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Barbara Laskin
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How my education at a PC(USA) church-related college has shaped my faith and equipped me for significant service and leadership

by Kristin Riegel '10

May 7, 2010 – St. Paul, Minn. In the Fall of 2006, I arrived at Macalester College as a first-year student, bursting with feelings of excitement about finally being “on my own,” anticipation about what the next four years would bring, and apprehension about making new friends and finding the right classrooms on my first day of classes. Now, in my final semester at Macalester, I find myself once again experiencing feelings of excitement, anticipation, and apprehension as I prepare to leave Macalester and enter the “real world.” However, despite these mixed emotions, I know that I am leaving Macalester well-prepared to not only live in the world but rather to engage with it in an informed and intentional way that seeks to create an inclusive community, to care for the earth, and to share God’s message of love and compassion.

When I think of my time at Macalester, I cannot separate the different activities and areas of involvement that have occupied my early mornings, my lunches, and my late evenings into distinct spheres such as academic, extracurricular, or community service. because every activity, class, and club has been anchored in two things—my faith and a calling to engage in social justice work, which comes from faith.  However, of all of the areas of involvement in which I have participated, my involvement in the life and work of Macalester’s Center for Religious and Spiritual Life (CRSL) has been the most meaningful to me.  Growing up, I was deeply involved at the local Presbyterian Church where my family was members and attended weekly; however, it was at Macalester, that I found a safe space and caring community that was willing to gently hold me as I explored and grappled with my faith.  Under the guidance and support of the chaplain staff, the care and love of the Vespers and Mac Protestants (a student organization for Protestant students) community, and the whisper of an inner voice that urged me to take the time and space to wrestle, to reflect, to pray, and to listen, over the course of my time at Macalester, I was able to clearly hear God calling me to enter into ordained ministry. Although I continue to hold questions of faith, eternal love, and grace in my heart and in my mind, I know that I have heard God’s call and seen and felt his presence in myself and in the work I have done in community and partnership with others.

As the co-chair of Mac Protestants, a member of the Macalester Multifaith Council, an English teacher to adult immigrant and refugees, and a co-founder of a summer program that taught media literacy and production skills to young Latina women, I have had the opportunity to not only lead and serve but to also engage with many local communities. Although throughout my life, it has been my faith that has called me to serve others and to work for justice, but it was Macalester that taught me the importance of not only serving a community but rather engaging with it. Macalester helped me to critically examine traditional models of leadership and service which emphasize hierarchy and an imbalance of power and to instead develop leadership skills that recognize that every individual and community as possessing its own dignity, strengths, and resources. This strengths-based approach taught me that it is not about leadership that empowers other but rather, it’s about being a partner who helps other people to recognize their own strengths, resources, and ability to empower themselves and their communities and then supporting them as they expand upon on these strengths. In addition, through my civic and community engagement work with Casa de Esperanza (a local Latina organization that works to mobilize Latinas and Latino communities to end domestic violence), the Foundation for Immigrant Resources and Education (FIRE), and Central Presbyterian Church, I have also learned the importance of trusting people and communities, listening intentionally, sharing power and resources, and working from a place of love and compassion.

In addition to opportunities that I have had for faith formation and engagement in local communities, I have also had the opportunity to engage with questions of justice, privilege, and representation in my academic classes at Macalester.  My academic work, which focuses on media studies—and more specifically on representations of race and gender in the media as well as issues of media access, participation, and ownership—has taught me the importance of examining the social, economic, and governmental structures which perpetuate inequality; however, it is through class readings, discussions, and opportunities for personal sharing that I have been able to examine my own privilege and participation in these systems. My academic work has challenged me to simultaneously see issues of racial, gender, and economic injustice from a structural and personal perspective. Through this, I have been able to develop a strong foundation and framework from which I can engage with the world, work for justice, and continually reevaluate my methods and participation in this work.  It is my academic work at Macalester that has helped me to understand the importance of examining my life and work within a larger social and historical context.

Now, as I prepare to leave Macalester, I know that I am not only leaving with fond memories of friends, professors, and staff members or a collection of more term papers than I count; rather, I am leaving with a more nuanced understanding of the world, a sense of service and community engagement, a tenacious faith that is anchored in prayer and community, and a calling to lead as a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and in the greater world. With feelings of excitement, anticipation, and apprehension, I say “good-bye” to Macalester and “hello” to the world in which I will live and work, utilizing the skills and applying the lessons that I have learned at Macalester. I am filled with a feeling of excitement as I recall the past four years and as I think of the years soon to come.