A New Kind of Home

By Caroline Underwood


I started attending Grace Commons about a year ago. At that time, having been a seminary student over the past few years, my “church” had been weekly worship at seminary. I really needed a faith community outside of seminary where I could have worship and fellowship.

My soul felt like it needed a spiritual home. Grace Commons ended up being that place for me.

I find that Sunday evening worship is the perfect mixture of spiritual reflection and fellowship with others. In worship not only is my soul nourished, but my mind is stimulated as well. Also, having been a part of a small group this year helped me connect with some of GC’s other community members.

We are a small group, but it’s nice because it did not take long before I felt like I was a real part of the community. At Grace Commons, I feel it’s just so easy to be who you are.

My hope is that Grace Commons will grow and flourish into the future. We are already such a unique community with people who have such amazing spiritual gifts. I hope that our gifts will be shared even further into the world, and that more people will experience God in a new and different way.

The great thing about being a part of a community that is new and changing is that there are so many places we could go from here. I can’t wait to see the plans that God has for our community!


What Grace Commons Means to Me


By Annie MacDowell

I started attending Grace Commons about four years ago, during a time of spiritual transition for me.

I came from the suburbs where I had grown up an evangelical Christian, and I was feeling disenchanted and disappointed with both the community AND God of my youth.

Grace Commons provided a sanctuary where I could quietly and slowly process my spiritual transformation through meditative practice, new friendships, and, especially, dinners after the service.

I felt relaxed and accepted at Grace Commons in a way I hadn't in years.  Nanette was welcoming, but not overwhelming, and she responded with open arms when I requested to meet with her, have coffee, and discuss the Christian faith.

Nanette didn't pretend to have all the answers, and she seemed comfortable with ambiguity in a way that made me feel free - and like I wasn't crazy for not being 100% certain about what I believed.  These conversations with Nanette, and subsequently joining a community group with other members of Grace Commons, led to a spiritual transformation in me that is ongoing.

I am no longer a "dualistic" thinker - I'm becoming more comfortable with the grey.  I'm seeing more mystery in my faith, and my heart has opened to welcome people who my previous approach to Christianity had rejected.

It felt so good to learn that I could love unconditionally, and that God loved me in all my privilege, my greed, my selfishness, and my humanity in general.  I am therefore a much more gentle and relaxed person, and coming to Grace Commons is coming home to a group of people who are also embracing that gentle approach to life and spirituality.

I am blessed to be a part of this community.



The Road to Ministry

Kentina and Sophia

By Kentina Washington

‘I have taken the road less traveled, and that has made all the difference.’ – Robert Frost

If I have learned nothing else in the last two years of seminary, I have learned one thing: how to talk about myself very well. Now, I don’t mean that in a narcissistic or self-serving way, but revealing to someone that you are in seminary (instead of just saying ‘graduate school’ when they ask you what you do for not-much-of a living) invites what I have affectionately coined: the 3-Second Pause. There is a pause while the person who you are talking with makes the connection in their mind of what the word ‘seminary’ means, either resulting in a look of wonder or of confusion, as they consider the whole conversation that they had with ‘a minister that they didn’t know was a minister.’ After the shock wears off, the next question is ‘So how did you know you wanted to be a pastor?’ To which I respond ‘I didn’t, and I still don’t, but I am enjoying the journey to figuring that out.’

I was born and raised in a suburb of Cleveland, OH, a community rich in ethnic, racial, religious, and cultural diversity. Growing up, I was not steeped in any particular religious tradition, but was always a theological ‘seeker,’ attending Catholic mass, worship services from many different branches of Protestantism, Jewish Shabbat on Friday evenings, and Ba’hai gatherings. I entered college searching for a rabbi with whom to explore my burgeoning interest in Judaism, and left 4 years later intrigued by charismatic experiences with the Spirit, but still congregationally ‘homeless.’

After 7 years on the corporate fast track, a job loss propelled me into seminary. Well, the ‘propelling’ did not happen as dramatically or instantaneously as it sounds, but knowing that I did not want to go back to work meant that there were no more excuses for me not to answer the call to seminary – to further explore my ‘theological curiosity’ – without the pressures of working full-time. And, so, five years after hearing the first real ‘nudges,’ I enrolled in seminary, and it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.

I am a proud member of the United Church of Christ (God is still speaking!), worshipping with the congregation where I first heard my ‘call,’ Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago. I have discerned a definite vocational call to full-time healthcare chaplaincy, and look forward to serving the spiritual needs of God’s beloved in that setting after graduation as an ordained clergyperson.

The road to ministry for me has been much like the route that it takes me to get from my home in Evanston to downtown Chicago for my ‘office days’ at the Presbytery. Catching the L means that, just as in life, I will encounter some turns, hard stops, slow zones, delays, and even an occasional on-time arrival. Despite the bumps and occasional moments of feeling constricted, riding the train allows me to read—for pleasure—for an hour (which is unheard of during my regular academic school year), giving me a sense of solace and peace in the midst of chaos all around me. When I step out of the station an hour later, I walk two blocks to the office and start my day working for Grace Commons as the Summer Seminarian. The journey from the NorthShore to the West Loop is a metaphor to me of what my life has been as I have traveled this twisting, winding , road of discovery to learn what it means to be loved by and to love like Christ. I look forward to journeying with each of you over the next 2 months as we seek to make Grace Commons a better place, uniquely positioned to love and serve God by loving and serving one another and this world, the world that God loves so much.

Kentina Washington will be entering her 3rd year at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in the fall of 2013.  While pastoral ministry is her vocational passion, her most important and exciting role  is being mom to her almost-kindergartener, Sophia.


Finding Church in a Loaf of Bread

by Ellie Barta-Moran

In the lifelong quest for belief, I had finally distilled it down to three clear things: love, hope, and good works. Beautiful ideas, but sometimes a lonely trudge on my own. The idea of community has always resonated with me, from being raised in a hippie cooperative to dorm life in college to . . . what’s the next step when you’re an adult?

My idea of a community was: good people, good food, good conversation; and my interest was piqued when I saw a flyer in a café for Wicker Park Grace. It took four months of reading the weekly enotes before I mustered the courage to try.

When I first began to explore being part of a community, I wasn't sure where I'd fit in or what role I'd play. I don't consider myself to be a Christian. I wasn't sure what I ultimately sought by joining the community, or even what I could give. Really, I was drawn in by the potluck dinners. I love cooking. I even joke sometimes that cooking is my coping skill.

As I sat down to my first communion at Wicker Park Grace, and heard Nanette intone the familiar invitation to share in the Sacred Meal together, I wasn't even sure I should be (or felt comfortable) partaking. I hadn't taken communion in more than 10 years.

There were times in my life where I took communion and the bread caught in my throat; it simply felt wrong. But Nanette's inclusive welcome made me wonder, could I try this again? It felt right this time. And a month later, I started to wonder who made or brought the bread, and it became clear to me: I knew my gift—maybe even responsibility—was to provide bread for that meal. Cooking is the greatest expression of love for me.

My worship is in the preparation. It feels like a sacred act to set aside deliberate time to devote to the creation of nourishment. Knowing what ingredients: how much flour, salt, gluten; and the water: too hot, and the yeast will be killed, too cold, and the yeast won’t proof. Giving the bread full attention so it may properly rise.

When I shape the dough into the pan, I think about who and how the bread will be nourishing. I find my peace in those quiet moments of the task, and it has become a ritual over the past year since I have begun providing the bread for each communion. And I realize what I was seeking was peace, calm, purpose.

These are all feelings I had not been able to put words to until becoming part of this community. Never would I have considered finding my church in a loaf of bread.


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