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“What’s Your Why?” from Rev. Grant Glowiak

I was really looking forward to writing this reflection. What I was not expecting is that I had such a difficult time trying to figure out what to include and what to leave out. I am ultimately satisfied with the ‘final product,’ but I did have to leave quite a few things out. One of the major things I wish I would have had time for was talking about how, even after entering seminary, I was running from parish ministry. When started at CTS, I was convinced I would serve ‘on the front lines’ of social justice issues, so to speak. Working for an organization like The Night Ministry or another outreach-specific group, probably in the city. I wanted to change the world, and I thought the best way to do that was to work directly with the most marginalized folks.
So instead of doing my mandatory internship at a local church, I instead went with The Night Ministry. I was so excited to do ‘real’ ministry, on the ground, directly with the people I believe that Jesus would have spent his life serving if he was born today. I worked on the Youth Outreach Team, which provided its own host of issues because we not only were dealing with the trauma of unstable housing, but we had the other issues that affect pretty much all young folks (drugs, sexuality, fights) to contend with as well.
I learned a lot over the course of that internship. How to be less judgmental, how to talk to folks with wildly different backgrounds and life experiences, how dangerous black-market gender-transitioning products/injections can be. But perhaps the most surprisingly thing I learned was, well, to put it nicely, God was not calling me into that kind of ministry. To put it more bluntly, I was not good at it. In fact, I really struggled. As much as I cared deeply about issues of social justice, at the end of the day I can’t shirk my own context. Meaning, there are extra hurdles to connection with street-based folks when you’re a white boy from Western Springs. All of my go-to conversation starters made absolutely no sense in this context. Think about, what topics do you often fall back on when making small talk with people at parties? The classics that I always heard growing up among adults, and even into my own adulthood, were ‘What do you do for a living? Where do you live? Have you gone on vacation to any cool spots recently? What college did you go to? Have you seen the new show on (tv channel or streaming service)?’ Those questions land much differently on a street corner than they do on someone’s beautiful back patio. I found myself talking a lot about the weather, which although obviously affects certain folks more than others is still something we all experience together and have absolutely no control over.
After that internship I realized that my calling was not so much outside of my context as it was, and is, to help shape the context from which I came. I have had the privilege of stepping outside of the Western Springs/Hinsdale bubble, and I believe I am called back into that bubble to perhaps poke some holes in it, to help us see those both within and outside the bubble not with judgement but as God sees all of us, with love. I am glad I did some of that running away, because it provided experiences I would otherwise never have had. (And it saved me the trouble of taking a position I probably wouldn’t last very long in) I am ultimately very grateful for that. As my father often said, getting A’s is ideal, but we often learn much more from failure than we do success.