We could not be more proud of National Organizer Tricia Dykers Koenig, who this week was honored with the 2012 Distinguished Alumna Award from McCormick Theological Seminary. Congratulations, Tricia, and thank you for you constant work and faithful witness to God’s love and justice!
Her remarks at Monday’s ceremony are below, and are themselves a testimony and call to see God’s power on display in ministry that seeks inclusion and unity.
At the age of 18 I went off to college with the intention of majoring in Political Science – I was the type of high school kid who read Theodore White’s The Making of the President series on summer vacation. Sometime in my second semester, however, when the time came to fill out that form, I decided to major in Religion – for no discernible reason other than a curious but distinct feeling that it was what I was supposed to do. Sophomore year, Introduction to New Testament, was love at first lecture, and I never looked back. I actually decided to go to seminary because, with graduation approaching, I couldn’t bear the thought of not taking any more classes in Bible and theology. And having come to college influenced by roughly equal parts Young Life and my Presbyterian congregation, with a hint of my Methodist childhood and a large dose of evangelical Bible study, I began to need more explicit help than was provided by the academic Religion classes, with integrating my faith and the exciting and life-changing concepts I was learning in class.
I landed at McCormick on the recommendation of my Jewish archaeology professor, showing up in Chicago sight unseen, on the lookout for Ted Campbell and Bob Boling, and with some adjustment required to living outside the South and in a big city. My first year, I struck fear into the heart of anyone driving up Lake Shore Drive with me in the snow. It was reassuring that potluck dinners figured prominently in community life, as had been the case among my Christian friends in college.
I loved Jesus and the Gospel and the Bible and sharing my excitement about them with other people, at least as much as an introvert shares excitement with anyone. And I hope I had already internalized the Jesus ethic, love your neighbor as yourself, as the goal for my personal relationships.
It was McCormick, though, that helped me recognize more deeply the implications of biblical ethics for how we organize ourselves as a society, for government and business and church; that God demands of us not simply good intentions and the occasional good deed, but attention to the common good in our lives as citizens and shapers of institutions as well; that peace and justice and equality were not just the slogans of the hippies that my elders warned me about, but were the most fundamental of Christian values for every aspect of life. Got to love that Reformed theology! Bruce Rigdon sounded the call about nuclear weapons and their grave danger to the planet. Jack Stotts led us in reflection on Shalom: The Search for a Peaceable City. Bob Worley connected the dots relative to how the church works. Ted and Bruce and others demonstrated the commitment of academic folk to the church through the congregation, and continued to inspire by their sheer joy in thinking and learning. The Chicago Cluster of Theological Schools multiplied that richness, and the thrill of discovery that began for me in college continued in multiple dimensions. It was here that I began, haltingly, to recognize my own privilege as a white, upper middle-class American, and to cultivate in earnest the capacity to imagine standing in another person’s shoes, which remains an elusive goal. Perhaps my perspective is not the only possible way to experience the world.
When Mark and I headed off after graduation in 1980 to co-pastor congregations in tiny farm towns, my social consciousness was still forming, and ran to activities like the CROP Walk, county cheese distribution, and helping to begin the Des Moines Presbytery social justice newsletter, Broken Bread. We were trying to keep little churches afloat and start a family; the farm crisis was a major concern, but I had no idea what to do about it.
My call to help make the church and the world safe for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons began when I was elected by the Presbytery of the Western Reserve as a commissioner to the 203rd General Assembly in 1991 – the GA that received the Human Sexuality Report, Keeping Body and Soul Together. To make a long story short, I hadn’t given homosexuality much if any thought in my ministry to date, but I was beyond appalled to witness the behavior of so-called Christians in relation to LGBT persons. It’s gotten an awful lot better since then, but at the time and since it has been the hatefulness of people claiming to be defending the faith that made me a gay-rights activist – Jesus just doesn’t need the kind of back-up he was getting from some people! I educated myself on the issues out of an extreme disconnect between my understanding of the gospel and the actions of the church, between how I learned to interpret Scripture in college and seminary and how the majority of church people seemed to be applying it in this one case.
One thing led to another – especially, opening my previously-oblivious eyes to the precious people in my own life who are LGBT – and I was immensely privileged in the Year of our Lord 2000 to join the staff of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians as National Organizer – landing me back in the realm of political science after all.
Covenant, the most basic of biblical themes lifting up our relationship with one another and with God. Network, is that a little redundant? I guess the covenant gives content to this particular network. We are thrilled to have contributed to the accomplishment of restoring some lost integrity to the PCUSA with last year’s amendment to the ordination standard in our Book of Order, and I understand my presence here primarily as a testimony to that corporate effort, which involved thousands of Presbyterians working and witnessing for years (and we’re not finished yet).
If I am “distinguished,” it is because I have been blessed to be a part of an incredible team. My colleague Pam Byers, without whom none of this would have been possible (thanks for being here, Pam); many fantastic members of the Covenant Network Board, including McCormick alums Tim Hart-Andersen and Dave Colby, the former and current chairs of our Strategy Committee – many of you here today, and so many more across the church – we did this together with God’s help, convinced that our efforts have been an act of faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This award is less about me than about us, and it represents McCormick’s commitment to the twin purposes of LGBT equality and of church unity that have energized the Covenant Network for the last 15 years. I hope that current students and alums who are LGBT, along with straight allies, understand this as an affirmation of them, as an act of solidarity with the cause of inclusion and equality, as a declaration that we commit ourselves to God’s continual project of drawing the circle wider and wider until the world knows that there is no one outside the embrace of grace.
I am so very proud that this is who McCormick is.
To conclude on an even more personal note: My parents had hoped to be here today but were unable to make it, which is why Mark is recording this. Mama and Daddy, this award is yours too. I pray that every child might experience the unconditional love that has been my lifelong blessing and the foundation upon which I have stepped out into the world. You gave me the unmistakable message that I could do anything I set my mind to – may all God’s children, gay and straight, young and old, get that assurance from their parents, from the church, from the world.
The one and only preaching course I took at McCormick (or ever, for that matter) was from Don Wardlaw, entitled “The Indicative and the Imperative in Preaching,” and I have tried to follow Don’s formula in every sermon I have ever delivered, with varying success, no doubt – proclaim the Gospel of grace, the indicative, which sets the foundation for the so-what-does-that-mean-we-should-do-about-it, the imperative.
The Christian Century has posed a challenge recently – express the Gospel in 7 words or less – and with the indicative and the imperative in mind, here’s my attempt:
Jesus loves everybody unconditionally, so should we.
It’s twice as many words, but another way to say the same, charge and benediction, is the verse from Romans (15:7) that might be Paul’s topic sentence for the whole epistle, and I hope is the theme of our ministry:
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Amen.