Moving from Ireland to Michigan in mid-career with three sons could not be a light-weight decision for Karen and David. Yes, one could say, we follow the Lord’s will. But deciding what the Lord wants, when and how, pulled on their life of faith and trust, with remarkable turning-points in their case.
Of the symbols we Christians use to remind ourselves of faith – rainbows, rivers, plowshares, the cross – Karen’s symbol over the course of her ministry has been the tree of life (Psalm 1, Rev 22). And that symbol played a role in her decision to consider the overture from COS, and finally to come our way.
During her summer 2017 ministry at COS, Karen admits to harboring no notions at all of a future here. Never crossed her mind…until late in August that year when she became intrigued by the architecture of COS’s worship space. She read the COS story, its intentional plan to draw all who enter to the Word and the table. On her final Sunday, she took note that indeed she was preaching from Revelation 22 (always the plan) under the stylized tree that presents to worshippers a silent reminder of God’s great promises. Hmm, this confluence of events…could it mean something? Her question remained private and in the deep background of her return to Kilbride Church in Northern Ireland, where she was determined to stay until the Lord made it faithfully clear that the time had come to move on.
Then in October before “Harvest Sunday,” the letter from John Witvliet arrived, asking if she would consider being put before COS for consideration. The letter “floored us,” Karen and David recall. They did nothing in response and said nothing to Ian, Callum, and Duncan. They waited and prayed, fully aware that “international work” to both of them meant Third World. They had both worked in Kenya, and to Kenya-like places, they had always been open to returning.
Time went by. They consulted with friends and spiritual leaders close by. The theme of tree of life kept appearing in Bible reading over the course of the discernment period and on the day when Karen’s name was announced to council and her own Kirk Session simultaneously, the leaders of her Irish church listened, heard their sense of the Lord’s calling and their concerns, and concluded with them that the Lord was leading them on.
Then the ties that bind the faithful began coming into play. During Karen’s seminary work in Ireland following Kenya, she had felt dry and dusty, until she discovered the “faith and arts” work of Nick Wolterstorff a certain well-known philosopher who sits twelve rows back on the right side of COS’s sanctuary. Aha! Now years later she was applying to preach to him.
At Daystar University in Nairobi, she had studied ethnomusicology among the Dinka people of the Sudan. Her first exposure to American worship music was on Psalm Song day in January 2012. Aha! These people sing creatively. Music matters. New music matters.
All that in the past, but in spring 2018 — decision time — all in the present too.
Karen’s prime symbol of faith is a reminder that her ministry is “Spirit-led organic growth,” not program driven but open to newness and thriving in the fruits of Christian community and outreach. Her meetings at COS and with the pastoral search team confirmed that this church and the Campbell family team were following the Lord along nearby and crisscrossing paths.
Crosses hang from ten million pendants. If you dare, ask Karen what hangs on the gold chain she wears. And why. Ask how that symbol matters day to day in ministry. But do not hope for a short conversation.