conversations on the fringe

The Fringe: A Gathering Place fro LGBTQIA+ Youth, their Families, and Allies

A safe and supportive space for LGBTQIA+ youth, families, friends, and their allies from around Central Illinois. This is a non-religious endeavor. Even though Conversations on the Fringe has faith-ties (but is affirming and inclusive), The Fringe Gathering Place is not religious. This is to ensure everyone feels welcome in this space. All are welcome!

This initiative is being launched after a two-year-long study of LGBTQIA+ youth. Each student engaged in face-to-face interviews, submitted written responses to an extensive questionnaire, or completed an online survey. We had over one hundred participants. The questions focused on family acceptance/rejection, coming out, stressors, intersections, trauma/bullying, social alienation/acceptance, substance abuse/mental health issues, suicidality, and faith experiences.

The results of our study closely reflected the national statistics, LGBTQIA+ youth are susceptible to suicidal ideation.

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24.
  • LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.
  • LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.
  • Of all the suicide attempts made by youth, LGB youth suicide attempts were almost five times as likely to require medical treatment than those of heterosexual youth.
  • Suicide attempts by LGB youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers.
  • In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
  • LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
  • 1 out of 6 students nationwide (grades 9–12) seriously considered suicide in the past year.
  • Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.


There is an immense need for more safe and affriming spaces in the Peoria area for queer youth.

Over time, we hope to provide the following service/supports for youth in our area:

  • Mentoring/Peer Mentoring
  • Health/Wellness Education (testing/prevention)
  • Support Groups (trans, family, depression, substance abuse, etc.)
  • Referrals (healthcare, mental health, substance abuse, etc.)
  • Advocacy/Activism
  • Family Support
  • Harm Reduction (inclusive sex and sexuality education)
  • Social Events (trips, art classes, dances, etc.)

We have two important dates coming up. If you are interested in either you are invited to attend.

Important Dates:

Youth Leadership Board Meeting – May 2nd, 5:30pm – 7:30pm

Adult Advisory Board Meeting – May 9th, 6:00pm – 8:00pm

If you are interested in joining the adult advisory board or the youth leadership board contact us at

Join us on Facebook:

If you are interested in volunteering, please email us at or stop by and visit us at 1411 NE Adams St. Peoria, Illinois 61603.


Myths About Grief

I am all too familiar with grief.  It has been a constant companion in the work I do, working with people who struggle with substance misuse, have a mental health diagnosis, the homeless, and marginalized youth, like LTGBQIA+ teens. I have a background in emergency medical care first working as a paramedic and then later in an ER as part of a trauma team. I have also worked on a surgical team that would procure tissue and organs for donation post-mortem. As a counselor working with the population I do, I frequently get the “call” we all dread. Whether it is death, accident, injury, or loss of a relationship, grief is an unwelcome visitor.

I have also experienced grief in ministry. I remember the details of all the student deaths that occurred. I remember specifically talking with students, friends, family members, staff and volunteers and not being able to satisfactorily answer the “why” questions.

Weekly I see status updates from youth ministry friends asking for resources to provide students and families on the subject of death and grief. Many are unsure how to lead a group of young people through the challenging journey of grief as well as how to navigate that journey of their own. That is why we felt compelled to debunk myths surrounding grief.

Myths About Grief:

Grief and mourning are the same things.

Grief and mourning are inseparable, grief is the emotional, internal processing of loss/bereavement and mourning is the expression of that grief.  For example, grief is filled with feelings of sadness, anger, and thoughts that contribute to the intensity of those emotions.  Examples of mourning are crying, talking about the person who has died, or celebrating special dates related to the deceased.  Not expressing the grief through mourning can be a barrier to healing.

Grief and mourning follow a linear and orderly pattern.

The “Stages of Grief” popularized by Elizabeth Kubler Ross was never meant to be a definitive prescription for dealing with grief where you checked off each stage as you progress beyond it.  There is no one way that an individual grieves and mourns.  For every individual that experiences grief, there is a unique expression of that grief, based on numerous variables. Don’t get caught up in, “Am I grieving the right way?”.

You should move away from grief, not toward it.

It is toxic to the soul to repress what longs to be expressed.  Job stripped off his clothes, scraped himself with shards of pottery, and sat in a heap of ashes that came from everything he had, and he sat there for a long time.  He could have immediately started to “put the pieces back together” but literally just sat in his grief.  He moved into it.  Minimizing grief and avoiding the mourning process tends to lead to isolation and confusion and even deep depression.

The goal should be to “get over it” as soon as possible.

I hear many people say, “I should be over this by now”.  I hear others say the same thing about those in mourning, implying that it is bad to feel bad for too long.  As we reconcile the loss in our lives with being able to move forward there can be a renewed sense of hope and power surge into our spirit but that does not mean we are done grieving or mourning.  We can sense movement but still be in process and that is what many experience when they reach that point.  The ever-present, sharp pain in the heart will eventually change into an accepted and acknowledged sense of loss.  The sense of loss will likely never completely go away but will dull over time.

I have to be strong = No tears/emotions.

We live in a toxic culture that is repulsed by “signs of weakness”.  Tears, strong emotions and general sadness are looked down upon.  How many times have you heard a parent say, “Knock that off or I’ll give you a reason to cry”?  This implies that there is no reason to cry, so STOP!

Usually, when people try to console a crying individual it is because they are uncomfortable with that expression of grief and often feel powerless to help stop the pain you are experiencing.  God stores up our tears in a bottle the Psalmist tells us and knows what is in each one.  He values the tears you shed and is likely shedding tears of the same thing because death was never in His plan.

The individual is the only loss.

Individuals who are mourning are not just mourning the loss of the individual who has died but also all the dreams associated with that relationship.  Other issues that may contribute to the intensity of the grief could be the financial cost/loss, future plans, memories to be made, etc.  The intensity of grief is typically driven by these future-oriented losses as well.  Allow time to process and speak about these additional losses as part of the grief journey.

Have you experienced grief/loss in ministry?  Have you heard these myths from those you walked with?  Have you felt or believed these myths yourself?  How will you address these myths looking forward?

Dreamers: What’s Their Story?

Since I was 4 years old, I always knew that as soon as our whole family had visas, we would be getting on a plane to America from South Korea. We grew impatient as this process took so long, but we went on with our everyday life without much impact.

My friend Ryan (name changed for privacy) also waited 4 years to come to America, but his story is very different from mine. He lived in Guatemala during a civil war. People were tired of corrupt government and dreamt of a better life. His father was at risk of being forced to join the guerrilla. Wanting a better life for his family, he left his children and wife behind and headed for California looking to secure a safer and better future.

His wife eventually joined him while Ryan and his brother lived with their aunt. 4 years later, the family was reunited in Los Angeles. They knew that crossing the border with “coyote” smuggler was just as risky as staying in a non-progressive society where poverty, violence, and civil war was all they knew. However, the high risk of crossing the border at least came with the hope that if they made it, there could be better future. The family no longer had to live in the midst of civil war.

Ryan’s parents worked diligently to provide for the family. His mother cleaned houses all day, and his father worked in a factory. They were granted legal work permits, legal social security cards, and legal IDs. They both worked hard, paid their taxes, and did their best to be law-abiding citizens. The only thing that was missing was legal documentation to live in the United States… but once again, this was the better option than living back home.

Ryan and his brother were taught to study hard, get good grades, and go to college to secure brighter future. Ryan didn’t even realize that he was “illegal” until he was actually accepted to a Cal State University. When he went to enroll in University, he learned that without a green card, visa, nor birth certificate, he couldn’t get financial aid. Because the family couldn’t afford to pay for his tuition, Ryan made the decision to go into the workforce although his heart was for higher education. Ryan found a job in a charter school where he could live out his heart for mentoring teens.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), created in 2012 under Obama administration, allow people brought to the US illegally as children the temporary right to live, study, and work in America. In order to apply, they must meet the following requirements: under 31 years of age as of June 15, 2012, came to the US while under the age of 16, have continuously resided in the US since June 15, 2007, be enrolled in school or have equivalent of a high school diploma, and never been convicted of a serious crime.

Those protected under DACA are known as “Dreamers.” Since DACA creation, nearly 800,000 unauthorized immigrants have been granted protection from deportation. And nearly 690,000 are currently enrolled in DACA. Current DACA recipients come from around the world, but more than nine-in-ten are from Latin America, and nearly half of current DACA recipients live in California (29%) and Texas (16%) (Pew Research). Under Trump administration, new applicants under will DACA will no longer be accepted, and their current permits will begin expiring March 2018. Unless Congress passes legislation allowing new immigration status, Dreamers will all lose their status by March 2020.

DACA gives youngsters the opportunity to be known as “legal” residents, to continue on with higher education, and work towards a career. Most Dreamers are “givers, not takers.” Of course, in every population of people, there are bad apples in every barrel. But you can’t judge the whole barrel by few bad apples.

Most Dreamers love this country because they were given education, safety, security, and opportunities that their motherland couldn’t provide. They want brighter future for themselves and their families just like every other immigrant. They consider America to be their country as most of them grew up in the US from childhood.  

When I think about my friend Ryan, it pains me that he was robbed of opportunities that were granted to me. Both of our parents wanted better future for their children. Fortunately for me, we didn’t have to flee South Korea in a hurry. We could afford to stay as long as our paperwork came through.

However, for Ryan, his parents made the decision to flee Guatemala due to civil unrest even if it meant leaving illegally. Ryan and I both didn’t have much say in the matter. We followed our parents. We both studied hard in hopes of better education and opportunities that our parents wanted for us. We both lost our moms at a young age. We both had obstacles to overcome.

Fortunately for me, my legal status allowed me to chase after my dreams of going to a top university and following my passion in my vocation. For Ryan, all that came to a sudden halt. In the past 6 years I’ve known Ryan, he has always worked multiples jobs to support his family, especially his younger siblings after his mother’s passing. In addition, he found the time to mentor teens through his local church.

Ryan has impacted many young people that he has mentored over the years. And those of us that are blessed to call him a friend have been touched by his story and enriched by who he is. He was granted DACA, and he still dreams of going back to school one day.  

I asked Ryan, “How can we best support and advocate for Dreamers?” This was his answer:

“By exactly what you’re doing. Asking and getting to know someone’s story. I believe if you listen to life stories, you come to know an individual not by their label but by who they are: their character, their content, their humanity, and their heart. We’re not how many portray us. Dreamers are beautiful individuals who want to contribute to our neighborhoods, cities, states, and nation to be better and greater. Most of us pose no threat to our nation. We have a lot to offer… all we want is the opportunity to do so.”

Gloria S. Lee – Graduate of UC Berkeley and Talbot School of Theology, Gloria has been in vocational ministry to children, students, and families for over 20 years. She loves equipping leaders and parents to help kids love and follow Jesus. She is a contributor to Children’s Ministry Magazine, International Sports Ministry curriculum, blogs, and few ministry books out there. Gloria loves anything Wonder Woman, the beach, trying out new restaurants, coffee, traveling, and just chilling at home with a good book or a show on Netflix. She’s currently on staff at Menlo Church in Northern California.

you can also connect with Gloria via: TWITTER BLOG FACEBOOK LINKEDIN

Ray’s Hands (The Voices Project ep. 12)

There are people you meet and you know that your life won’t be the same just from crossing paths with them.

I noticed him right away in our lunchroom. Even after just a couple months of being here, someone new stands out.

He was layered in coats and sweatshirts. His eyes were downturned. His hair so unruly and matted. His beard had decided to grow in its own directions. His skin was so weathered from the cold it looked sunburnt and sore.

I approached him with some caution. Not everyone who comes in welcomes a conversation and it is important to know the signs when they don’t. Many times people just want to eat and be done. He looked up as I approached and the desperation and sorrow in his eyes nearly buckled me at the knees. I smiled and in my smile was some secret weapon that unlocked his exterior defense and tears immediately cascaded down his cheeks.

I sat and all I could ask is: “What can I do?”

He tried to talk between his tears; “No one has smiled at me in a long time. I need shelter. Please. I can’t take the streets anymore. I am so lost.”

It was then that I noticed his hands. Dry skin can’t even touch the cracks and rough edges that were his hands. Blood was oozing from so many broken places and dried dirt and caked mud were everywhere. He saw me looking. “My hands.” he murmured.

“Yes,” I agreed. Nothing more needed to be said.

I went to the kitchen and filled a basin of hot water and soap and found the softest cloth I could find.

I carried it over and asked if I could wash his hands. He agreed.

As softly as I could I tried to clear the blood. His hands felt like the bark of a tree. He flinched in pain even with the softest touch of the warm water. His tears kept flowing freely.

“I am sorry I smell” he whispered.

“You are fine” I replied. He did in fact smell. A mixture of wood smoke, grain alcohol, and unwashed body.

“This is not who I am. I am a father. I have kids. I had a job. I was somebody.” He said this as if in a mantra he has sung many times before and it was as if he was begging me to hear him.

“I know” And I do know. I know that no one decides this is who they want to be.

“My daughter was the first baby I ever held.” He began to explain,  “I was only 19 when I had her. I wanted to give her the world. I worked so hard. I raised my kids. And I helped with my grandkids. I had money in the bank. How did this happen to me?” His eyes beg me for an answer.

“My kids are right here in town and I won’t bother them. They don’t need to be bothered by me. I am ashamed. I am sorry for my smell.” He repeats.

“I bet we can get you a shower. If you want to come back tomorrow I think we can bring you to the truck stop and get you showered. It doesn’t bother me, but I think you would feel so much better.” I offered

“Yes,” he replies. “Please.”

He keeps talking and telling me stories about his kids. We, at one point, laugh uproariously over a story he has just told me. As soon as he catches himself laughing, he stops and assesses me. I nod in encouragement and he laughs again as if somewhere along the line he forgot that he is allowed to laugh for the sake of joy.

Finally, I ask the question I have been waiting to ask. “Is it alcohol?”

“Yes,” he admits. “Been drinking my whole life. But how did this happen? I don’t know how this happened.”

I know he is not ready for anything more than this acknowledgment. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has to be met in his life before we can do anything about what is at the root. He has polished off two trays of food while we talked.  He will need to get a shower in and some clean clothes. I find him a bottle of lotion for cracked and dried hands and I tell him how often he should apply it. Those hands. They tell me everything.

Tomorrow if he returns, I will take him to shower. I will continue to listen and hold his stories. I will pray for a way that he can get sober and rebuild his life. But the steps to get there are many.

Today Ray gave me a gift. He let me sit with him in his pain, and he let me wash his hands. Today he shared his humanity with me. He reminded me as so often happens in this work, that all of us are so broken and so wounded. Ray and I could have, at any moment, been interchangeable. If I would have chosen right instead of left then I could have been in his chair.

Ray’s broken hands in mine gave me a sense of God’s vast mercy and love. Gentle acceptance is sometimes all we need to crack open the door to hope.

Karen Cassidy (

Karen is a mother of three amazing adult children. She works for a non-profit organization that serves some of the most marginalized and vulnerable individuals. She is passionate about people and believes every person has a story just waiting to be told.

5 Ways To Lose Credibility With Teenagers

We all know youth workers who have lost credibility with their students. We often pass judgment on them and know personally what we would have done differently. However, what makes a youth worker credible in an teenager’s eyes may be different from what a youth worker thinks will make them credible.  Credibility is often confused with trustworthiness and likability, or the youth worker is more concerned with being liked than respected. But teens are smart consumers, and they know the difference between authentic adults and those just trying to sell a product.

We cannot transmit something we don’t have. When we minister to youth and don’t take care of ourselves first, we end up taking shortcuts, overcompensate, or look for the easiest ways to do the bare minimum. Usually the intentions are good, but sometimes the outcomes of our ministry efforts are not. Adults in general can try too hard, control too much, or pretend something is working when it clearly in not, and this is typically because they don’t know what else to do. When the glass is empty, it’s empty and there’s nothing left to give to others.

1. Craving Student’s Approval

For some of us the validation we receive from the teens we serve can be a powerful experience.  Many of us involved in youth work are there because we had a particular experience in our own adolescence.  For some of us, it is an opportunity to return the favor and investment made on our behalf.  It is a chance to make a difference in the lives of the youth in our community and we have a sense of calling and/or obligation to do this.

For others though, it may be a more pathological motivation.  I have met, on more than one occasion, the youth worker who is trying to re-live their teenage years vicariously through the students they minister to.  This is an insidious and often beneath the surface drive but is none-the-less real.  It plays out like this; I didn’t get validation from my peers during my formative years so now I am living that out in ministry and trying to gain their approval today, as if my intrinsic worth is tied up in their opinion of me.

This typically results in shallow ministry fruit because the goal, intended or unintended, is not spiritual growth but personal validation from the students to the adult.  This does not mean that God won’t use a person’s past hurts in ministry today but if these hurts cloud your ability to see things clearly then the person may do more harm than good.  This is a good indicator that someone is running on empty because they are disconnected from the Source of their validation, Jesus.

2. Being too Cautious

As a result of seeking the student’s approval the youth worker must then measure everything that said to the youth.  This is much like a couple’s first date.  The person does not want to say or do anything that would reflect poorly on them and end the chances of future endeavors.

This can occur in ministry as well.  During the early stages of rapport building this is quite understandable but as time goes on trust and trustworthiness should develop.  These two things cannot develop is one party has an ulterior motive.  Also, once the relationship does develop it is difficult for the youth worker to speak challenging truth into the lives of their students for fear of losing their affirmation.  A wise man told me once that I should “love people enough to tell them the truth”.  This can’t be done if one can not remain objective.

3. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

Rainbows, Pixies, Jelly Beans, and the Warm Fuzzies are not the substance of (most) teenagers lives. Often, we sell them a fantasy world that says, “If you just accept Jesus then everything magically gets better!”  Ta-Da! The quickest way to lose credibility, and your influence, is to pull a bait-and-switch about what it means to follow Jesus.

4. Trying Too Hard

Sometimes we can try way too hard to convince the students that they need Jesus. Kids can tell when the experiences they have with us are more about us meeting an objective that when we are genuinely loving them. Sometimes we need them to believe because we are the ones that doubt. It’s like them coming to believe in Jesus validates our own faith. This can be dangerous to both the students and us. A faith that is built on “sand” is shaky at best and the damage it can do to the budding, young faith of a student is very real. We must get this in check, and we do this by first taking care of our own spiritual life.

Lastly, we lose credibility when we try to be the expert on all things. There is nothing so apparent to teens than a know-it-all youth worker. We mask that we don’t know the answers and kids can pick it up in our voice, our choice of words, body language, eye contact, and the stammer in our speech. Our attempts to cover this lack of knowledge only reduces our credibility and makes the situation worse.

5. I’m Stumped

This list is not even close to being exhaustive. We should constantly be aware of those practices that erode our influence over our students. It is our belief that students are looking for credible adult guides to lead them out of the wilderness of adolescence. Teens will usually follow those that earn (i.e. real, authentic) being followed and their loyalty remains for many years after they leave our ministries.

How do you care for yourself as you are being poured out for youth students?

Are you leading in such a way that you keep a high level of credibility?

Are you leading and serving in a way that young people know you are trustworthy of following?

chrisChris Schaffner is a counselor and veteran youth worker. He is also the founder of CONVERSATIONS ON THE FRINGE. CotF is an organization seeking creative and innovative ways to bridge the gap between the mental health community and those entities (particularly schools and churches) that serve youth in contemporary society.

John (The Voices Project ep. 11)

Matted beard. I mean matted. He chews tobacco, and it drips into his beard and there it stays. He has not showered in weeks. He has not had water at his house for almost a full month. He is hard of hearing, so every conversation involves shouting. He has a mental illness, he is often nervous and is sure that the city government is in collusion with the water company.

The first time I met him I was running up and down the stairs to the food pantry, and when I came back into my office where he sat at my desk.

He is determined to get his water turned back on. He did not want to leave my desk chair because he was confused and scared.

Our volunteer was is an elderly woman and she was equally as nervous as him when she has to be around him. She was standing over him trying to get him out from behind my desk.

I tried to assure them both. It was equally frustrating and futile with both of them. Neither was being convinced to calm down. I knew quickly that the way the volunteer was standing over him was a bad idea. My fear was quickly confirmed as he let loose a stream of nervous urine in my chair.

This upset the volunteer so fully she threw up her hands and stormed out.

He looked at me with wide eyes, not acknowledging in any way what happened. But there it was in his eyes, he was waiting for me to respond.

I took a deep breath, fighting my own disgust. “Sir, I love that you are so comfortable in my office. And since you have planted yourself here, can I at least get your full name?”

“John” he responded.

“Well John, I have quite a line of people waiting to see me, how about a cup of coffee in our lunchroom?” I coaxed

“That would be perfect,” He agreed

I got him to sit in the lunchroom.

I got my chair cleaned.

I had to leave him to fill up food boxes for clients.

I watched as my supervisor sat and talked to him with so much patience and love.

He just wants his water on.

He just wants to be heard.

He has a story.

He was not always the unwashed, unkempt, hard of hearing man we see now. He used to be someone’s child, full of hope and promise and dreams. This is not, I am certain, where he saw himself.

I sat later and thought about my volunteer’s panic with him, how upset she was. I know it was a combination of his appearance and his smell. She was so intimidated by this man he has become. I understand. It is a challenge to me to find a way to always connect. But when I looked in his eyes that day I saw a fragility in his sky blue eyes. I saw a yearning to be heard. I saw his desperation, and I understood that. He just wants to be able to care for himself, and he has lost, for whatever reason, his ability to do that for himself.

I think when other people are confronted by his desperation it is scary for them. It reminds them that life is not always comfortable, pretty, or clean.

But he carries himself still with a nobility that goes beyond his circumstances.

He never takes more from us then what he needs. We offer him food from our pantry, free bread, and a meal. He takes exactly what he needs and nothing extra.

My supervisor and I have talked about how to get him help, how to help him get cleaned up, how to love him where he is.

There are no easy answers. But what I know is that we can give him dignity. The dignity that surpasses all his exterior appearances. Sometimes it does not feel like enough, and other times, especially with John, it feels like everything.

For the Women Who Hear “You Can’ts” – An Easter Story of Hope

It was a Sunday morning my senior year of college. I was sitting in church with my fiancé and his family as I thought about how nice the service was: the music was incredible and the people were really friendly.

But then came the sermon.

I began to feel a little uneasy when the pastor started reading 1 Corinthians 14 about women remaining silent in the church. And things only got worse when the pastor continued to preach about how women had their own special “roles” in the faith community… And that these “roles” did not include teaching adult men, preaching, or serving as pastors, among other things.

This greatly troubled me… as I had been raised in a church with a female pastor, in a family where women were seen as equal to men and could be anything they wanted to be, and where I – myself – started to feel called into ministry in high school.

At a young age, I met and had fallen in love with a Jesus who loved me for who I truly was and who – despite my struggles, faults, and failures – kept washing my feet, calling me his “beloved,” and for some odd reason kept urging and empowering me to follow him.

But there – on that Sunday morning with my fiancé and soon-to-be in-laws – this Jesus I loved was being silenced. He was being beaten down, spit on, and mocked.

And this was not the only place I heard these messages… I had been hounded by “you cant’s” because I was a woman in my campus ministry since my freshman year and would continue to be hounded by them later in my marriage for many years until my divorce.

The Jesus I knew for so long – who had been my true friend, advocate, and encourager – was on trial and the prosecutors were winning. And I began to fear that I would never see or hear from him again.

I wonder if this was how the women who knew and loved Jesus felt as they watched him from afar during his arrest, his trials, and as he slowly and painfully journeyed toward the cross.

The Jesus who had allowed women to touch his cloak, rub his feet with their hair, sit in the places where disciples sat, and who rebuked the men who criticized such women was now being spit on and mocked. The Jesus who not only taught these women the Scriptures but also empowered them to speak their voices and allowed them to accompany him on his ministry was now being flogged. The Jesus who had loudly and boldly proclaimed that these women – “the least of these” – were just as cherished and beloved in God’s Kingdom as any man was now being silenced, as he was forced to walk – with a crown of thorns on his head and a heavy cross over his back – toward his violent death.

I wonder what those women who loved this radical Jesus thought as they gazed up through their tears at his broken and bloody body as it hung silently and still on the cross.

Would they ever see or hear from him again? Were they really going to be cherished in the Kingdom of God or was all that he had proclaimed and done for them done in vain? Was Jesus truly the One he said he was or did they completely misunderstand him?

Who would advocate for them now?

Their grief, confusion, and anger over the loss of their beloved Jesus must have been incredibly overwhelming as they heard Jesus cry out in anguish on that dark night: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and watched him take his final breath.

And yet, in the midst of this grief, confusion, and anger, some of these women decided to go back to his tomb after he was buried. We don’t know why. It may have been the same reason they chose to follow him to the cross, while almost all of Jesus’ other disciples bailed out on him.

Maybe they wanted to make sure the tomb was being taken care of, just like he had made sure they were taken care of. Maybe they needed more opportunities to say what they didn’t have the chance to say to Jesus before his arrest. Maybe they thought they would feel closer to him if they were close to his body.

Or maybe they held onto hope that this Jesus really was the One he said he was, and that death would not defeat him.

Whatever the reason, they went back to the tomb.

And it must have been a shocking and horrifying moment when the women found the tomb empty. Had someone stolen Jesus’ body? What did this mean for them now?

And yet, they must have been even more shocked when they were greeted by their loving Jesus, himself – before anyone else – and were commissioned by him to be the bearers of the good news of his resurrection.

The Jesus they knew and loved really was the One he said he was. And this Jesus who loved, advocated for, and empowered them before his arrest was now continuing to do so in and through his very death and resurrection.

When I felt voiceless as I heard and watched others mock and deny the Jesus I knew and loved, no matter how strong and loud their voices were, I could not give up hope that Jesus might still be the One I had experienced him to be. And so I followed him on that long, bumpy road toward his death. There were times when I felt hopeless: at the bottom of the cross, gazing up at what seemed to be just a broken and bloody body hanging silently from it.

And yet, somehow I felt a constant urge to keep returning to his tomb. To see if he was still there. To see if he was, indeed, the One I knew him to be long before. And though there were times I felt alone when I found the tomb empty, after continuously returning to it, I finally realized that those loud voices that led him to his crucifixion did not, in fact, win.

For there standing in front of me was the very Jesus I knew and loved for so long: calling out to and commissioning me – his beloved – to go out and spread this great news of his resurrection to all who fear that his death would keep him away forever.

For all the women out there whose loving Jesus has been crucified before your very own eyes: may you find hope in this Easter Story, as well. When others around you ridicule, spit on, and beat down the Jesus who has claimed and cherished you, follow him to the cross. When you witness his crucifixion, visit his tomb… over and over and over again.

The promise in this Easter story is that no matter how loud those voices are around you that mock and deny your Jesus, death will not defeat him. And though these voices wish to silence him, he is proclaiming on your behalf louder than ever as he hangs silently and still from the cross.

And in a few days time, the Jesus you once knew and loved will appear to you in full form – claiming you as his own and commissioning you – his beloved – to speak your voice and share this good news.

(This post was first posted on in 2014 as a contribution to the Stories of Easter syncroblog hosted by Convergent Books.)

Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often be seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

We Need The Cross

Well, it’s Good Friday, and if I am honest with you, sometimes I wish we could go from celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday directly to celebrating Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday… and skipping everything in between.

But isn’t this true for many of us?  Isn’t it common for us to want to avoid and skip over the cross: to avoid the suffering and injustice that is constantly taking over the lives of those around us?

And yet, as followers of Jesus, we are called to be resurrection people, living lives here and now that proclaim the promise of new life to both our neighbors and ourselves.  And to avoid and skip over the pain and suffering of those around us and even within our own lives is to choose to not accept and proclaim new, everlasting life.  For we know that we cannot have and experience the resurrection without first experiencing what comes before it.

And so those joyful shouts of “Hosannas” we shouted as we waved our palm branches this past Sunday have now become angry shouts of “Crucify!”

But this is life, isn’t it? There have and will be times in our lives when we think we are just about out of the wilderness; just about ready to see and experience new life… But just as we begin waving our palm branches and shouting “Hosanna! Salvation has come!” – things unexpectedly take a downhill turn. Those we trust the most may turn on us and betray us, the crowds around us might spit on us and mock us, and what looks like our escape from captivity sometimes ends up being the very thing that captures us and leads us on our own painful journey on a dirty and bumpy road through Jerusalem.

But it is in these times when we need the cross the most. It is in these times when we realize that we – indeed – need a God who was not only resurrected but who also walked a similar path. That we need a God who knows what it’s like to experience broken relationships, grieve the loss of loved ones, watch those closest to him look directly in the face of injustice, and be betrayed by friends and ridiculed by crowds. And when things get really dark, we need a God who knows what it is like to feel completely and utterly alone and abandoned – even by his own Father, even by God – to the point where he cried out in his final moments of anguish and pain: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When we skip over and avoid the cross, we miss out on a God who is with us in the flesh, walking alongside us as we walk what may sometimes be a long, lonely road.

But to skip out on the cross also causes us to miss out on a radical and bold Jesus we are all called to follow.  For, it was Jesus’ loud, subversive voice that challenged injustice and proclaimed on behalf of the “least of these” that got him into trouble in the first place and led him to be silenced on the cross.

But – although those who nailed Jesus there did so to suppress him, and after Jesus breathed his last breath, the temple curtain tore in two, the earth shook, and the rocks split.

Death did not have the final say that dark night.

And after a few days, we will realize that Jesus’ voice was shouting and proclaiming louder than ever before as his broken and bloody body hung silently and still on the cross.

Brothers, sisters, siblings: we need the cross.  

So as we enter Good Friday, let us follow Jesus toward it – remembering – as we do – that he is right alongside us as we take every step.  Because when we do follow him, we might be overwhelmed at how much we really do need this loud, radical, and personal Jesus of the cross that we too often miss – the One who will soon lead us past the cross and onto the empty tomb.

  • When were some of your own times of suffering and pain where you’ve encountered Jesus alongside with you?  Did you see Jesus in the midst of those times or after you moved through those times and looked back on them?
  • How have you seen Jesus present in the midst of all the suffering around us in our country and world that is taking place today?
  • How are you helping your youth look to the cross and see this radical Jesus challenging unjust systems?
  • How are you helping (or can you help) your youth see Jesus’ presence in the midst of suffering and hope in new life that comes after the cross?

Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often be seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

Maundy Thursday: You’ve Been Served

It’s Maundy Thursday, and today we recall Jesus gathering his disciples together before the festival of Passover for a meal… The very last meal he has with them before he heads toward the cross.

In John, we see that Jesus gets up from the table in the middle of dinner, takes off his outer robe, and ties a towel around himself. Then he does something that would have shocked his disciples… Something that only a servant would have done for a houseguest. He gets down on the ground on his hands and knees, pours water into a basin, and then begins to wash his disciples’ feet. As he gets to Simon Peter, Peter calls out to Jesus in complete bewilderment: “Lord, are you seriously washing our feet?! You, my Lord and Rabbi, can never wash my feet!”

I completely relate to Peter. I understand how it may have been incredibly baffling for Jesus to serve me… at the place, only a disciple of a rabbi would sit.

Why in the world would Jesus sit at my feet… and wash them as a servant would do, for Pete’s sake!?

As a pastor who tested off the charts as a #2 on the Enneagram “The Helper,” I tend to give and serve… and serve and give… and give and serve. This can be a great asset for a pastor – for someone who is in the human services field. And yet, this can also be my greatest detriment. I tend to give and serve so much that I have difficulties saying “no.” And when all of the “yeses” add up, I end up sacrificing my own time for myself.

I give and serve so much that I struggle to give up control to others who have great ideas and resources.

I give and serve so much that I make little time to take care of myself.

I give and serve so much, that I end up not allowing others to sit at my feet and wash them… To serve me every once in a while. I think sometimes I forget that am also Jesus’ beloved… That deserve this, too.

And eventually, it all catches up with me.

I will never forget when I first started hanging out with my husband, Jonathan. I had previously been in a marriage where I was often giving and serving and caretaking, and this was rarely being reciprocated. And so when Jonathan had me over to make me homemade meatloaf and mashed potatoes, I immediately went into his kitchen and picked up the pan. Jonathan stopped me, grabbed my hand, and walked me to the dining room. “Sit,” he said. “Sometimes you just need to allow others to serve you.”

It was a foreign feeling. And yet, as I began this practice of receiving service from others, I felt liberated. I felt renewed. And I felt more equipped to better serve others in my ministry and personal life.

For Jesus, this act of allowing him and others to serve us is a crucial practice. He later explains to his disciples that he has set out an example of how they are to love others. And that just as he – their Lord and Rabbi – washes their feet and serves them, they ought to do so for one another. And yet, they cannot fully love and serve others without first allowing themselves to be served.

We must not forget that as pastors and youth workers we, too, cannot give, serve, love, and care for our parishioners, youth, and their families without first being served… By Jesus and by so many of our siblings who are called to be Christ’s hands and feet to us.

Because when we do allow our feet to be washed, we just might be surprised at how much we really needed to be cleansed so that we might be better equipped to return this loving act.

  • Do you have a tendency to say “yes” to too many things that you struggle to take care of yourself?  What happens to you (your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being) and to your relationships when this takes place?  How can you work on saying “no” and taking better care of yourself in these times?
  • Do you have difficulty allowing others to serve you?  If so, why? Where does that come from? Who are some people you can start asking to help you and serve you?  
  • What are some spiritual practices, social groups, and fun activities that give you joy?  Look at your calendar and schedule time for some of these things in the next few months. When you do these activities/practices, think about how you see Jesus present in the midst of them, offering you love, peace, renewal, and joy.  

Rev. Emily Heitzman is an ordained Presbyterian (USA) pastor serving as the shared Pastor with Youth and Households at three ELCA congregations in the neighborhood of Edgewater in Chicago: Unity Lutheran, Ebenezer Lutheran, and Immanuel Lutheran.  She runs a collaborative, multicultural youth group that consists of youth from the three congregations as well as youth from the neighborhood. Emily loves hiking in the mountains, attending indie and bluegrass concerts, biking along Lake Michigan, and singing opera and musical theatre. She has a heart for youth, justice, and the Huskers, and can often be seen with coffee or a Guinness. Emily is one of the writers for The Pastoral Is Political feature on HTTPS://REVGALBLOGPALS.ORG. You can find more of her reflections, sermons, and youth ministry ideas on her blog at HTTP://MUSINGSFROMABRICOLAGE.WORDPRESS.COM and connect with her on twitter at @PASTOREMILYH.

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