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Courtrooms, Friday Mornings, and Just Being Me

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, our blog features reflections on vocation, offered by people who are engaged in ministry and work outside the church. What is God’s calling on our lives outside of the church? What is difficult about being Christian in the working world? How do our churches nurture a sense of Christian vocation? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Josh Durham

The most important lesson I learned in my law school trial advocacy class was to be myself. It was a good lesson, particularly since the TV lawyers of the day from shows such as The Practice, Ally McBeal, and Law and Order did such a good job that it was natural to want to be them instead. But I have generally heeded the advice of my trial professors, and their lesson has served me well through my eighteen years of practice and through many, many cases that arise from one business dispute or another.  

josh-durham-buildingThere are still times, though, when it’s easy for this introvert to want to be one of those dramatic, bang-my-fists-on-the-table lawyers. A client gets burned by a business partner whom they’d considered a close friend, and their deep hurt and thirst for punishment become mine. Or when opposing counsel plays fast and loose with the rules of procedure, and I not just want to call them out on it, I want to bury them for it.

I know, though, that in such times my clients and I are much better served when I remain myself.  

And that’s exactly where my church comes in. Especially on Friday mornings, when I gather with a small number of men with diverse careers in one of our church classrooms for a weekly Bible study. We’ve studied Mark, Luke, Acts, Genesis, Exodus, and we are now working our way through Joshua. All one chapter at a time.

Through all my church involvement in my life, and through the many Sunday sermons and Sunday School classes, I have learned a lot about Christ and Scripture. But it is on these Friday mornings, in this safe haven for doubt, questions, honest conversation, and confession, when I have learned so much about myself.

  • I am a child of God, and I am neither perfect nor alone.
  • I am part of a community whose members are each uniquely imperfect, and it is from this community that God often chooses people to do amazing things.
  • I am loved.

Of course, I likely knew all of this already, but somehow it’s different hearing it on Friday mornings, and these lessons have therefore become ones that I look forward to, and carry with me, each and every week. All of us in this group feel this way.

I am so unbelievably grateful for so many things in my life, and included on the list are our Friday mornings together, that sincere invitation to attend from a fellow church member several years ago, and God’s gentle nudge toward that very first meeting. And I am thankful that through all of my figurative and literal trials, I know this:

I am someone to whom God promises this: I will be with you wherever you go.


joshua-durham-headshot-v2_0Josh Durham is an attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he helps businesses and business owners through all sorts of disputes. He’s also an aspiring screenwriter, but his real dream is to play second base for the Houston Astros. Josh is married to his law school sweetheart, Lynette Neel, and together they have three marvelously beautiful (and funny) children. They are members of Trinity Presbyterian Church. You can follow Josh on twitter: @joshdurhamlaw.

Living So God Can Use Me

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, our blog features reflections on vocation, offered by people who are engaged in ministry and work outside the church. What is God’s calling on our lives outside of the church? What is difficult about being Christian in the working world? How do our churches nurture a sense of Christian vocation? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Suzanne Newsom

I am a veteran teacher in a public school. I do not recall lining up my teddy bears and baby dolls as a child and teaching them in my pink bedroom. The catalyst of my teaching career was a mission trip to Haiti sponsored by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Presbytery. As an 18 year-old recent high school graduate, I traveled there in service to a remote village with a group of 14 others. At the end of that summer, I would attend UNC-Chapel Hill with plans to obtain a degree that would more than bring me financial security. The person who applied to go on that month long trip was a feminist who saw that only young men had traveled there on missions before. I traveled to Haiti to prove that women are strong. I returned with a stronger spirit for social justice and a humbled heart. That spirit moved me to become a teacher.

img_0338“I want to live so God can use me.” These are the words to one of my favorite hymns. God uses me everyday at Olympic High School where I teach English.

My faith supports me every day, all day, helping me to make decisions that, I hope, are ordered by God’s will. Each morning as I drive to work, I turn off the radio on the final leg of my journey. When I am at a loss for words and am afraid that I will lose my usually calm composure, I set my mind right with “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, oh, Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” That little silent prayer is long enough that I can take a few deep breaths and then say what needs to be said in a tough situation.

While we public school teachers are not to talk about our faith or our politics, it is my hope that my students know that I am a Christian because what of what I show them. Curriculum is everything that happens in a school. Students see teachers when they are before the class and when they are not. Their eyes are watching us as we help each other and help them. I can make my faith a part of their curriculum without having a lesson plan about it.   

My life is rich as a result of teaching thousands of students in Charlotte. Their resilience is inspiring. My hope with each class is that we can build a community of people who feel welcome to share their questions and challenges as we learn together. Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church is a place where I can share myself and learn with others. I am challenged each week to apply what I glean from each sermon preached and hymn sung. I have learned that the more involved I am in church, the more the church is involved in me. So, I take my faith with me into my classroom and try to make each day an act of worship.


suzanne-newsomeSuzanne Newsom teaches English at The Renaissance School of Arts and Technology at Olympic High School in Charlotte, NC.  She was raised in the loving arms of Selwyn Avenue Presbyterian Church, where her family still worships.

Jobs Are a Holy Thing

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, our blog features reflections on vocation, offered by people who are engaged in ministry and work outside the church. What is God’s calling on our lives outside of the church? What is difficult about being Christian in the working world? How do our churches nurture a sense of Christian vocation? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Tanner Pickett

I spent several years dissatisfied with the direction of my career. I was almost consumed with the idea of “doing something else” and was pretty resentful that I couldn’t find the meaning in my work. Looking back, I realize that lack of “meaning” had less to do with the actual work than it did with my frame of mind. Perhaps I was precisely where I needed to be, serving the role that I need to serve in that moment.

I recently heard Rob Bell speak about ways to find spirituality in nearly anything. He said, “Faith is doing what you do really well. Ordinary work, interacting in our common life together, that’s the ‘Holy’ thing.” Bell uses this presentation to illustrate the deep connection between our faith and every other part of our lives. The more that I think about this concept, the more that I love it. Have you ever seen someone who is really passionate about their work? They seem to find incredible joy and pride in what they’re doing. It’s a calling. It’s beautiful. Bell is suggesting that this is worship. This is one way that we can live out our faith. The ironic thing about my previous work is that I failed to experience the “holy” because I was spent so much energy being resentful at the lack of meaning in that role.

tanner-workI am happy to say that I am in a role that I feel I was called to and am much happier. I get to promote Montreat Conference Center to people all over country. I have been able to have amazing conversations about faith with people from all walks of life. I get to work with a great team and they are teaching me so much about my own faith and service.

So, how does our faith inform our daily lives? The answer seems simple enough, yet many of us struggle to understand how to do that in a practical way. The Bible is full of examples of God using those in the margins to make an impact on others. I wonder if our “everyday” talents can be used in the same way. Can God use the seemingly unimportant, rote parts of our lives as the instruments to minister to others? I think so. The majority of my career has been in some type of leadership role. So how does my faith influence my role as a leader and manager? Here are a couple of ways:

  1. I think of my faith journey as a form of constant self-development and that is something that I am learning to try to reflect in my work. Isn’t that a recurring theme throughout the Bible? We learn something, we pat ourselves on the back, we screw it up, and we get another chance. With every new thing we try, we have a chance to learn something new – even in failure. I think about this in my role as a leader. Do I create space for growth, messing up, and learning? Do I encourage others into that space?
  2. Faith is a form of appreciation. Thinking about my job as a calling helps me have a much different perspective on how those around me do their jobs. Am I supportive or oppositional?

The lesson that I have learned from all of this: The “meaning” in our jobs is less about where we work and more about the way that we view what we are doing. When we view our job as a “holy thing,” we are suddenly able to find joy in our conversations, coworkers, and our daily work. How will you celebrate the “holy” in your life?


tanner pickettTanner Pickett is the vice president for Sales, Marketing, and Communication at Montreat Conference Center. He also serves on the Strategy Team for NEXT Church and a member of Black Mountain Presbyterian Church. His most important work is being a husband and a dad.

Our Greatest Passions

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, our blog features reflections on vocation, offered by people who are engaged in ministry and work outside the church. What is God’s calling on our lives outside of the church? What is difficult about being Christian in the working world? How do our churches nurture a sense of Christian vocation? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Sarah-Dianne Jones

As a student at Maryville College, I found myself engaged in groups and activities that I never imagined I would be a part of. My days were full of classes, homework, meetings, and events. Two of the groups I became a part of were a women’s issues group and a committee called Peace and World Concerns Committee. Neither of these groups were focused on matters of faith, but I found it increasingly hard to distinguish the work I was doing with those groups from my faith.

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-7-51-01-amAs I worked with a statewide campaign against an amendment so that women facing the difficult matter of abortion would be guaranteed the same privacy that Tennessee guaranteed to others, I could not separate the idea that the equal treatment of women and men in society from the idea that every person is a child of God, loved unconditionally and fully by God. As I worked a tailgate with Peace and World Concerns to raise awareness of gun violence and ask for common sense laws surrounding guns, I could not separate it from the idea that no child of God should be shot down for walking down the street.

As Sisters in Spirit planned a week of events focused on violence against women, my mind was constantly thinking about the ways that our society has turned from the society that I imagine God’s society would be like, a society in which men and women are equal, children aren’t being killed by guns, and women aren’t afraid to go home. These things were not church work, but it was work that stemmed from the faith formed in me from years of being a part of the church.

screen-shot-2016-10-17-at-7-51-07-amVocation is a word used often at Maryville, and the experiences I had in these organizations shaped my sense of vocation tremendously. As I continue to explore the idea of vocation and the ways that it can change, I think the church is missing out on an opportunity to have conversations about vocation as something that doesn’t necessarily happen inside the walls of the church. I often heard vocation defined using Frederick Buechner’s words: “vocation is where your greatest passion meets the world’s greatest needs.”

The world doesn’t need everyone to be a pastor or an associate pastor or a youth director, and neither does the church. What the church needs is for all of us to take the aspects of our faith that have shaped and formed us and use those in our work in the world. Our passions are not an accident—they are a part of us that can be used to do incredible work that the world needs, that our communities need, and that our churches need. My passions for women’s rights and for safer communities led me to organizations that I never would have imagined being a part of, but they were the perfect place for me to continue discerning where my sense of vocation is leading me.


sdj-square-smSarah-Dianne Jones is a Birmingham, Alabama native who graduated from Maryville College in 2016. She is currently serving as a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington, DC, where she works with NEXT Church and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

Connecting in Our Vocations

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, our blog features reflections on vocation, offered by people who are engaged in ministry and work outside the church. What is God’s calling on our lives outside of the church? What is difficult about being Christian in the working world? How do our churches nurture a sense of Christian vocation? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Suzanne Davis

The hardest question I have to answer in polite conversation is, “What do you do?” The answer for me is a struggle because I have no satisfactory answer that is immediately understood. So I sometimes answer, “Just a housewife” or “professional volunteer.” My husband’s career in the military was launched because of our desire to have a family. My career then became the care and feeding of two children, a husband and most times a dog. Being a “stay at home” wife has to be one of the loneliest vocations there is — especially when you move 13 times in 25 years!

When my husband was assigned to Korea, our family was one of 200 that was permitted to move and live with our military member on a base that had over 5,000 people. While this was the first time in a while that my husband actually got to come home most evenings, we were all aware that we were very lucky to be together. It was very unusual to have most of the people around you without their families!

osan-food-court-3One night in particular stands out — a random weeknight that I did not want to cook. As a family, we went to the food court on base. We are sitting and having normal family banter between two parents, a five-year-old and 2-year-old. I looked up beyond our table only to catch the teary eyes of an airman sitting alone. Of course, he looked away quickly, but I saw him. I gave him a minute, then I excused myself from our table. I did not know him, but I asked how he was doing. He told me he was missing his family that was back in the US and seeing my family eating dinner together made him miss his own family more. I asked to see pictures of his children. It was a delightful, meaningful conversation.

I realized later that when we held hands as we prayed (which is something that I balked at!) in the worship service on Sunday that this was the one opportunity for most people around me to be touched by another human during the week. Can you imagine being far away from your loved ones and friends and not being touched? Is it possible that even in our church right now, on any Sunday, that there are many sitting in the congregation that feel the same; searching and achy for a personal connection? And for those not in our congregation, do they know where to get that connection?

In my small circle of influence, I try to connect with others around me and truly be present with them. Is that not what we all should do whatever our vocation? Reassuring others that they are not alone in the world. They are loved. They are seen. They are heard. Anyone, with any profession, call or vocation can show others the love of God.


suzanne_davis_06_webSuzanne Cannon Davis is a mother of two beautiful grown children, Caroline and Jackson, and wife of a wonderful retired Air Force colonel, Ted (or T.O. to his AF buddies). She has had the honor of serving on two sessions in two different churches and is currently worshipping at Hopewell Presbyterian in Huntersville, NC, where her mother, aunt and uncle all share a pew.  She volunteers her time on several committees at Hopewell, the Bi-Lingual Preschool La Escuelita San Marcos, and NEXT Church.