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Introducing The Exile Project
If you are feeling distant from the people and places you have loved, you aren’t alone.
If you wonder when things will ever get back to something like “normal,” you’re in good company.
If this year has taken you to one emotional extreme after another—with the pandemic, our nation’s racial reckoning, our Midwest derecho, a drought that has affected our crops, natural disasters around the country, a complicated and highly contentious election, extended uncertainty about the future of the United Methodist Church, and whatever else has been happening in your own circumstances—you may be feeling depleted, alongside many other friends and colleagues.
It’s that experience of depletion, distance, and uncertainty that has prompted us to introduce The Exile Project, a collaboration between Bishop Haller’s Mental Health Task Force and the Office of Clergy and Leadership Excellence. A diverse team of writers, introduced below, along with guest writers from time to time, will be distributing an “Abiding in Exile” e-newsletter each week, to support the mental health and wellness of lay and clergy leaders living through the pandemic.
Why exile? Because we stand in continuity with foremothers and -fathers who lived through dislocation and long experiences of trauma, across many centuries. Especially in the exile, after the fall of Jerusalem, these faith ancestors suffered utter ruin and separation from all they held dear. Maybe their responses can inform, encourage, and support us in this uncertain time of extended exile from our churches, our plans, our loved ones, and so many details of our regular lives.
And not only that. During the exile, the Israelites re-membered and re-told the Hebrew tradition in ways that gave them strength and resilience. The older testament took its current shape and, arguably, that history survived because of the work those exiles did to retrieve, preserve, and hand on that tradition. It was part of how they endured, themselves. They didn’t just hang on; they went deep.
Maybe through their eyes we’ll remember: We aren’t just on hold while we await a new normal that we can’t see yet. We have work to do.
So, you are invited to this weekly e-mail, “Abiding in Exile,” that will come to you on Thursdays, seeking to name and offer wisdom and resources for our collective well-being—spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical. We hope to speak to a range of needs over time, including pastoral care, spiritual formation, leadership development, and more. They’ll include some Scripture, some poetry and images, some invitations to further action, and always a prayer. We hope all this will provide some needed support in this time.
To Subscribe to the Abiding in Exile E-news:
Priscilla Joel, Ames
Priscilla is currently a student at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. She is studying aerospace engineering and is in her final year. Once she completes her bachelor's degree, she is hoping to go on to seminary and become a local church pastor. During the summer of 2019, she served as a ministry intern at West Des Moines UMC and has been connected with Collegiate UMC and Wesley Foundation in Ames.
Priscilla originally grew up in Saint Louis, Missouri, and came to ISU because of their aerospace program. She is very excited to be a part of the Exile Project. She believes that mental health is an extremely important and often overlooked issue facing many of us and our loved ones today. Priscilla hopes that this journey that she is on with her fellow writers will be a source of comfort to each of them, and those that reading their writing.
Eric Rucker, Simpson Youth Academy, Indianola
Eric is part of the campus ministry team at Simpson College and director of the Simpson Youth Academy for high school youth. He is passionate about helping young people develop as Christian leaders engaging the world for social change. Eric grew up in the local church in Kansas City, Missouri and later attended seminary at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. He worked several years as a hospital chaplain before accepting his current position at the Youth Academy.
Eric is completing his final year of training as a spiritual director, is currently a deacon in the Episcopal Church, and plans to be ordained a priest in the spring of 2021. He and his wife Hannah live in Des Moines, where they enjoy sharing meals with friends, biking and hiking, watching the Great British Bake Off, and serving as foster parents. Hannah and Eric are also creators of the podcast The Middle Way, which explores the intersections between faith and current events.
Rev. Lee Roorda Schott, Pastor, Valley UMC, West Des Moines
Lee is currently serving at Valley UMC, after nine years as pastor of Women at the Well in Mitchellville, a church based inside the walls of the Iowa women’s prison. That work planted in her a vision of the church outside the prison embracing persons right in their communities who face challenges like the ones we see so often inside the prison: addiction, mental illness, sexual assault and domestic violence. The church on the whole is impoverished by the absence–and the silence–of those experiences and voices in our midst. This truth is at the heart of her 2019 book, Foolish Church: Messy, Raw, Real, and Making Room, and its study & practice guide, The Fools’ Manual. She blogs on this subject at www.leeschott.com.
Lee previously served (2003-2011) as co-pastor of Polk City United Methodist Church, near the Des Moines metro. A 2007 graduate of Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Missouri, Lee was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church in 2009.
Ministry is Lee’s second career, following a 15-year career in law. After college at the University of Iowa, she attended Harvard Law School and then began her legal work at a Cleveland, Ohio law firm before returning to Iowa in 1995. She worked as an in-house lawyer at a Des Moines life insurance company until God called her into ministry in 2003. She is a farmer’s daughter with deep roots on her family’s century farm near Prairie City, Iowa. She and her husband of 36 years are the parents of three sons, a dear daughter-in-law and one more daughter-in-law-to-be.
Rev. Nan Smith, Hope UMC, Marshalltown
Nan was born in Minnesota and was that child who was always outdoors. Her family loved to camp and some of her earliest memories came from camping and hiking along the North Shore of Lake Superior in northern Minnesota. Her love of God’s creation led her to attain a degree in fisheries and wildlife biology from Iowa State University. For 17 plus years, she worked as a naturalist, first for Hartman Reserve Nature Center in Cedar Falls and then for Story County Conservation located at McFarland Park, north of Ames. She found it fulfilling to teach others about their natural world.
In 2006, Nan discerned a call into organized ministry. She left her naturalist work and started working as a youth specialist for Collegiate UMC & Wesley Foundation, while attending Saint Paul School of Theology. She received a MDiv in 2010 and was ordained an elder in 2012. She has served the Woodward UMC and is currently serving Hope UMC in Marshalltown.
Nan is the mother to three adult children and “Nana” to four grandchildren. She is an avid hiker, enjoying God’s creation with her golden retriever, Briar. She is passionate around issues of responsible and sustainable use of our natural world. She is always looking for ways to weave her faith together with her love of creation.
Rev. Dr. Mary Lautzenhiser Bellon, Collegiate UMC, Ames
Mary grew up on the shores of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. She was one of five children in a clergy family; her father pastored a large independent church and her parents were quite active in the Civil Rights movement. This experience left a lasting imprint in a theology of inclusion and justice. After leaving for the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied English Literature and Women’s Studies, Mary answered a call into the ministry and chose Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary where her father had studied many years earlier. While at Garrett, Mary developed an interest in pastoral counseling and upon completion of her MDiv degree, she received a fellowship for Ph.D. studies at Claremont School of Theology in Claremont California. She studied there with Dr. Howard Clinebell, a preeminent scholar in the pastoral counseling movement and with Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore who would become her thesis advisor upon Dr. Clinebell’s retirement.
Mary left Southern California again after finishing her qualifying exams and moved to the Albany, New York area where she was ordained and served churches for twelve years. During this period, she also completed her dissertation: The Use of Transitional Space as Sacred Space in Pastoral Counseling, and worked part time for the Samaritan Counseling Center of the Capital Region under the direction of Dr. David Olsen who taught her the practical arts of psychotherapy. Her two children, Laurel Capesius and Liam Fraser were also born during these years. Today, Laurel is a United Methodist clergyperson and married to Kenny, while Liam lives in Portland, ME and works as Tap Room Manager at Belleflower Brewery.
In 2000, Mary came to Iowa to direct The Office of Pastoral Care and Counseling upon the retirement of Dr. Larry Sonner. She served in this capacity until 2020 when she was appointed Senior Pastor of Collegiate United Methodist Church and Wesley Foundation in Ames, Iowa. Mary and her husband, Steve, are avid hikers and walkers, enjoy biking, boating, and traveling. Mary is also involved in creative writing, having finished the first draft of her novel and is currently working with her writing group to edit and finish it. Mary and Steve have two dogs, Charlie, their beautiful silver lab, and Rocky, their very ugly but well-loved puggle.
Pastor Nate Mason, Booneville and Maple Grove UMCs
Nate is an LLP serving Booneville and Maple Grove United Methodist Churches on the west edge of the Des Moines metro. You might remember Nate from his time as the Leadership Development Minister for Young Adult and Generational Ministries (2013-2015) for the Iowa Annual Conference. When not engaged in ministry, Nate is busy pursuing his other callings of cooking and being a fun dad to his two young children.