A native Southerner, Rich grew up in Gloster, Mississippi – a small town with a population of 960. After calling Alabama and Georgia home for seven years, Rich moved to Chicago in 2014 to work as a Church Starting Resident at Urban Village Church. After his one-year residency program, Rich became Pastor and Executive Director of the Inclusive Collective, a campus ministry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and he has spent the past five years leading the relaunch of this ministry. He feels called by God to create faith communities where all people are both truly welcome and invited to follow Jesus with all they’ve got. Rich holds a BA in Religion from Samford University in Birmingham, AL, and a Master of Divinity from Mercer University in Atlanta, GA. Rich is a frequent retreat leader and speaker and has taught in the Theological Studies Program at Lee Arrendale State Prison.
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Patrick: Hey welcome back to the Sound of the Genuine. We're glad you're here with us. Today's guest is Rich Havard who's the Executive Director of the Inclusive Collective. And what I love about what he is doing in Chicago draws all the way back to his story that begins in the South.
More than just a pastor, Rich is a friend, a friend of FTE. And he has been creating inclusive spaces, liberative spaces for college age students for some time. We're so glad he's here on the sound of the genuine
What's going on, Rich it's good to have you here talking about vocation life and call. Now I know what you do now but I need to take you back a little bit. Tell me about where you grew up, tell me about yourself.
Rich: Thanks Patrick, great to be with you. I grew up in small town Mississippi and it was a town of less than a thousand people, 20 minutes from a stoplight and the middle of nowhere. I'm actually a fifth generation in the same county in Mississippi on my dad's side. So deep roots in that place. I grew up there from birth to 18. As you can imagine some of the stereotypes about Mississippi are very true and the place that I was formed in embodied some of the beautiful parts about Mississippi and Southern culture and also haunting horrific pieces. And so, you know, raised in a place where hospitality often was a virtue and lifted up. Raised by a mom who was very present in my life and always opening our home to people and inviting my friends over. I grew up in a place that valued in a lot of ways, contrary to our larger society especially white culture, a slower pace of life. There, wasn't always this like hectic frenetic pace. People weren't as defined by what they did for a job. There were much deeper ties and much deeper grounding for identity in some ways than just like tell me what you do. And let's brag about how many hours we overwork each week.
And I think about those things in particular. Values of hospitality and a slower pace of life were things that really formed me in some positive ways. And often, especially the piece around over work is something I need to tune back into a little more these days. And I'll just pause there to say like, that's taken me a lot of inner work, a lot of therapy, spiritual direction to recognize the beautiful parts and to name some of those things, because I think it's really easy when you come from a town like mine, because of some of the reasons I'm about to name, to just view it all in negative, or write it off, but reality is it did form me in a lot of ways. And so I need to name it and to also recognize the beautiful parts. But the other side of that is the things about Mississippi that are often louder in terms of stereotypes are very true in my hometown. Mississippi has the largest percentage black population in the country for a state, and yet is very segregated. For instance, my school I went to, they don't self identify this way, but what people who study this region called segregation academies. A lot of schools were started between like 1965 and 1975 for a very particular reason - to avoid integration.
I think my school is 51 years old this year and probably less than, I think as to my knowledge, only two black folks have graduated in 50 years. And we're talking about a state that has the largest percentage black population in the country, and then less than 15 people of color. At the same time that environment was…everything was baptized and had Christian language around it. So it was really just this wedding of white nationalism and Christianity. And a lot of ways that was the faith that was claimed and practiced. And it just like the intersection of the American flag the Confederate flag and Christianity, the cross. So that was the sort of the waters I swam in.
And my family is that way too honestly, and my dad uses the N word multiple times a day kind of family that I grew up in. But even from a young age, I just remember being like, this doesn't seem right. I don't have language for it. I didn't know what I was talking about. I hadn't read any books but it was just like, it's something inside of me. And there's a lot of things to that maybe. We can talk about the grace of God working on me even before I had worked language for it.
We can talk about the fact that I was a very closeted gay kid growing up in a very homophobic environment, which that piece of othering also made me have nurtured empathy inside of me for people who were different than me. The church was also a place that gave theological foundation to this environment of racism, segregation, et cetera. I remember like my Sunday school teacher in middle school coming downstairs and saying, hey do y'all know what tomorrow is? And my friends and I were like, yeah it's a Martin Luther King day. And he responded, wrong! It's James Earl Ray appreciation day. So Dr. King's assassin. This is my Sunday school teacher.
This was the discipleship system, right? It was like, this is the way of the faith, and this is what we're inviting you into. Luckily I had two pastors come to that church and I didn't grow up super involved in church. It was around seventh grade when I started to get more connected. But when you live in small town Mississippi like everything's church, everything's at least in Christian language. But my church hired two pastors who had no business working in my very conservative rural Mississippi church. One of them is rather progressive Christian these days, the other one's sort of center right. The best kind of conservative one that can work in a big tent. And they came into my church and totally disrupted my life, changed who I was and invited me to know God in a deeper way.
I look back and I see that they were some of the only emotionally intelligent men that I had ever met. And so just deep vulnerability, empathy, can name their emotions well. I saw that they were people who were not constrained by the walls of the church, but to quote John Wesley, the world was their parish.
So they were out in the community, they were trying to heal a division. They may not have spoken about justice in the way that you or I would today, but for the context, it was radical for me to hear it. Growing up as a white kid in a segregated town to see these like white men who were not racist and who were actively leaning into a different way, the way of the gospel was just really compelling for me and they put language and embodied a different way. And that was powerful. And then they were also people of deep piety. They engage scripture, they prayed, they led worship.
I just remember thinking at the most basic level if that's what it means to be human, like I want to be that kind of a human, I want to be that kind of a person. A little bit more particular, if that's what it means to be Christian then I want to follow Jesus and get serious about that.
And then finally, if that's what it means to be a pastor or a faith leader, then sign me up. I can't imagine a more exciting calling and one that aligned more with my gifts. But that's the genesis, I think, of a lot of my call and how I grew up.
Patrick: That's incredible. You got the call. What did you do with it?
Rich: So the other part about this is I told you that I didn't grow up in church and we weren't a sort of every Sunday, you better get up and get in church and we gotta be there. But when I get to seventh grade, the youth minister, one of the pastors I was just referencing, invited me in. And he had this charisma about him, this invitational spirit, invited me into youth group and I just leaped for the chance to be connected. Youth group is the place where I think I found really deep community strong ties to other people who, to use the phrase live life together. And church was the place where people saw gifts that I didn't know were gifts and not just saw them, but intentionally named them. I know now that I have a gift of relationship and nurturing people and counseling and pastoral care. I never knew that was a thing. I knew that I was good at talking to people, but didn't know that that was a Christian gift or spiritual gift.
I remember sitting in his office and him saying, hey I've noticed X, Y, and Z about you - Very explicitly. Have you ever thought about going into ministry? Me? I was thinking like, no I haven't thought about that. I love learning and because of that people put these other things on me. Oh Rich is probably going to be a doctor. He's probably gonna be a lawyer.
But then Patrick, when I was, in 10th grade, the youth pastor and pastor of my church had left. You can only be, for so long, a more progressive pastor often in a small rural Southern Baptist church in Mississippi before stuff starts to get real. And you start getting the calls and deacon votes to put you out, et cetera. And a lot of it was around race and women in ministry. The pastor was not shy calling out racism and I remember him saying from the pulpit, it's wild that a woman can't preach here. And I was just like, yeah, that is wild. But I had never thought before like only men are allowed to have the formal leadership roles.
This pastor is speaking out against that. So they didn't last much past when I was in 10th grade, but the seed was planted. And the damage was done. Basically at that point, we didn't have a youth pastor. We didn't have the kind of church where you got another youth pastor really fast, cause we aren't paying any money. So for a couple of years my friends and I led the youth group. And I preached sermons about God knows what Patrick. But I got to try out and experiment all of these things. Not just the sort of fun parts of ministry or not just the preaching and teaching and that kind of thing, but also I organized youth camp for my church. I mean like finances, the fundraising for it, the organization, the schedule, like all these things as a 16 year old. And I liked that part too. I got to really test out some of those pieces early on. That was the beginnings. Like the call came when I was, 15, 16 and then from there, got pushed in the deep end and with not a lot of floaties or like lifeguards. I did a residency program a few years ago and they talk about that as oh you're pushed in the deep end, but you have life guards by you. It was like I did not have that.And my mom helped a lot and we had some other people, but it was a lot of fun. That was like the next step, after that initial ‘I want to do this thing.’
Patrick: And you do that for a couple of years. I know for a fact you're not still in your community, so you got to call away at some point, now what'd you do?
Rich: Yeah. I had always known that my hometown wasn't going to be the place where I really built my roots. There are a lot of reasons for that. I think one of them I know now, like as a gay man, it's nearly impossible to live there with any sort of quality of life or any sort of relationships or networks.
And yeah the people I've been brought up around, like I said, I've come to discover some beautiful parts, but I just really wanted not a lot to do with the community that I had been nurtured by. So many parts were, I think, malformation. And I want something else. And I wanted to be in a place where I felt I could find my people. And I graduated when I was 18, I’d lived in the same house my whole life, and I was ready to go [to what] I thought was the big city, Birmingham, Alabama.
And so I thought though I was moving to like New York city! But it was five and a half hours away from my family. And that was like…that did not happen in my hometown. No one else did that, everyone else has stayed local, went straight to work. College isn't for everyone. For me it was like, oh I have to go do this thing. And yeah, I moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and I went to a small liberal arts school there called Samford.
It's a Southern Baptist school. Although that's a bit of a misnomer because at least the stereotypes about maybe what people may think about Southern Baptist education weren't true there. So my mind was open. I remember being in class and just being enthralled by professors lecturing and having access to this amazing ways of learning and reading things that were giving me language for things that I'd always felt were true, but didn't know how to name them.
And it was again a place where I got to test out ministry in a lot of ways. I started off as a volunteer seventh grade boys Sunday school teacher at a local church, and then became a youth intern in another church. And working with teenagers a lot during those days. Because one of my main figures in my life had been a youth pastor, as is often the case, like I was going to be a youth pastor. Now I can't imagine doing that work. I have so much respect for youth pastors, but I don't think I'd be very good at it.
And I would say, in a lot of ways I know now Patrick, that college was great for me in some ways. I built a deeper community. I found some of my people, I didn't feel alone in all this. But one of the things that happened was my faith also dried out. So it became, I think a little bit professionalized as I started like working for churches for the first time and getting paid.
And also overly intellectual right? If we just think all the right things then everything's going to be well. If I just learn enough stuff then that's like the pinnacle of human existence. Really got into that kind of mindset for a while. And into college and into seminary.
So I also went to seminary after college at Mercer University in Atlanta. McAfee School of Theology. But during that period my faith all went to my head. It's common faith development-wise for that to happen. But a few things I think helped get me out of that, helped me value the life of the mind while also recognizing that I'm a whole person with a body, a spirit, a heart and I would say one of them was FTE honestly. And I've shared this story with other people. I remember in seminary after my first year going to an FTE event. And I think one of the things I was struck by the most was at that time FTE events, there were cross pollination between the PhD students and undergrads and graduate students.
And I remember both PhD students and professors who were their mentors, faculty mentors. I remember being in worship and sitting by them. And in college, I was mostly reared by like white mainline Protestant, very like cerebral and we're going to be like stoic in church.
And I had adopted that way. Then I get to FTE worship and there are people sitting near me, professors and they're literally like hands up in worship in a like embodied experience. They are like undergoing God in the moment. And a seed was planted again, to be like ah, there is more to faith life than just thinking the right things. These are people who are using their minds in the best of ways. People who are worshiping God with their full spirit and people who are putting their bodies on the line for justice. And it just presented me with this integrated way of doing faith that I hadn't really experienced before. And it was so compelling for me. I want to see who those people are. I want to be formed in new ways. So that was one thing that helped me in integration. And another thing was being in a seminary when I was at McAfee it was very racially diverse. It was about half black half white. You know, it's in Atlanta. So that makes sense in some ways.
But McAfee wasn't intended to be that way. And if you ask the people who were the founders, it was started for mostly white ex-Southern Baptist. It was an offshoot from the Southern Baptist convention and they thought they were going to educate mostly white people who look like me.
And so the seminary struggled big time as do most academic institutions that are PWI's struggled with what that meant and how to build the beloved community. But for the first time in my life, I was in this place that was really diverse. And we're like in class and people were asking these questions that I'd never even thought to ask and blowing my mind and I'm having this rich experience. And I also went to a church that was racially and ethnically diverse in Grant Park in Atlanta. And so all of these things too sort of shook me up and showed me a different way to be formed as a disciple of Jesus and as a pastor, which is exciting to me. Ah, the integration piece was huge.
And the third thing. I moved to Chicago to work at a church my first year out of seminary. And it was a church starting residency, like how to create new faith communities. And before going there, a few years earlier, becoming awake - I wasn't fully realized that I was gay and it was scary as hell for me. I was really scared about what this was going to be and I am an achiever. And if you do the Enneagram, I'm a three on the Enneagram. And so performance is huge for me.
And so all of a sudden I was really scared because I was seen as an emerging leader in my denomination and was going to be a pastor since I was 16 and I still had the affection of a lot of people in my hometown because of that. And then all of a sudden I was getting ready to do this thing that was just going to decimate that stuff. I went from everybody asking me for resumes to I knew as soon as I came out, it was going to be radio silence. And those things have been true. But I just got to the point where I was like, I have to live as my true self. Maya Angelou has a quote that says there's no greater burden than out of an untold story.
And so I felt so much was like holding me back from being my full self from being integrated. And I moved to Chicago. I was mentored by a pastor who was living as his full self as a gay man. And I was going to a church that also prized vulnerability and authenticity. People at the church where I did my residency. People would share testimony and it wouldn't be this formulaic I was lost, but then Jesus found me and now everything's good in my life.
It was real stuff like I don't believe in God this week and I haven't in the past six months. My wife and I lost our jobs this week and we don't know how we're going to pay the electricity next month.
Like stuff like that. And also joyous pieces too. Being in that, in that circle of being in this vulnerable space, authentic space, inclusive place, and being mentored by this amazing pastor it also pushed me to come out and that was one of the richest spiritual experiences of my life. My goodness, right. Coming face to face with something so hard, losing a lot that I had worked for and being at the mercy of God.
But relaxing into the love of God in a way that I probably hadn't before and being held in some amazing ways. And my spiritual life just skyrocketed in this moment. Right. There's nothing quite like intense experiences like that. That will connect you to God and, and, and help you feel the power of the Holy spirit pulsing through your body.
So, yeah. All of those things were part of my formation post high school. That initial call into my early adulthood.
Patrick: That sounds incredible. Also sounds very biblical. I always think about the Shama and that, it's mind, body and soul, and once those things are aligned, what that opens up for us. And inspired by this awakening that you're having what do you do with that? I can't imagine given that tension you felt from the community that raised you, your denomination background, feeling this call since you were 16 to entering into this new space where all that might be jeopardized, how do you move into your still strong sense of call, fully embodying who you are in that call?
Rich: Yeah. A lot of my friends, particularly who come out as LGBTQ for good reason right, leave the church or say, this is no longer for me. This has been a place of immense trauma and I'm not going to be a part of it anymore. And I understand that I have a lot of friends who feel that way. My partner even feels that way. But I also recognize that for me, the church had been this place of some trauma and neglect, a place of, like I mentioned earlier, that had tried to form me in the ways of white nationalism as in the guise of discipleship. But yet the church is the first place that I felt connected to other people in a genuine way.
The church is the first place that named my gifts. The church later is one of the strongest places where I heard about God's call for justice and service. The church is a place where over the years, I recognize as an Oasis, as a place of deep sustenance and rest and rejuvenation for me, a place that has given me practices that make me come alive.
That's handed down stories that have shaped my life and shaped our culture in a lot of ways. And I came to a place personally, where I said, I can hold this. I see the damage. And I also see the beautiful parts.
And then my calling really became, Patrick, about can I help create something that tries and fails, right - All the time tries and fails to really lean into the beautiful parts of this tradition. And try to to, to minor on at least the negative parts of it. I felt like that was increasingly my calling and often to create faith communities for people, with people at the center who have been frustrated and neglected, abused, left out, excluded from the church. The first place where I did that was the experience I just talked about was at Urban Village Church in Chicago after seminary. This calling was coming more and more to view for me. Church for the people who were burned by the church, bored by the church, or even brand new to this kind of community. I was finishing up my residency at this church in Chicago.
And I was thinking about what's next. And one of the things that happened was there was a campus ministry at the University of Illinois at Chicago. When you live in a city that has schools like Northwestern and University of Chicago, the scrappy public institution doesn't get a lot of airtime, but it's this amazing place to do education for lots of reasons.
Over 32,000 students, it has no racial or ethnic majority. It is 40% first generation college students and a top 30 LGBTQ friendly school in the country. I don't know about you, but like that sounds like a great place to do education in the context of what our country is becoming, right?
What better place to be formed? There was a campus ministry there that had traditionally been funded by mainline Protestants. Over the last 10 to 20 years had struggled with a little mission draft, had sold their building, and there had been a lot of leadership transition. And the denominations were going to shut it down. To be honest like sometimes that needs to happen, right? Sometimes ministries need to die, churches need to die. But I was just convinced this is a ministry that doesn't need to die! And part of the reason was because I looked at some of those stats that I just gave you around the diversity of institution. And everyone was saying, the naysayers were saying ministry is too hard here. Ministry won't work here.
And I just said, hey I just want us to at least name it. That we're saying that ministry at this place, that is literally a microcosm of what the United States is becoming, ministry at this place is quote too hard. If that is true, then we're in for a world of trouble moving forward. In fact, I argue there is no better place, to experiment, to test out new things to see what God can do on this particular campus. It took a few more months and working through a lot of bureaucracy, but finally and I'm grateful we got some yeses, so let's try this thing one more time. I'll tell you that, And for folks who are listening about campus ministry, sometimes it takes a little bit of risk because I had one week left in my job at this point. And I was waiting for this yes. Three weeks before classes started they said, all right, launch a new campus ministry, basically. And you have three weeks and then they said, prove that it's viable by December. So we'll give you the one semester to see what can happen.
I remember calling my mom and she said, can't you just get a normal job? You gotta follow the wild call of the Holy spirit mom, don't you understand? And so we started this thing and the good news is we're still here. That was in the fall of 2015.
So we're in our sixth academic year. And it's been a lot of fun, Patrick. It's involved a lot of work from a lot of people. And this is what I really want to name is like people often identify the Inclusive Collective as like my thing or Rich's thing. That cannot be further from the truth.
This thing is a team effort from a lot of people: a board of directors, other staff members who are incredible, people, our students and young adults who are part of our community who are co-creating it, partners who have given money and energy and time. It's just a team effort to do this thing.
And that's one of the things that I really lift up is like campus ministry take a lot of people to make this thing happen. So yeah, we started it and really trying to say what does it look like to create a community for those people who've been burned, hurt by the church in a lot of ways, and need a space for healing? We also provide space, a launch pad that the sustenance, because our people are on the front lines of so much happening in the world. People working for systemic change, people who are going to be teachers, people who lead healing circles for black women, we have people who are working for disability justice, people who are working for indigenous rights and all these things right, that I believe, are part of God's grand salvation plan.
And so yeah, there is some trauma to be taken care of and some wounds that we're all healing, to use Henri Nouwen's phrase, we're all wounded healers. But also we're trying to provide the deep soul work, that helps our folks. We remind them to take Sabbath.
We remind them to tend to their souls. We remind them to find deep connection that they're not lone rangers, but that are connected to a community of people. That's our role in this. And yeah, it's a blast.
Patrick: That's incredible. And Rich, for those who are thinking about going into campus ministry, maybe you can just talk briefly about what is it like to stand in that space between, using your words what the denomination said - you need to show that this is viable in four months - and what the real needs of students and diverse populations who are existing to survive and thrive on campuses like the one you're serving. What is it like to stand in that space? What is ministry day to day like?
Rich: I would say it involves a diverse skillset. My title is pastor and executive director. And I feel like my job is often split in two, or maybe two separate jobs is a better way to say it. My job is to be the spiritual curator, like curating a diverse collection of voices and people and traditions in terms of what we do. It's creating sermons certainly, but we only do worship once a month because for our population, the idea that everybody can do one singular time during the week is almost laughable. How do you do this work when you're taking 18 hours of school, you're working a 40 hour a week job, you're helping to take care of your family, you're commuting from an hour away. The fact that that's our population and everybody can go to something on a Sunday morning, it's just not realistic. We created a lot of other access points for our people to try to meet them where they are and what their schedules demand.
It looks like creating community group curriculum. It looks like I said, preaching once a month or so, it looks like creating other content. Like we're releasing a Lenten devotional next week that they can use on their own time and on the go. It means we do a leadership development program where we have 10 people in a pretty intensive, you're coming to speak in a few weeks, a pretty intensive leadership development and spiritual formation program. It means a lot of pastoral care. And so if you are wanting to do ministry with people who have been hurt by the church, be ready to do a lot of pastoral care and to have your time use that way.
And also getting other staff members and other people who can do that work too. So that's the sort of pastor side, right? A lot of the things that people may think of. So I think about those old memes that used to go around, and I remember they were like, Pastors - what I think I do, what my mom thinks I do. That's like what people think of, that's about half my job. Sometimes it's less than half.
The other half is the executive director piece and so that involves leading a board of directors. We have a team of 12 people, an amazing board. But I helped to lead that and provide guidance for their work. Right now we're in the midst of a strategic plan that we designed together that involves things like how do we root ourselves at our current university, but also how do we grow? We have students coming to us from 10 different schools across Chicago land. In Chicago downtown area, there are 150,000 college students and we're one of two LGBTQ inclusive campus ministries. Every other campus ministry in the city is exclusive towards queer people. And so we know that we need to expand and to do that in contextual ways on different campuses.
So we're thinking about that. We're doing deep work around anti-racism creating the beloved community, inclusive of all people. I don't even say regardless of these things but because of race, disability status, and gender expression, sexual orientation, et cetera. Pieces like that are big like institutional pieces of our strategic plan. So involves board direction, involves a lot of fundraising…a lot of fundraising. My board chair, former board chair, used to use the metaphor of a fundraising is like you're standing with a bucket, filling it up with sand and the bucket has a huge hole at the bottom. Just never ending work of raising money. And about a third of our budget is from denominations. But then the other two thirds is fundraised from individuals in churches. It involves doing some things that are 0% sexy. Filling out the right paperwork for tax forms and making sure that you have permission from the attorney general of your state. But like I never learned that in seminary and seminary can't cover all that stuff.
You can't get all of the granular details. They could do a little bit better. But I don't wake up in the morning like, oh I can't wait to like, fill out the AG paperwork today. But it has to happen! I'm working with a coach right now that we're doing a whole financial model for our ministry as we think about expanding. I had no idea about how to do that. I was like learning Hebrew in seminary not learning how to scale a nonprofit and make sure that it's financially sustainable, but these are things that are important.
And also what we've tried to do too, Patrick, is for us gone are the days where we want to be viewed as like, oh the little precious campus ministry that needs our money. No, we certainly won't turn away money from people. But we also want to see ourselves as a participant in what God is doing and not just as someone who needs something, but we also have something to give. The Methodist church and the Presbyterian church are our two main sponsoring denominations. We have about eighty to ninety 18 to 25 year olds in our community, in Chicago. And we're about about 50% LGBTQ. 40% people of color, 60% white. And so we say hey, we have probably the most diverse and largest group of 18 to 25 year-olds of nearly any ministry in these areas. So what we have to offer is we have some ability to teach and to try to prepare congregations for ministry with young millennials and then gen Z or gen Zoomer, as everyone's saying now.
And so how can we also give back? And so we want to be seen as a partner in ministry not just as like the poor campus ministry that people give money to. So that's been a thing for us too lately is like developing workshops and tools to help empower congregation because the other part it is to help the church.
It is also a little bit selfish because I don't want our people to leave the inclusive collective, go to a town and call me and say, Rich I can't find a church. None exist. This church never talks about things that are important to me. This church is trying to play the middle and won't go to a black lives matter protest because they don't want to offend members.
This church is queer inclusive, the pastor wants to stay quiet about it because he doesn't want to like lose money. No, thank you. I want our churches to be places where, when our students and young adults leave out of the IC inclusive collective, they go and they find faith communities where they don't have to hide themselves where they can be ready to be full participants in the life.
So it is a little bit selfish too is that I want these churches to catch up with God and what God is doing.
Patrick: That's incredible. Rich. I just got one more question for you. As you live out this call in the both/and between E.D. and pastor, how much of this sense of call to this type of ministry is driven by community and how much is driven by your own sort of sense and call? Going all the way back to the beginning of the story, from the hospitality, to the 16 year old youth pastor, to coming alive in college, how much is due the community and how much due to some conversation you're having with God?
Rich: To use your phrase, you said FTE is always both/and - I think the same is true here. I wouldn't be the pastor that I am, I wouldn't have the calling I would have without experiences from my life and also a deep connection and communion with God.
You can see a lot of the threads, right? Like the hospitality piece is something that I really value. And want, to use FTE language, create hospitable space is a core practice of ours all the time to make sure people feel fully welcome in our space. Not just welcomed, but also powerful, right? The people aren't just invited to be in the room, but have a seat at the table where decisions are made.
And yeah it's experience. It's also community driven in terms of the conversations that I'm having with our members influence what we do. Our community shapes how we operate and we try really hard through informal means as well as formal practices, human centered design stuff to keep our fingers on the pulse of our community. So last semester our theme was 2020 Faith: Navigating white supremacy, a pandemic and an election season. If our faith has nothing to say in this moment, then frankly, it's useless. And those are the questions that people are asking, right? Like how do we exist during this time? So we did theology of police abolition. We did what it means to be a follower of Jesus who is invested in politics, but not being just co-opted by the Democrat party. I think a lot of progressive Christians are like, we have deeper value sets than any party can offer. And then a pandemic.
Honestly, when you're doing a lot of, particularly the attorney general forms and fundraising and you're neck deep in budget reports you think like why…what is this about again? All right, when I was 16 I had this calling an urge to do this thing. And then some days, or some weeks, some seasons are like, I don't know. And so one of the things that I do is I think back to the Hebrew people, right, who were often like stacking stones, right?
So they would go through some experience in stone stacking or other sort of monuments, to look and be able to look back when things get hard and be like, oh God was there. God did this thing. God made a way out of no way. And so I tried my hardest to create those monuments, memorials to be able to look back and to tether me to something whenever the calling gets hard, our days are tough or I have a bad meeting or whatever it is. This is not all peachy, things happen, things are sometimes bad. Whenever the stuff gets hard, monotonous, boring, it's like, this is why we do what we do. And if this infrastructure piece helps us do that - I've heard it called an infrastructure, like muscle for ministry- it helps us have a foundation then I'll do those AG papers all day if it means that I get to be in community and do ministry.
Patrick: I'm deeply grateful for your story. The Inclusive Collective, isn't just a campus ministry that I think is thriving and inspiring so many other campus ministries, it's a ministry in and of itself. Like you said, I think in your imagination, you've got something to teach the rest of the church about how to be. And I'm grateful that IC exists that as you are leading as executive director, pastor, participant, all the hats that you wear, I'm just grateful for you as a human. So thank you, thank you so much for sharing all that with us.
Rich: Yeah, thank you, Patrick. I, in turn am grateful FTE exists and for your work. Seriously, I say this all the time, not just to people who work for FTE, as I, in many ways, am the pastor I am and the leader I am because of FTE. So I'm grateful.
Patrick: Thanks Rich.
I want to thank you for joining us again on the Sound of the Genuine listening to Rich's story. If you enjoyed what you heard share this episode and the podcast with a friend. Special gratitude to our design managers Elsie Barnhart and Heather Wallace. And special gratitude to @Yali Beats. You can find his music in the show notes. Thanks again for listening and we'll see you next time on the Sound of the Genuine.