Write your service experience

News from a new memoir collection project: Seeds of Service.

Here’s their introduction:

Have you committed a year or more to post-graduate service in the United States?

Do you have reflections to share about your experience in one of America’s faith-based service programs?

Are you interested in being part of a published work?

We are looking for you!


We are seeking individuals who have completed a year or more of service in a faith-based service programs in one of the 50 states or U.S. territories during the years 1995 – 2011. We are interested in hearing from former volunteers who served in either urban or rural areas and in a faith-based programs of any religious tradition, be that Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and others!


Continuing the Story….

As we reflect back on the past four years, we are incredibly grateful for the people who have supported this work–those who believed in our idea before it had a publisher, those who had enough faith in it to offer us a contract, those who have read our book and our blog, those who have engaged with these ideas through speaking engagements and reading circles throughout the country. It has been so encouraging to learn that there is, in fact, a need for the voices of young women in our Catholic tradition. Although we will continue to speak about From the Pews in the Back, we have discerned that the time has come to push pause on this blog. We encourage folks to take advantage of the resources offered on the website, and definitely be in touch if we can be of support to you in any way as you gather reading circles and continue the story in your own way.

Peace be with you,

Kate and Jen

One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

By Rebecca Curtin

We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only-begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages. Light of Light; very God of very God; begotten, not made; of one essence with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man. And He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, and suffered, and was buried. And the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again with glory to judge the living and the dead; whose Kingdom shall have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets. We believe in one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

– the Nicene Creed as usually recited by Orthodox Christian congregations

Growing up I never knew the Nicene Creed was the source of such controversy. As a child I thought such things, the things I learned by heart, that I recited together with my family, week after week, year after year, were indelible, that they had always been just as they are now.

But, of course we learn as we grow older that this is not so. Even something as old, as seemingly stable as the Nicene Creed has for me in adulthood taken on a new level of perplexity. Indeed, adulthood itself seems to be a sort of endless complication of things that used to once be so simple.

On Sundays, I usually attend an Antiochian Orthodox Church near my home with my partner, a cradle Orthodox. We love the welcoming, tight-knit community there, and the high concentration of converts makes it so that my blond hair doesn’t immediately betray my non-Orthodox status.

Sometimes during the service I almost forget I’m Catholic, even when we cross ourselves (the Orthodox tend to cross themselves a lot) and I do mine “backward.” I have grown to love the abundant incense, the prostrations, and especially the icons, that second congregation that despite its two-dimensionality somehow seems to peer out at the congregation and participate in the service as we do. If the Catholic Church for me has always been clear the clear, bright, and light infused colors of stained class, the Orthodox Church is the luminous golds, and earthy browns and reds of the icons.

I do feel out of place at Orthodox church when we recite the Nicene Creed. The Catholic and Orthodox versions of the creed are similar, but the differences are so central to the theologies of both traditions that disagreements over them have had shattering repercussions and, some argue, directly led to the Great Schism of the eleventh century, when the two churches formally separated. These differences seem small now (i.e. the difference between “essence” and “being” or the addition of “and the son” when stating from whom the Holy Spirit proceeded) were at one time considered matters essential to salvation.

When it is time to say the creed, I usually stumble along reciting the Catholic version softly to myself, which is difficult to do when everyone around you is reciting something just a little different. But then, perhaps ironically, but also soul-liftingly we all say in unison that we “believe in one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.” Despite our creedal differences here is a reaffirmation of unity that has always seemed to me at once comforting and also mystifyingly naïve.

But, earlier this month the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation released a statement “Steps Toward a Unified Church” which includes a commitment to a common “statement of faith,” a common creed. The Catholic Church concedes that, in the interest of Church unity, “the original Greek form of the Creed of 381, because of its authority and antiquity, should be used as the common form of our confession in both our Churches.” If unity is achieved, Catholics will recite the version of the creed now used by Orthodox churches.

Perhaps this all seems somewhat superficial. After all, the Orthodox Creed as printed above is very similar to what is recited in Catholic churches. Can we count these small agreements as real achievements when the Church has huge issues to tackle like the ordination of women, the future of Catholic higher education, and the place of the LGBT community in the Church?

But, words are so very important. The words chosen by early church councils, used in our liturgies, and by our theologians are the basis for so much of Church dogma. And, small steps like this acquiescence on a point that at one time seemed incontrovertible reignites my hope that important change is possible in the Catholic Church. I rejoice, perhaps selfishly, that true communion between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches could be possible. And, I cautiously celebrate this small indication that the Church may be willing to consider compromise when a higher end is within sight.

Rebecca Curtin holds degrees from the University of Notre Dame and Harvard Divinity School. She lives in Somerville, MA.


Felicia Schneiderhan

My first thought always when hearing today’s Gospel is “Good, I don’t have to be perfect.”

See, I have this perfectionism thing going. My spiritual advisor reminds me that my perfectionism is really pride in disguise; really me trying to be God. “And where’s the God in that?” she asks.

Well, God’s not in the room at all. If I practice perfection, I have no need of God. Self-sufficiency! Let me do it myself! And let me get it right!

There are days when I “to-do” everything right. From the minute I wake up till the minute I go to sleep, I follow the rules and the to-do list to a perfect T. I wake up when the alarm goes off and instantly put my feet on the floor, ready to go. I do my morning prayer and meditation as specified. I eat what I am supposed to. I spend within my budget. I am on time. I get along with everyone – if only because I am so attuned to following the plan for the day that I have little time or attention for anyone. (Interacting with others is never on the to-do list.)

I’ll admit, these days are few and far between. But when they happen – oh, the glory of perfection! The rapture of going to sleep knowing that every piece of my puzzled day snapped perfectly into place. I am indeed proud on days like these, because they prove I can manage my own life, thank you very much.

Funny thing on these quests for perfection: they are sought alone.

For example: I have recently discovered that nothing brings out my perfectionist tendencies like being a new mom. I am so inexperienced and dead-set on doing everything right for my four month-old son that I miss the obvious.

Sleep books stack high on my nightstand, so I can stay up late reading about how to perfect my son’s sleep schedule, so that his brain will develop perfectly and he will be perfectly happy all the time. According to my current reading, he should be napping three times a day, at 9, noon, and 3, and then going to bed for the night sometime between 6-7. This is the daytime schedule: 9, noon, and 3. This is the schedule.

Yesterday my husband spent the afternoon working from home, and he observed me trying all sorts of means to get our son to take his 3 o’clock nap: ignoring his fussing and crying; lying down with him in our bed. This went on for nearly an hour before Mark changed his diaper and gave him a toy and he settled down. An hour later, at dinner, our baby ate voraciously.

“Maybe he was hungry,” Mark said. “Maybe that’s why he couldn’t settle down to nap.”

After a few minutes of defensively denying that I could ever miss my son’s hunger cues, I had to admit, Mark may have been right. Our son will eat just a bit, fall asleep, and as soon as I put him in his crib, he’s wide awake again, and I spend an hour trying to get him to fall back to sleep. I interpret his fussing and crying as sleep-deprivation, which may only be partly right. But had I stopped and been present in the situation, rather than vehemently sticking to the plan of perfection, I may have noticed that perhaps he had just nodded off early and needed to finish his meal.

If I am so set on following the plan perfectly, I miss the reality of the situation. I miss the other person. I miss the relationship.

In today’s Gospel, the Pharisee who follows the law perfectly, speaks his prayer to himself. Whereas the tax collector, a sinner, would not even dare to raise his eyes to heaven, for he knew to whom he was talking. Following the rules is beside the point; what’s important to God is that we enter into a relationship with Him. So often, our failings make it possible for us to acknowledge our need for God, to enter into the room with him. But joy and gratitude could serve this purpose just as well. In the end, our fulfillment is not from doing everything right, but from connecting in a meaningful way to God, and to those around us.

Soft Hearts

by Angela Batie Carlin

My, the readings feel dismal today. But, I suppose some people would call the life of the Church dismal these days. With each new news story – from parishes closing their doors to new clergy abuse scandals to the divisive topics of marriage equality and women’s inclusion, not to mention the looming new translation of the Missal, it seems that each new movement of the Church brings the faithful into greater opposition and polarization. The first reading’s “strife and clamorous discord” sound familiar.

That is why I find today’s readings actually encouraging. It gives perspective and context to our struggles today. While a different situation, the feelings are the same – violence, threat, and abandonment. There’s strange comfort in realizing that we are not the only era of discontent in which people have felt in crisis before. Yet, the people marched on and God did not forsake them.

It makes me look toward the future, too. If people have wrestled for centuries, I wonder how much longer we will long for peace (“Why must you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?” pleads Habakkuk.) If not the division in our Church, then the true suffering of the vulnerable of our world surly must move our hearts. Do we truly hope and believe that things will change? Or are our cries a lament, as we look toward a final, distant horizon for true justice to prevail?

So, if our struggle is just another thread in the tapestry of people’s plights through the ages, how do we keep our hearts from hardening? How can we keep our hearts, well, soft? How do we notice the suffering, recognize that the end is probably not in sight, and still continue to make ourselves vulnerable? Others online here have discussed the question “why do I stay?” Some have left. For those who remain, how do we find life and nurture in the midst of pain and struggle?

It’s the work of the Spirit. As the psalmist instructs, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” God continues to call, and with that call comes the grace to respond instead of harden, to receive the blessings instead of the curse, to develop community and relationships instead of calluses. The second reading reminds us that we are to “bear our share of hardship for the gospel” but that we’ll have the “strength that comes from God” with which to do that. Strength to cultivate, against all logic, hearts of softness – strong, steadfast softness – as we grapple, wrestle, love, and grieve.

Angela Batie Carlin is a Campus Minister and a 2007 graduate of Yale Divinity School. She’s looking forward to the YDS convocation celebrating eight decades of women this month.

For Your Consideration

This Sunday we won’t have a blog post on the readings, but we do have a couple links for ya. One is the USCCB website, which has the readings of the day for every day of the liturgical year, including this one. The other is a National Catholic Reporter article on Haiti, entitled “Haiti: Grace in the Rubble.” Happy reading! Hope your reflections are fruitful.

The Swinging Friar

by Rebecca Curtin

It’s fall, and baseball season is coming to a close. It’s bittersweet saying goodbye to the “Boys of Summer,” and it’s tempting to be caught up in the excitement of a new football season, to anticipate falling leaves, pumpkins, and holidays.

But, for now, I’m still thinking about baseball. Baseball and this fellow.

The Friar. The Swinging Friar, mascot of the San Diego Padres, my home team. The Padres have had a solid season and are – as this goes to press – neck and neck in the race for their division title.

The Swinging Friar is one of the only religious figures who is also a mascot of a major American professional sports team (the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and the New Orleans Saints being others). He is definitely the only mascot with a tonsure. Sometimes, during breaks between innings at Petco Park, he runs the bases. Really. It’s a sight to see, a pretty silly sight at that, and one that always makes me laugh.

The inspiration for the Swinging Friar is Junípero Serra, the Franciscan priest who was instrumental in the founding of 21 missions in Alta California, still a colony of Spain in the eighteenth century. Young Californians learn about these missions in school and visit them on field trips. Father Serra’s first, the Mission San Diego de Alcalá was established in 1769, seven years before the Declaration of Independence was written.

The San Diego Padre is a loaded figure, as many religious symbols are, especially in the southwestern United States where the Spanish missions were established to “civilize,” “cultivate,” and “convert” the native populations. Behind that goofy smile and gelatin physique is a subtext of colonization and oppression. He is a remembrance of a cultural institution long dead and of two governments overthrown in succession, first Spain by Mexico then Mexico by the United States. Many of the California missions have been restored, but others exist in various states of disrepair, the most famous ruins probably those of San Juan Capistrano, where a dilapidated and beautiful church still rises half-formed over the mission walls.

The Swinging Friar sometimes feels less like a reference to the original padres and more like a figure from a medieval carnival, which parodied the Church by turning powerful figures into caricatures of themselves, to be both taunted and cheered on by a reveling crowd. The carnivals were venues where it was okay to lampoon the powerful. The Friar’s generous belly speaks of opulence, his blithe nature to a carefree outlook, hardly qualities, I think, of the padres who lived and worked with the native Americans in mission communities, more Friar Tuck, less Father Serra. Every home game a little Mardi Gras.

It has always bothered me to hear someone say that they prefer the East Coast of the United States because of its history. I do love the old cemeteries, the historical sites, and that musty smell of the oldest houses of New England, my adopted home. But, the history of what is now the Southwestern United States is uniquely intertwined with the history of Catholicism in the New World. It’s our history, the history of the Catholic Church in America, and it’s messy, complicated, and sad. It’s a history at once brutal and beautiful.

Sometimes the only way to deal with instances of such stark paradox is to make fun of them, to laugh, as I always do when that jolly friar awkwardly slides into home.

Rebecca Curtin was, as a small child, often mistaken for a boy, both because of her non-existent head of hair and because of the San Diego Padres cap she refused to take off. She would like to point out that the San Diego Chicken, though awesome, is not the “official” mascot of the Padres.

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