I just completed a three-day online conference sponsored by Faith+Lead of Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was an amazing and inspiring interactive learning experience with more than 150 participants, representing churches from across the U.S. and Canada. The theme of the first day was “Learning to Pivot.” Church leaders talked about how they are learning to step out in different directions, particularly in this time of pandemic. The talks motivated me to reflect on the meaning of pivoting and on pivotal moments in my own life.
The dictionary defines a “pivot” as a person, thing, or factor having a major or central role, function, or effect. When you pivot, you step out with one foot while keeping the other foot at its point of contact with the floor. Think basketball, for example. You don’t step away completely, but stay grounded while you look for the new direction. Pivotal moments, then, are important points that signify a shift in direction.
We can all identify pivotal moments in our lives, for example, graduations, the birth of our first child, the loss of someone we dearly love. While these have been pivotal moments for me, as well, I wanted to reflect on those pivotal moments that seem directly related to the moment in which I find myself now. I wanted to see if I could trace the path where God has been leading me all along. I identified four significant pivots.
In April 1977, I was completing a Master’s degree in Educational Media. I had been teaching Math in a vocational-technical high school for five years and was ready for a change. I won an internship to an educational technology conference in Miami, where I met nine other graduate students in my field. I was inspired by that conference to apply to Indiana University where I went on to earn a Ph.D. What was pivotal in this experience is that my circle of friends expanded, for the first time, to include men and women from beyond the state in which I grew up and went to school. Moreover, it was the first time I met and befriended an Afro-American man from Louisiana who at the time was a graduate student at Syracuse University. It was also my first time on an airplane.
From April to July 1983, I was invited to consult on an education project in the primary schools in Botswana. The project was co-sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development and Ohio University, where I had been teaching. It was my first international flight, and the first time I needed a passport to travel. I encountered people, lands, and cultures that I had not known before. I came to love the people of Southern Africa and had the opportunity to work with them again in 1987 and 1988. My circle of friends expanded once again.
In November 2005, as part of my work at MIT on an international project in engineering education, I was invited to give a workshop on curriculum design and evaluation in Santiago, Chile. This was the beginning of my 15-year love affair with Latin America, that includes Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras. In addition to widening my circle of friends, once again, in cultures I did not know, I began my lessons in the Spanish language. I am still not fluent in the language, but I try to practice online every day. For me, understanding others starts with learning to speak their language.
In October 2008, I left Massachusetts for the Edmund Rice School in Arcadia, Florida, where I went on to earn a Master’s degree in Pastoral Theology. It was a pivot from engineering education to theology education. I know that God was leading the way in each of these pivotal moments, but the transition in 2008 was the first time I was consciously aware of the urging of the Spirit. I used to joke that in the 21st century, the Holy Spirit speaks to you on Google. I found the Rice School by googling “pastoral ministry, Florida”!
And now, after seven years as Director of Adult Faith Education at my parish, I am at a pivotal moment, once again. When churches closed, all my classes at church were cancelled. By the end of May, I began to sense that God is asking something different of me. I retired from my staff position at my church in order to prepare for that moment of pivot when I will step out in a new direction, one foot firmly planted somewhere in the fields (pun intended) of education and theology.