By Lindsey Richardson
This summer, the 2014-2016 cohort of CBF Fellows ended our official time together as a team of Fellows and faculty. Our final meeting took place in conjunction with CBF’s General Assembly in Greensboro, North Carolina. If you had asked me two years ago when I began my Fellows experience what my life would look like by the time my cohort ended, I would not have expected or imagined this.
Two years ago, I was serving as a children’s minister in a local congregation and trying to find my voice and my place in a church with a long institutional history. I was trained well for the ministry area in which I served, and I was gifted for it, but I spent most of my time completing administrative tasks, and only a fraction of each week with children and their families.
Being the consummate over-achiever and people-pleaser, I pursued my work with energy and passion. The children and families of my church deserved my finest effort, and I wanted to make sure I was giving it. I devoted lots of my energy to the work, the people, and the business of my church, but I felt very little satisfaction.
Administrative tasks abounded, but quality time with children and families did not. I felt out of balance and hemmed in by church politics. Still, I wanted to do my best work even when expectations of me and my position seemed unrealistic, or even, uncommunicated. Working this way was stressful and unfulfilling, so when the opportunity to resign presented itself, I took it. Even without another job in place, I knew I had to move on.
Leaving my congregational setting was scary for a lot of reasons, but for one, I wasn’t sure how the Fellows faculty and cohort members would respond. I knew I wanted and needed their support, but because I was moving out of a congregational setting, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to continue the experience while I searched for a new job. To my great relief, the people of the Fellows program were extremely supportive and encouraging, and they wanted to continue walking the journey with me.
With nothing tying me down, the world felt full of opportunities again. I began dreaming about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to make a positive impact in the world. My sister calls the work I like to do “rich in heart.” It’s the kind of work that a person does, not because of the money to be made but because of the contribution one feels it makes to the world, or at least a sphere of it. I searched for that kind of work, and during my search, I worked as a substitute teacher.
I searched diligently, but I found nothing that screamed, “This is it!”
All the while, I continued substitute teaching. I loved the niche I was developing for myself among the school children in PreK-2nd grade. I looked forward to being in the classroom every day. Unexpectedly, a job in PreK special education came available in the spring. I loved my substitute teaching experiences with the PreK students, and the idea of spending my work week with the ones who need extra attention and encouragement made me excited. I interviewed and landed the job.
I kept the Fellows apprised of all the developments in my life as they happened, and the outpouring of love, support and encouragement I received was priceless. This amazing group of people saw me through it all: laughter, tears, hurt, anger, happiness, joy. They listened when I needed to talk, they helped me prepare for important conversations, they prayed with me, and most of all, they gave me freedom and a place to be myself.
During our final meeting at General Assembly, each Fellow shared their dreams for the future. Specifically, each person shared reflections about the impact Fellows had made on life. On my turn, I told the group that my calling to ministry with children and families had not changed. The thing that had changed was the venue and manner in which I live out that calling.
I drive to work every day in the quiet of my car, and most days I listen to a song called “Something Beautiful” by Ben Rector. It has become a prayer that I pray each day.
It says, “Please let me make something beautiful, a thing that reminds us there’s good in the world.” After all the ups and downs of the past year, I feel like I’m making something beautiful in my work. In the same way, I know that my friends and colleagues in the Fellows cohort are making something beautiful in the churches where they serve. Together, we are striving to live as people of God and shine light on the good in the world.
Lindsey Richardson is a PreK special education teacher and part of the CBF Fellows cohort for 2014-16.