Skip to content »

Victoria Rebeck: Committed to Building the Witness of the Church

When I arrived at Garrett-Evangelical in 1987, I was transferring from another seminary in order to study with Rosemary Radford Ruether. I was also not, at that point, a United Methodist.

I was not disappointed with Radford Ruether. I took several excellent courses with her. But I was very pleased with my other courses and professors as well. I particularly remember Peter Nash, the course on Howard Thurman that I took from Henry Young, and the worship class I took from Dwight Vogel (just a few years ago, for some professional development).

If I could have figured out a way to do this, I would have continued to take classes at Garrett-Evangelical indefinitely. I appreciated the class discussions among people of a variety of viewpoints; this honed my own theological thought. It was a luxury to ponder theology, scripture, and our call to transform the world into the realm of God. Professors were encouraging and challenging. The beauty of the building was welcoming and reminded us of the communion of the saints.

My only regret is that because I was working full-time at The Christian Century magazine at the time, I had to take classes part-time and missed getting to know more classmates better. On the other hand, because I was working in downtown Chicago, my sanctuary of study was balanced by experience in the world outside the walls of the church.

Before long, and contrary to my expectations, I became immersed in The United Methodist Church. Classmates invited me to visit their congregation, Trinity United Methodist Church in Wilmette. I eventually joined that church. Phil Blackwell did a great job of teaching his congregation, through sermons and other opportunities, about the Wesleys’ theology and method.

After the change in the ordering of ministry, I heard my calling in the order of deacon. Leading the church in its call to serve the neglected and rejected, helping lay people discern their calls to ministry, and using my ministry of the word—which I identified as primarily the written word—sounded like the ministries I was already practicing. What ordination gave me was a covenant of accountability to the greater church, the conference, and to others in an order. In 2000, after much pondering and occasionally a bit of hesitation because of the greater responsibility to the church, I became a deacon and full clergy member in the Northern Illinois Conference.

By then I was working for The United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville. I had the honor of working at 2000 General Conference with J. Richard Peck, one of The United Methodist Church’s great ministers in communication, and he taught me a lot about how the General Church works. I later helped prepare the 2000 Book of Discipline for publication and succeeded Rich as editor of the United Methodist Newscope newsletter.

While in Nashville I learned about an opening for the director of communication position in the Minnesota Conference. I grew up in the Chicago area and was tired of cold winters. I never planned to move back north, but God’s path leads to unexpected places. I attended 2004 General Conference as a communicator, and 2008 as a clergy delegate. With another Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary graduate, Diane Olson, I am now co-chair of the Minnesota Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. Ours is one of the few conferences with deacon chairs of its board of ordained ministry and perhaps the first to have deacon co-chairs.

I take my secondary appointments very seriously. My first place of secondary appointment in Minnesota was Wesley United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, which had a commitment to ministry with the poor and the addicted. My second place of secondary appointment was Edgewater Emmanuel United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. I eventually led Sunday morning adult education, helped lead worship and sometimes preached. (I never expected to be comfortable in the pulpit!) Edgewater Emmanuel merged a year ago with Richfield United Methodist Church, a growing faith community that seeks to serve, advocate for, and include the poor and the left-out, and cultivate spiritual vitality.

The Minnesota Conference’s priorities are the Great Commission and Great Commandment. We are starting new faith communities, urging existing ones to reach out to new people, and cultivating commitment to God and God’s people. We seek clergy leaders who have gifts for leading churches in those priorities. I am finding that United Methodist seminaries do a good job of preparing clergy to nurture a passionate faith, help faith communities to develop plans to reach new people, and engage in healthy self-care. That is why it is important to me to continue to support my United Methodist alma mater.

I don’t have children, and my nephews are well planned for by their parents. My undergraduate alma mater has access to plentiful financial resources. As I worked on my own financial planning, I realized that I could easily help Garrett-Evangelical build its future—and continue to be an important part of building the witness of The United Methodist Church—by making it the beneficiary to my life insurance policy.

Increasingly more people are hearing the call to the diaconate. This makes sense, as the church becomes less institutional and more a covenant community of people who speak about and live out the good news for the poor for the transformation of the world. Deacons have the calling and skills for partnering with elders and laypeople for imagining active, spiritually vibrant churches that bring God’s grace to people where they are. Deacons are an important part of leading the church into a future that will always be marked by change and the unexpected.

With its commitment to deacon studies, Garrett- Evangelical is poised to support this current and future movement of the church. It is also well set to help elders minister in partnership with deacons. My decision to make Garrett-Evangelical the beneficiary of my life-insurance policy will help to support one of the church’s critical ministries.