Getting to know… Jennifer Burns Lewis

Tell us about your call to the Presbytery of Wabash Valley.

I must check the calendar all the time to confirm that I’ve served as the Visioning and Connecting Leader for the Presbytery of Wabash Valley since August 1, 2016.  I’m a few months into my eighth year and I never grow tired of worshipping with the people in our congregations in so many beautiful portions of the state.

I think people would be surprised to learn that there’s no single way to structure a Presbyterian worship service and that congregations have lovely and unique personalities, each distinct and different.

My favorite part of this call is helping folks find solutions and resources for what they need or hope for.

Wabash Valley is creating a culture of welcome for pastors in their first call. Would you tell us some of those stories and how you are embodying welcome?

I think Wabash Valley is an easy place to find one’s niche.  We spend time in assembly meetings getting to know our new pastors. We connect all pastors with a colleague-liaison for all those things that we were never taught in seminary, and we encourage new ministers to become active in the life of the presbytery as soon as they feel oriented. As a result, we have a lovely well of leadership to draw from and we utilize folks’ talents and energies quite quickly.

Coming out of Covid, we have some practices to return to and I expect we’ll be doing more in-person gatherings because the support we can offer one another is so important to flourishing in ministry.

My hope is that we are also part of a wider culture of welcome. We were strong supporters of the synod’s new pastors’ program and are excited about the newest iteration of a program that will encourage folks in first calls of any kind — first ordained call, first call to a head of staff role, first call to a parish after having served in a specialized ministry.

You also serve as a coach. How do you believe coaching can help those in ministry?

I am trained as a coach and it’s some of the most rewarding work I do.  I think coaching can benefit anyone who appreciates the chance to externally process, who likes to set goals, and who appreciates some accountability.  The church needs creative and adaptive leaders more than ever, and coaching taps into the resourcefulness of individuals who know their setting and want some gentle challenge to identify and achieve results in their ministry. It’s exciting work.

What’s a resource you’ve discovered that you’d like to recommend to other ministry leaders?

I’m an avid reader, and I read widely, because I think it’s all relevant to ministry in one way or another.  I’ve benefited greatly from learning more about racism in church and society.   Caste by Isabel Wilkerson was a profoundly moving read. My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem is another I could not put down. I’m reading Rest Is Resistance by Tricia Hersey and savoring it.  Because I travel a lot for the presbytery, podcasts are a lifesaver.

I love Kate Bowler’s podcasts, and Jeff Lehn’s as well. I’m a fan of Kelly Corrigan’s work, too. I especially love Poetry Unbound because it’s great discussion about poetry with the beautiful Irish tones of Padraig O Tuama.  Be still my heart.

What do you like to do outside of work and church?

I used to knit.  I still read, but I’m not the voracious reader I was, unless you count More, More, More and Giraffes Can’t Dance. Our adult children, Claire (34) and Duncan (29) are married to Ben and Amy, and both families have two children.  Eleanor (5), Olivia (3), MacLeod — who goes by Mac — (1) and Jack (who will be 1 in December) are a source of great joy to all of us and each other, mostly, and the fun of playing and having adventures with them is a big part of our lives.  We live in community with Claire, Ben, Eleanor and Mac, which means a lot of dancing, building with MAGNA-TILES and visiting parks and playgrounds whenever possible.