Rev. Dr. Teresa Dulyea-Parker will be installed as the Regional Minister for the Christian Church Michigan Region, Saturday, March 5. The installation will take place by Zoom, at the end of the Regional Board meeting, 11:15 CST/12:15 EST. The theme of the installation is our stories of faith: celebrating our legacy gifts. We will be inviting participants to share brief stories of the folks who have shaped their faith lives. This will take place in small groups on our Zoom platform.
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As I have matured in my human faith journey, I have sought meaning and purpose from my life experiences. I have been blessed to study the best of biblical and theological scholarship. (Thank you, Christian Theological Seminary) I have been awed by the quest for Jesus’ authentic teaching, the desire to understand his ministry more fully, including the events of his death and resurrection with integrity, if not clarity. Humility before the sacred story of Jesus calls and requires me to seek authenticity, desire integrity, as I struggle to clarify what is essentially a mystery.
Mystery is so much more life-giving than certainty, isn’t it? Mystery fills me with wonder and awe in the face of reality. Here’s a story that dropped my jaw—the definition of awe:
Two times in my life, I have had to hold on to the arms of my chair in worship to keep from levitating off my seat. One was when I listened to my Pastor preaching a sermon on ministry as a calling . . . I heard it—“that’s what I’m supposed to do” and I held on tight. (A story for another day)
The other time was at United Christian Church in Detroit. As I recall I was there with members of Central Woodward Christian Church to celebrate the installation of a new Pastor.
During this worship service the choir sang. I don’t remember the song. What I do remember is the voice. There was a woman’s voice in the choir that resonated in the depth of my being. There I was holding onto my chair—the joy was jumping inside of me. It wasn’t that the song was peppy—it was the voice.
As we prepared to leave worship, this woman came into the hallway where I was gathering my coat. I said out loud what the voice inside me was thinking, “I love your voice. I want you to sing at my funeral.”
She looked at me and said, “Honey, I hope that’s not anytime soon.” And, then she added, “Would you like to know how I got this voice?”
I was confused by the question. I thought, “is she talking about voice lessons or what?” I said, “yes.”
She said to me, “the man I was living with stabbed me in the throat. It was the Doctors at Henry Ford Hospital that put me back together and gave me this voice.”
And, then she added the words that changed me forever, “You’ve got to use the gifts God gives you.”
Mystery speaks to the depth of my soul, whether three years old in a nursery class, nine years old living a trauma, thirty-five as a guest at an installation, or sixty-three hoping to share a little meaning and purpose with you.
Still in love with Jesus.
My first encounter with Jesus was in the nursery Sunday school class of my home church. Mrs. F was teaching the parable of Jesus about the shepherd seeking the lost sheep.
When I heard it, I wept tears of joy. I knew then how kind, compassionate, and loving Jesus was. I asked to make sure I had it correct, “would Jesus do that, go and find the lost sheep?” The answer was “yes.” One who would leave everything to find a lost one touched my preschooler heart with hope and joy. I really loved this Jesus.
My next experience with Jesus was going to bed the night after learning our brother Barry was killed in action while serving in Vietnam. Somehow, I made it through the daylight hours, and now it was time to go to bed. Routines are comforting and restorative for children under normal circumstances. Not this night.
When I climbed into my bed, I started my evening prayers—“Now I lay me . . .which I always closed with God bless Mommy, Daddy, Ken, Barry, Brad, Joel, Grandma, Tiki (our dog). . . Except, my throat closed as I began the prayer. I broke open, yet again. My body and soul were inconsolable.
There was no pulling the covers over my head to escape the endless waves of grief. My mother, who was with me, tried to help. Doing what must have been so hard for her. She spoke to me. She held me. She spoke my name softly. She sat with me in her deep sorrow. The sobs would not stop coming from deep within my being. Nothing, even the simplest routine would ever be the same.
Then, my mother reaching deep into her own soul said to me the best thing she could think of, “Teresa, Barry is with Jesus.”
I stopped crying, immediately. Something in nine-year old me knew this meant something. It was a good thing. Jesus was good, loving, compassionate, caring. If Barry was with Jesus, it would be okay.
My grief has taken a lifetime to process. Trauma usually does. But that night Jesus was the one I needed.
I am still in love with Jesus for all the reasons my childhood gave me:
The church represented by all the Mrs. F’s.’
The stories of Jesus who seeks the lost, the different and the outcast. Jesus who restores us to the fullness of life—valued/treasured—beloved.
The real Presence of Love that does not leave us in our sorrow—ever.
My faith didn’t happen overnight. I was raised up in the life of a congregation. My mother and father were both active members of the church (she was one of the first women Elders). They both sang in the choir. She led the children’s choir. I can still hear my youngest brother making machine gun sounds to “We’re in the Lord’s Army.” I was not so out-going.
Mrs. F. was my favorite Sunday school teacher. She taught our class the Lord’s Prayer. She taught us to pray—something I am profoundly grateful for. She also encouraged me to talk– out loud– to people. I was shy, growing up in a household with four older brothers who filled up a lot of space. I still remember her nodding “yes” to every word she could get out of me.
When I sensed that I might be called to ministry, she was the first person I told.
It was the Mrs. F’s and many others who gave me a grounding in faith that have helped me to survive, overcome and thrive. I carry their goodness within me.
Here’s a first example from Dr. Teresa:
“I am a first-generation Disciple; this is how it all began . . .
Years before I was born, my grandfather was diagnosed with cancer. He was hospitalized. This was in the days when patients shared ward type rooms, had longer stays, and treatments were not available.
His roommate was Mr. B, a member at First Christian Church. The two men became friends who cared for each other. When Mr. B’s pastor came for a care visit for his member, Mr. B introduced him to my grandfather.
A relationship/friendship/pastoral call led to my Grandfather, Grandmother, Mother, Father, and Aunt making their confessions of faith and being baptized into the life of the body of Christ at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Muskegon. Years later, when I was five days old, I was carried into that church—cradle roll, dedicated, baptized, and ordained there.
I never met my Grandfather or Mr. B or even Rev. Smith, but I am here, because Christ’s love is about caring relationships that are bigger than one lifetime.”