March 31, 2020

Dear Friends,

I have decided to retire from Fourth Presbyterian Church on June 1, 2020. I want to spend more time with my family, work on the Leadership Team of Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism (CROAR), and hopefully be a co-pastor again with my husband, Kent Organ, in a shared interim role.

I discerned this long before the current coronavirus crisis and am sorry that the need for social distancing may restrict opportunities to say goodbye to many of you in person. I hope by this summer we may be face-to-face for a celebration of our ministry together. In the meantime, know that I will miss you. I am richly blessed by being in ministry with you for the past dozen years. Though I have served as a pastoral leader, my experience has been more of doing ministry side by side with you—learning, planning, caring, praying, and worshiping with you as brothers and sisters in Christ as we have sought together to love God and neighbor. You truly are a light in the city reflecting God’s inclusive love. I cherish you and our ministry together.

My primary goal in our ministry has been to engage more people in mission outreach and justice advocacy. We have been attuned to how God has been calling and gifting members of the congregation to respond to needs in the world. In my first three years I served as Executive Director of Chicago Lights, as well as Associate Pastor for Mission. We developed Chicago Lights to function effectively as a 501(c)3 nonprofit; focused our vision and mission to serve those who face the challenges of poverty; and transformed the community garden on Chicago Avenue into the Chicago Lights Urban Farm.

In the past decade, many other new mission initiatives began at Fourth Church: Restorative Justice, Sunlight Project, Refugee Resettlement, Jail Ministry, Shower Ministry, Action for Equitable Education, Employment Network, Care for Creation, Anti-Gun Violence, and Bike Drive. Ongoing ministries were strengthened, such as Center for Life and Learning, Meals Ministry, Fair Trade Bazaar, and our partnership with the First Presbyterian Church of Havana, Cuba. The Racial Equity Council was launched, which has been especially meaningful for me as Fourth Church claims the vision to be a fully multicultural, antiracist church. The Spiritual Formation Council was also formed and has offered special opportunities to grow in contemplative practices through retreats, pilgrimages, and classes.

Toni Morrison, in her recent book, The Source of Self-Regard, wrote:

Isn’t it reasonable to assume that projecting earthly human life into the future may not be the disaster movie we are all invited to enjoy but a reconfiguration of what we are here for? To lessen suffering, to know the truth and tell it, to raise the bar of human expectation. Perhaps we should stand one remove from timeliness and join the artist who encourages reflection, stokes the imagination, mindful of the long haul, and putting her/his own life on the line to do the work of a world worthy of life.

And:

Cruelty is a mystery. But if we see the world as one long, brutal game, then we bump into another mystery, the mystery of beauty, of light, the canary that sings on the skull. ... Unless all ages and races of [humanity] have been deluded ...there seems to be such a thing as grace, such a thing as beauty, such a thing as harmony... all wholly free and available to us.

I will continually thank God for you: that we have experienced the Divine Mystery of God’s abundant grace, amazing beauty, and welcoming harmony and that we have together shared all that with the world.

May the grace and peace of Christ be with you always!

Love,

Vicky Curtiss
Associate Pastor for Mission
vcurtiss@fourthchurch.org

•    •    •

Dear Fourth Church Friends,

I know I am just one person among many who is deeply grateful for the work that Vicky Curtiss has done amongst us here at Fourth Presbyterian Church and Chicago Lights for the past twelve years. You can see some of the fruits of that labor in her letter with the listing of the myriad of different mission opportunities that have both started and flourished under her leadership.

I know from visiting with those who have worked closely with Vicky in that mission and social justice work that she has always led her mission groups and committees with diligence and with compassion. I have heard again and again how gifted Vicky is at helping the people of the church be the church in the larger world. I observed the same gifts.

Vicky is also an excellent teacher and facilitator. She possesses a deep well of knowledge and practice in the area of spiritual formation. And I have greatly appreciated the way she has always taken seriously her call to practice what she preaches, tending to her own relationship with God at the same time she tends to all those whom God loves.

We will certainly miss Vicky and her presence both on staff and in worship. Vicky brings her whole self to this work, and her heart and her passion for all of God’s people shines brightly. But while we will miss her, I know I am glad she has already found her next season of ministry—her work with CROAR and her hope to serve as a co-interim pastor with Kent. Both of those opportunities fit Vicky perfectly. I have no doubt she will engage in that ministry with the same kind of care and concern she has shown here.

The Fourth Church Personnel Committee will soon be figuring out next steps, looking at job descriptions, etc., as we have done each time an associate pastor leaves. As you know, part of what also happens when a pastor leaves is that we must act as a congregation to dissolve the pastoral relationship between that pastor and Fourth Church. We hope to do that in person on Sunday, May 24 at a congregational meeting called by Session for 11:15 a.m. (following the second service in our new three-service summer Sunday worship schedule—8:00 and 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.—a schedule that begins on May 24 and runs through Labor Day weekend). Immediately after that meeting, we will gather for a reception to celebrate all that Vicky has meant to us. It will be our time to send her on her way, with our prayers and our care, as she moves into this new season of ministry and retirement.

So please plan to be with us on Sunday, May 24. And please keep Vicky and Kent in your prayers as they figure out how to say goodbye during this strange time in the life of our church and our world.

Faithfully,

Shannon J. Kershner
Pastor