on the Vestry and serves as a Eucharist Minister, Eucharistic Visitor, Lector, Healing Prayer Coordinator, faith formation small group leader and member of the Grow In Faith Team.  She will be the Colorado United Thank Offering representative at the General Convention of The Episcopal Church in July, and a lay delegate from Good Shepherd to the Annual Convention of the Episcopal Church in Colorado in October. Karin is a Senior Paralegal at Littler Mendelson, P.C.

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As I do the work of a Vestry member at Good Shepherd, I often think about my family members, some in the distant past, who served their own church and communities.  In their time, they made unique contributions to neighborhood development, the arts and charity.  My heritage is Swedish/Norwegian/English and I have discovered many people of faith in those family lines and stories.

For the immigrants among them, I’m sure this faith-filled work was a way of preserving their identity when faced with the cultural changes of a new land, but I trust it was also a faithful act of gratitude for the new land.  I am thankful to those who followed the call and used their gifts to the glory of God: 

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My father’s grandfather, with an architecture and design background, helped build a church in the Seattle immigrant neighborhood of Ballard in the early 1900s.  It has been in continual use since its construction and I believe still stands as a house of worship to this day.

 

My mother’s ancestor crafted a baroque altar for the local church in the picturesque village of Lesja, Norway.  The artist, my 18th century forebearer, Jakob Klukstad, is buried in the churchyard:

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(When we visited several years ago, my mother and I explained to the local official who we were and from where we came:  decedents of the Klocksteads, part of a group of Norwegian pioneers who migrated to the northern prairies of the United States and then to its west coast.  The friendly woman insisted that no escort to the church was necessary and thereupon handed us the large iron key, as if in a gesture of homecoming.  We were asked only to lock the door upon our leaving!)

My great-uncle Vic was respected for his humility and devout way of life.  Although of modest means, he and his wife contributed to their church and supported the church-sponsored college and the worldwide missions in the African Congo.  He set aside time every day for Bible study.

Not to be forgotten, women in my family, including Matilda, Marie and Evelyn, published religious poetry, were active in church guilds, cared for unwed mothers at the turn of the century, created artwork for fundraisers and supported pioneering homeless housing projects in the 1980s.  My late aunt, Maurine Noble, a well-known quilting teacher and author, founded the Piecemakers quilt ministry at the Seattle church where her legacy continues:  

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A popular faith formation exercise is to write your Spiritual Autobiography - a telling of your journey as it relates to your relationship to God.  Preparing a Spiritual Autobiography deepens your understanding of what it means to live as a Christian and allows you to examine the movement of God in your life, especially at times of transition.  You consider the stages of your life and the interweaving of themes, and how they inform your call to ministry now.

After writing four stories I have found that not every chapter will reflect a religious, revelatory “mountain-top experience.”  You explore common events as well, like a challenge which led to self-doubt or fear, and remember places like your childhood home or neighborhood.  These are genuine touchstones defining your life and God is present in those details too.

There are the inspirational people or light-bearers, such as parents and grandparents, teachers, mentors and friends, who have modeled goodness, illuminating the path forward for the next generation.  As your story unfolds, you realize that those who came before you passed on intrinsic values like honesty, generosity or compassion which are part of your spiritual makeup and influence how you hold your beliefs today.  

In his fascinating PBS series on genealogy, Finding Your Roots, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. often highlights a singular trait shared by his present-day guest and their newly-discovered ancestors which is revealed through their personal narratives.  Is the trait, say, courage, learned by example or inherited through the generations?  I have a 19th century ancestor, an abolitionist named Dutton, who with his ship ferried escaped slaves to Canada along the Underground Railroad.  My Hall family tree is traditionally Anglican.  I wonder if it is coincidence that as an adult, I have chosen to worship as an Episcopalian or I feel obligated to help the vulnerable among us by using my own resources?  These are all questions to ponder in a Spiritual Autobiography.

Regardless, I know for my folks, service to church and others was and is undoubtedly a passion.  Those in my family who ministered to their faith communities did so as a heartfelt expression of their talents, skills, experience and interests.  

It must have given them boundless joy – as it does me!

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Reflection:

Who or what has influenced you in life and how has that brought you closer to God and perhaps deepened your spiritual life?

Going further, write your own 3-5 page Spiritual Autobiography.  Choose a few old photos of meaning and draw upon those memories to tell your spiritual journey to this point.