Posted by: preacherjean | February 2, 2009

Scholarship Essay #1

As I get nearer to the Big Move, I’m going to be applying for scholarships and grants and many of them will ask for essays. So I thought it would be a good use of this space to capture them here. Here’s the first one:

Personal Statements

1. The role of religion in today’s living.

With as many distractions and negative forces as there are in our world today, I believe that religion must continue to play a major role in two ways. First of all, people need it. They need the comfort and strength that faith provides and they need community and support and mutual purpose that belonging to a church affords. Secondly, the world needs the church. The church can shine the spotlight on the dark places in our country and in our world – poverty, homelessness, racism, loneliness and alienation, war – and offer both spiritual and practical solutions to those problems.

A lot of news has been made about the role of religion in politics. I don’t believe that a politician’s religious beliefs should be a determining factor in his getting elected; however, I would hope to see more and more politicians who are people of deep faith, or at least deep conscience, because those are the men and women who will put the needs of the people above their own political ambitions and personal gain. It’s clear that our country’s founders intended us to have freedom of religion, but I don’t think that has to mean absence of religion; rather, it should mean that every one of us is free to choose how we experience and demonstrate our faith, if at all.

2. How can churches become more effective?

In order to become more effective today, churches must change a number of things. First, they need to broaden their welcome and become places of inclusion rather than exclusion. Oftentimes, people coming to church for the first time, don’t feel welcome. In other cases, people have been turned off by the message of exclusivity a church projects, whether intentional or unintentional. Churches need to take a good, hard look at how they welcome the stranger. Second, there is a lot of division in the church today, within and between denominations, and to be effective, there needs to be a major effort at reconciling those differences and working together. Third, churches need to get the word out that they are there and providing services. There are a lot of ways in this modern world to effectively reach many people, both to provide and to receive services. We can’t assume that just getting together on Sunday is enough. Finally, the leadership in the church needs to help every member explore his or her call ministry, ordained or not, to be a fully functioning Body of Christ.

3. In what ways do you feel you can make a difference in people’s lives.

As a pastor, I hope to help people discern their own ministries and to experience the satisfaction and joy that that can bring. A minister can’t, and shouldn’t, do everything in a church. We are called to work in community, with everyone contributing what they best can. The pastor is like a pilot of a ship or the director of a play, whose charge is to lead and encourage and cheer on the members of his or her congregation in doing the work God has given us to do.

Being a pastor also means being present in many capacities for parishioners during the ups and downs in their lives – comforting during sad times, rejoicing during happy occasions, listening and counseling during challenging life changes. I have done some lay pastoral visiting and I know what an impact a sympathetic ear can have. Often people don’t want their problems solved; they just want to know that they’ve been heard and that they’re not alone.

Finally, as a person of faith and a child of God, I hope that I influence people by the way I live my life. That people can look at me and think, I want to have whatever she has. It isn’t enough to tell people what to do. You have to show them, every day what it means to live a life of prayer, of service, of joy.

4. Your personal religious philosophy.

I believe in religious tolerance and inclusion. Every person on this planet has been made in the image of God and is precious to Him; therefore, who am I to judge how another person finds God or experiences the Holy? That having been said, I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus. I strive (and some days it’s harder than others) to live my life following in His footsteps. This means, for me, a life of service to God through service to others. I also want my life to be one of joyful and willing sacrifice – following Jesus all the way to the cross – but I’m still trying to figure out, with God’s help, what that means for me.

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