Thrive
Podcast

Overview

Dr. Sharon Ketcham, Professor of Theology and Christian Ministries at Gordon College. We talk about her book Reciprocal Church: Becoming a Community Where Faith Flourishes Beyond High School. We learn how we can become a collective body of faith and what it means to share faith between generations.

Let’s listen!

 

Dr. Sharon Ketcham, Professor of Theology and Christian Ministries

Sharon Galgay Ketcham is professor of theology and Christian ministries at Gordon College in Massachusetts. She earned her Ph.D. in theology and education from Boston College. Sharon’s two decades of experience in ministry include serving the local church, researching, writing, teaching, and mentoring. As a practical theologian, she is a scholar for the Church and invites people to reflect theologically on lived Christian faith. She is the author of Reciprocal Church: Becoming a community where faith flourishes beyond high school in which she proposes a new vision for a person’s relationship with the church and the accompanying values and practices that allow faith to flourish for persons and communities. Sharon lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two children.

Heidi Wilcox, host of the Thrive Podcast

Writer, podcaster, and social media manager, Heidi Wilcox shares stories of truth, justice, healing and hope. She is best known as the host of Spotlight, (especially her blooper reel) highlighting news, events, culturally relevant topics and stories of the ways alumni, current students and faculty are attempting something big for God. If you can’t find her, she’s probably cheering on her Kentucky Wildcats, enjoying a cup of coffee, reading or spending time with her husband, Wes.



Transcript

Heidi Wilcox:
Hey everyone. Welcome to this week’s episode of the Thrive With Asbury Seminary Podcast. I’m your host, Heidi E. Wilcox. And today on the podcast we’re talking with Dr. Sharon Ketcham. She’s professor of Theology and Christian ministries at Gordon College. Today we talk about her book, Reciprocal Church: Becoming a Community Where Faith Flourishes Beyond High School. So we talk about how we can become a collective body of faith rather than only an individual body of faith and what it means to share faith between generations, from older to younger, but also from younger to older. Let’s listen.

Heidi Wilcox:
Let’s get started, and just tell me a little bit about you. So you live with your family in New Hampshire?

Sharon Ketcham:
I do. We live in Southern New Hampshire near the border of Massachusetts. And I’ve been married for 26 years, which is a real gift. We have two children, both teenagers and I have to say I am really enjoying having teenagers at home a lot.

Heidi Wilcox:
Why?

Sharon Ketcham:
I like the kind of conversations that we have and the ways in which we engage with one another and it doesn’t feel quite the alertness of having small children. I’m really enjoying it. I guess I say that because maybe we talk negatively about teenagers sometimes.

Heidi Wilcox:
I think we do. I don’t have any experience with them, but I think we do. And I think, yeah, it’s wonderful.

Sharon Ketcham:
I’m enjoying them. And then I’m also a professor at Gordon College and I’ve been there for 16 years.

Heidi Wilcox:
Wow. And what do you teach there?

Sharon Ketcham:
I am professor of theology and Christian ministry, so I teach across both of those. I teach in our core curriculum, so what every student takes at Gordon in theology as well as some of our Christian ministry courses.

Heidi Wilcox:
That’s awesome.

Sharon Ketcham:
Agreed.

Heidi Wilcox:
I’m sure you have a lot of really great students.

Sharon Ketcham:
Oh, we have wonderful students at Gordon.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, I bet. So I’m really curious about your book too that you wrote, Reciprocal Church: Becoming a Community Where Faith Flourishes Beyond High School, which may speak to your love of teenagers too. But what prompted you to write that?

Sharon Ketcham:
I was in full time ministry in Tennessee for about a decade, loving what I was doing, feeling that we were able to bring these wonderful volunteer youth workers along, develop a ministry, do what we needed to be doing. And along the way, I really saw that the fruit of our labor was an either or. Either people graduated and stayed with the faith or they didn’t. And in some ways it just didn’t make sense. I mean, they could have had the right ingredients that were supposed to maintain faith, and yet that didn’t always happen like that. So from there I ended up being able to pursue my PhD and really study and think about… and this is really before what we would call now this call of the decline of the church.

Sharon Ketcham:
This was before then. Trying to pay attention to what was going on on the ground in my ministry experience.

Heidi Wilcox:
So can you tell us a little bit about what your book is about?

Sharon Ketcham:
Sure. I want to address the theological problem. There’s a lot of materials that are really worth digging into that are more social science research. So the data that we collect to try and understand what’s going on, why people would stay in the church or why people would leave the church. But what I’ve discovered is a real theological problem and I call it the misconception of the church.

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay. So what is that? I’m super curious because you’re talking about things that I haven’t thought about nearly as much as you have, but that I’ve just thought about personally as I’m like, I go to church every Sunday and why do I keep doing this?

Sharon Ketcham:
Oh, what a great question, Heidi. When we talk about misconceptions of the church, the church is not a building, the church is not an institution. And I would say the church is not a service provider, meaning a church is not the place to which we drive up in order to gain our spiritual nourishment for the week. And in many ways that’s what church has become for us. And I talk about that in my book a lot. Why is it that in the time and space in which we live, the church has become a service provider? But ultimately I’m trying to pay attention to what happens to the gospel message in light of that, that we really end up reducing the gospel to an individual relationship with Jesus Christ. And we actually have forgotten about what it means to be the people of God.

Heidi Wilcox:
Wow. So what does that mean or what do you mean when you use the word reciprocal?

Sharon Ketcham:
Yes, reciprocal. Reciprocal is a type of emotion. You can think of linear motion that goes in a line or circular motion that clearly goes in circle. Reciprocal motion is the push and the pull motion, the back and the forth that exists. And reciprocal church allows us to think about the importance of the push and pull between us, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about our differing wills as the place for the spirit’s transformation. Meaning like for example, I don’t learn patience until I have to be patient with you. I don’t learn patience from reading my Bible by myself. I learn patience because I actually am with another human being that requires me to learn patience. And that’s a pretty mild example of the ways in which we have differing wills, like our wills butt heads with each other.

Heidi Wilcox:
Why do you think… Because you’re talking about how the church has valued the individual over the community and we’ve made it like an either or kind of deal. Can you explain why you think that is true and then talk a little bit about how we can move from it to make it a both/and.

Sharon Ketcham:
So churches live in time and space. We live in an environment and we swim in cultures. And we live in an individualistic society. That’s probably the fastest way to answer that. Our understanding of even maturity is more closely aligned with independence that I would grow up, stand on my own two feet and independent of you, that would make me mature. But if we were in a collectivist culture, we would understand maturity as belonging.

Heidi Wilcox:
Hmm. Yeah.

Sharon Ketcham:
And the biblical writers write from that context, from a collectivist culture where it’s more important that I belong to this community and I want to function in ways that bring you honor and avoid ways that bring you shame. So in this environment, it actually makes more sense for us to talk about strengthening our individual relationship with Jesus Christ.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, for sure.

Sharon Ketcham:
But it’s actually not what it means to be the church.

Heidi Wilcox:
So what does it mean to be the church?

Sharon Ketcham:
We are a ecclesial people. We are a people that are in covenant with God and one another.

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay. So I’m going to stop you. I don’t know what ecclesial means. What does that mean?

Sharon Ketcham:
So ecclesial points to we’re people of the church.

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay.

Sharon Ketcham:
We’re people that don’t… I don’t believe by myself. I always believe with other people and we’re called… if you think of the 10 commandments, in covenant with God, the first five talk about our relationship with God and the second five have implications on our relationships with others. So if you zip over to Ephesians chapter two, the dividing wall of hostility that’s between the Jew and the Gentile that Christ breaks down by Christ’s death and resurrection, now becomes an implication for our real relationships with one another.

Heidi Wilcox:
Absolutely. So how do we do that? How do we embody the church? Or is that the right way to phrase that? I’m not sure.

Sharon Ketcham:
Sure. Yeah. I actually like how you describe that. How do we embody the church? I mean, so our real relationships with one another matter. So how often do we pay attention to the priority of reconciliation between us when we are talking about the gospel? So here’s a story that might explain that. I was walking into church late one day. I’m usually late.

Heidi Wilcox:
Same.

Sharon Ketcham:
Okay, good.

Heidi Wilcox:
Same.

Sharon Ketcham:
So we can bond over this. Generally late. So I’m always apologizing because I’m late. Fair enough-

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. And I always feel guilty and, yes.

Sharon Ketcham:
Yep. So I was trying to slide in on the side, saw an open pew and I was walking down in order to get my seat and then right there sitting next to where I was going to be was someone I was not so pleased with. We had done a committee together and I didn’t like the ways in which he was acting, I didn’t find it to be honest. It was problematic. But I had good news. He actually hadn’t seen me walk up. So I quietly stepped backwards and moved over to the other side of the church. And then I hear Matthew five, before you bring your gifts to the altar, reconcile with your brother and sister. And I say that because that’s part of the gospel that we would actually work on reconciling with one another.

Heidi Wilcox:
Hmm. Yeah.

Sharon Ketcham:
So to me, that’s what it means to embody the church, to be the church.

Heidi Wilcox:
And then go out and share in God’s faithfulness with the world then.

Sharon Ketcham:
And how effective is our sharing of God’s faithfulness with the world when we actually can’t get along with one another? Probably not very-

Heidi Wilcox:
No, it’s not-

Sharon Ketcham:
Probably not very faithful. And we’re there right now, right?

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah.

Sharon Ketcham:
Christian community is there. We actually are as polarized in the Christian Church as we are in our country, I would dare say.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. I feel like everywhere, and we’ve, at least from my experience, it seems like we’ve taken like, you think different things than me, so I cannot like you. And I mean, I’m in my thirties so I haven’t lived a super long time, but long enough. I don’t remember ever being-

Sharon Ketcham:
No, that’s new.

Heidi Wilcox:
… like this before.

Sharon Ketcham:
You’re right. That cancel culture. I don’t even want to… I can cancel you. Can I cancel you as my brother or sister in Christ because I don’t like how you’re thinking about the faith. That’s problematic if reconciliation is actually part of the gospel.

Heidi Wilcox:
And it definitely is.

Sharon Ketcham:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And not secondary part of the gospel, it is actually the gospel.

Heidi Wilcox:
So in one of your talks that I listened to before the podcast, you talked about embodying memory.

Sharon Ketcham:
Yes.

Heidi Wilcox:
So what does it mean to embody memory?

Sharon Ketcham:
I love that. Thanks Heidi for asking that question.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh, you’re welcome.

Sharon Ketcham:
I was trying to get us to think about not just a declaration that God is faithful in uncertain times. So you’re having a hard time, Heidi, and I can just look you in the eye and say, “Heidi, God is faithful.” But what actually does that mean when your feelings of uncertainty are actually effective? It’s related to how you feel, your emotions, anxiety, fear, maybe even despair. So an embodied memory has to do with how I pay attention, how we pay attention as a church to caring for the emotions of one another in uncertain times.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh yeah. Say more about that. Because I think right now our culture is one of the loneliest, most anxious-

Sharon Ketcham:
Exactly right.

Heidi Wilcox:
… depressed, all those things. Say more about that.

Sharon Ketcham:
So if you’re lonely and you come into a church, I would think that embodied memory would be that church helping you remember and discover your identity with them. That you’re not alone, but you’re actually knit with them. Or it could mean that when you’re having a difficult time in your life and you come in and maybe you feel fear and overwhelmed at life, maybe it means that we practice remembering God’s faithfulness in the past. We described the ways in which God has been faithful together, but it’s not our story because God’s actually not being faithful for us.

Heidi Wilcox:
Or we don’t realize it.

Sharon Ketcham:
Or we don’t. Right. But in the end, we might feel the comfort of being part of a larger story than just our moment in time. Loneliness means that we’re separated away from people, but we are an ecclesial people. We are a people of God, knit together in the same story.

Heidi Wilcox:
How does remembering or how does memory help us discover who we are?

Sharon Ketcham:
Because we would remember that we are God’s people. That we remember that we’re connected to people and to stories larger than my moment right now. I told a story recently that my daughter, who was six years old at the time came with us to a family reunion. And at that family reunion, we were trying to tell the stories of our family heritage. I come from a pretty significant Irish Catholic background. And as we’re telling all those stories hoping that our children, this next generation would understand them too, my daughter ended up writing her name on her artwork and on her math test as Annie Galgay.

Sharon Ketcham:
And Annie Galgay actually isn’t her name, but it was the embodied experience of being part of stories of people that she’d never met that actually gave her an opportunity to belong to something outside of her moment in time. So how are we doing that in the church? That we’re telling our family story in ways that we feel like we belong with those people.

Heidi Wilcox:
What are some of those ways? If we were looking for a way to practice remembering our story, how can we do that? Like me individually, or not me, but like an individual, and then how do you do that in a community?

Sharon Ketcham:
So I think the easiest way to explain that is to go through some of the biblical stories where we can recount the actual ways in which God has been faithful. So God being faithful in the Exodus, God being faithful to the Israelites, God being faithful to bring the Israelites back to restore the temple. And all those aspects of how God in those stories was demonstrated as faithful, and as we say them together and declare them, they give us comfort and even courage at the times where we don’t see God’s faithfulness ourselves. Because those are our stories. That’s our family that we’re talking about. And so it gives me hope.

Sharon Ketcham:
It’s very different from the isolated individual who doesn’t have a narrative that they belong to and doesn’t feel connected.

Heidi Wilcox:
It totally is. I never thought of people in the Bible as being part of my family before. That’s really interesting.

Sharon Ketcham:
Because they are apart from us, they’re distant to us.

Heidi Wilcox:
And sometimes I think about even things that happened, I don’t know, 50 years… If it happened before I was born, it seems like a long time ago. But even pretty significant things that have nothing really to do with the Christian faith. But just significant things in history only happened 50 years ago, which is not-

Sharon Ketcham:
Not very long.

Heidi Wilcox:
It’s not very long at all. But it seems like everything is more immediate now and we have a very poor memory as a people and sometimes as a church obviously because that’s what you’re talking about.

Sharon Ketcham:
Heidi, I think you’re exactly right. And you said that very well. We live at a time where there’s a lot of change around us. We’re trying to keep up with the change that’s around us. Even think of the need to be on your social media all the time and the experience maybe that if you’re not there, that you actually don’t even exist if you’re not there in the digital space. So there’s a lot of movement. We have to keep up and all of that keeps us facing forward, not looking backwards at history to know who we are. So always having to create who we are rather than be grounded in knowing and a collective identity.

Heidi Wilcox:
Ooh, that’s good. We always have to create who we are rather than being grounded in our collective. Ooh, I like that.

Sharon Ketcham:
And what is it like to have to create who you are? Produces anxiety and depression.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes.

Sharon Ketcham:
Yep. We are unrooted as a people and Christianity is just sitting there waiting to be reinterpreted as really who we are with this collective identity. We are God’s people.

Heidi Wilcox:
Totally. I like what you said when you were on campus at Asbury Seminary in the chapel. You said that a Christian doesn’t exist in a singular. But as we’ve already talked about, we often negotiate Christianity as individual. But how can we make it… because it is partly individual. We’re all individual. Or would you disagree with that?

Sharon Ketcham:
I think that we have a personal relationship with God.

Heidi Wilcox:
I think that’s what I mean.

Sharon Ketcham:
That is what you mean, that we encounter God personally. So we wouldn’t want to collapse ourselves into each other as if our individuality doesn’t matter. That’s not what I’m saying at all. It’s just not by identity who we are. If we go back into the Old Testament, what we learn is that God assembles a people by God’s initiative, always a people bringing people together for God’s purposes. Not a bunch of individuals. Can I do one more?

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh yeah.

Sharon Ketcham:
Even like what’s our conception of how we will spend eternity? Do we imagine ourselves alone with God or do we imagine ourselves, Revelation 21, in the diversity of a city living in unity with all our diversed expressions together?

Heidi Wilcox:
No, I hope it’s that because I imagine it to be a party and you can’t party by yourself.

Sharon Ketcham:
Well, that’s exactly right.

Heidi Wilcox:
Or you can’t celebrate and rejoice by yourself.

Sharon Ketcham:
You can’t. That’s right.

Heidi Wilcox:
Or in the same ways, it’s not so much fun.

Sharon Ketcham:
Exactly. There’s a theologian named Miroslav Volf, and he talks about judgment as a social reconciliation. So in your words, a party and he would call it a social gathering of reconciliation where we actually reconcile with one another and have the real experience of reconciling with one another. That’s cool.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, that is cool.

Sharon Ketcham:
Blows my mind.

Heidi Wilcox:
So what do you mean by reconciliation when you say we need to reconcile with each other? Because I totally agree, but what does that look like?

Sharon Ketcham:
Oh, it’s the hard road of learning to… taking responsibility for ourselves. Taking responsibility sometimes, not just for the intent of what I do, but also for the implications of my actions that I don’t even intend. It’s about going through processes of forgiveness.

Heidi Wilcox:
For sure.

Sharon Ketcham:
Which is so hard because that isn’t always one-sided. Or it can’t be left just one sided. So reconciliation is the rebuilding of relationship. It’s about healing.

Heidi Wilcox:
And to do that, I’m sorry, you were going to say something and I think…

Sharon Ketcham:
What would you add to that?

Heidi Wilcox:
I was just going to say and to do that, I think remembering becomes important to that process.

Sharon Ketcham:
Say some more.

Heidi Wilcox:
Because if we don’t have a good… at least I think if we don’t have a good memory of past hurts or even past goodness of things that have been good, if we don’t remember those things, we can’t understand what even the issue is that we need to make right. Oh well done.

Sharon Ketcham:
So we need to know our history to do it.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah. So then we can come back together in community

Sharon Ketcham:
And one piece I would add as well, we have to have a memory of the future. Like an idea of where we’re going.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh yeah. Talk about that.

Sharon Ketcham:
A vision of what this is about. What’s the trajectory that God is moving among us? Where is God taking us? And if part of that trajectory is a vision of living in unity as diverse people, then reconciliation. And as you say, as we remember where we’ve been, what we’ve done, what we’re called to as we face one another in the present, we have a vision of the future of where this is going, that we enact it now.

Heidi Wilcox:
And to remember, because I’m thinking about the illustration you gave with your daughter and the stories that she heard and then kind of embodied and it became part of her and became who she is. That she’s learning about the was, and then it became who she is to take her into the present.

Sharon Ketcham:
And gives her a vision of who she’ll be in the future, doesn’t it?

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, it does.

Sharon Ketcham:
That’s what identity formation does. It’s kind of beautiful.

Heidi Wilcox:
It is beautiful. So what is the power of story as we remember?

Sharon Ketcham:
Stories provide narratives for us to live into. So think about like… I guess I’ve probably seen this developed even more recently on social media. So Facebook didn’t always have, what’s it called? The story-

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh yeah, the story. They’re kind of new.

Sharon Ketcham:
They’re kind of new and they’re actually more popular part of those social media features because we have to create a story to live in. Human beings need a story to live in. Our lives can become de-narrated, which means we actually don’t have any roots to understand and interpret our experiences and to make sense of and gain a vision of how we should live and who we should be. So we get stuck with rather shallow narratives for our lives, specifically fame and wealth. Those are predominant for us today.

Heidi Wilcox:
So when we think about story, because we’ve talked about that a little bit. And remembering, you remember through stories, let’s talk a little bit more about how remembering then goes on to shape our future. Or am I jumping tracks here?

Sharon Ketcham:
No. You’re not. No, you have it. So if we think of ourselves within a narrative, so imagine a really long or a big arc. And we might be sitting two thirds away through that arc. And so we remember looking behind us on the narrative of that story that gives us direction, that roots us in who we are in a Christian sense, that helps us recognize the times in the past when God has been faithful when I don’t see God’s faithfulness right here. But on that arc, there’s a future direction and I know something about where that story is supposed to go, which actually ignites my imagination to see beyond my present reality and the possibilities of what could be in the future because I have a story that I am woven into.

Heidi Wilcox:
Hmm. That’s good. I think about that. I need to work on the collective piece of my life because I’m very individual. But I think about just-

Sharon Ketcham:
We all are.

Heidi Wilcox:
I think about just for me, it’s really important to me. My journal is really important to me and because I know in myself, I have a tendency to forget and then life can become ‘dramatic’, and in quotes, for people who can not see us, like the most terrible thing ever. Or something happens and I’m like, oh my gosh, my husband and I had a fight. So we must not love each other anymore. So it’s really important, which I do not think is true. So I’m giving a really-

Sharon Ketcham:
Thanks for being honest. We get it.

Heidi Wilcox:
So it’s really important to me to be able to look back and be like, oh no, just yesterday we had a really good conversation and talked through something that was difficult for us, but we talked through it and we’re fine. Today we had a little bit of a ripple in our conversation, but that is today, that is not always. And that’s simply-

Sharon Ketcham:
So your journal becomes a reference point to remember larger than just the moment. It’s a great example.

Heidi Wilcox:
And I totally need that every single day of my life for different things.

Sharon Ketcham:
Heidi, that’s a really good illustration because you’re developing a practice to be more than your present moment, to understand you have a history, you have a future, that you’re more than just what you feel in a present moment or experience in a present moment of time.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh yeah. Because it can get, not super dark. It can get a little dark sometimes when I’m just in the present and have the anxiousness and sometimes even the despair, if I’m being really honest and be like-

Sharon Ketcham:
Yes. See there’s a gift of what the church can embody. Right?

Heidi Wilcox:
That’s totally true. So I want to hear more about the imagination that you talked about. Because when I think of imagination, I think of creativity and play and fun and something that we did when we were little. But then when we grew up, we had to stop doing it because it wasn’t the mature thing to do.

Sharon Ketcham:
Wow. Right? So you think of imagination as creativity and maybe in some ways we think of it as fake or false. When I talk about imagination, I’m talking about the ability to see what is possible amid reality. So it’s that creative piece, but it doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from being part of a narrative. So if you think of the prophets and their ability to imagine the ways in which God could act and what God would do, those declarations are about imagination. In the face of the darkness and the despair and the hardness, you have a vision of something outside of now.

Heidi Wilcox:
So imagination in some ways is faith.

Sharon Ketcham:
Yeah. Absolutely. And hope.

Heidi Wilcox:
And hope.

Sharon Ketcham:
And trust.

Heidi Wilcox:
So knowing all of this and the value of memory and imagination, how does this then change the project of church?

Sharon Ketcham:
Ah, great question. It means that we’re going to pay attention in addition to focusing on personal discipleship. That we’re also going to pay attention to the formation of a community, to think of ourselves through the communal metaphors that we’re becoming a place that hosts the Spirit as the temple of the Holy Spirit. It’s not just a need idea to describe the church as the body of Christ, but we’re actually trying to figure out how to act like a body so that we’re really paying attention to who we’re becoming as a people and not just individual persons as faithful followers of Christ.

Heidi Wilcox:
So I’m a I want to do something kind of person and it can get me in trouble. It can be really good, but it can get me in trouble. I want to do rather than just sit and be sometimes. How do we start developing those practices as a community to do that?

Sharon Ketcham:
That’s my next project that I’m working on. But let me give you an example. So in the second half of the book, I write about values that a community would hold if they understood this community formation. And one of those values is mutuality.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh yeah.

Sharon Ketcham:
And I’m thinking about the historic practice in the church on hospitality.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh yeah.

Sharon Ketcham:
And when we think about hospitality, we think about being host, right? Which is a very much part of the Christian tradition of what it means to be the host to the stranger and the foreigner among us. And all these practices, they need to be reinterpreted in our time. So when we think about mutuality as an aspect of community, I think it also means that sometimes we need to learn to be guests.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh yeah.

Sharon Ketcham:
… and to know when to pivot. When are the times in our relationships where I am host and I have good host manners and when are the times in my relationship when I need to be guest.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh yeah.

Sharon Ketcham:
… with the right guest manners. And we have a good model actually in Jesus for what it means to be guest and lots of models of when to pivot through, especially in the Lukan narrative. So what’s one thing you can do is to pay attention and recognize times if you want to be part of a community with people. When is it time maybe for me to be guest because Christians are used to being the host.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yes. I would much rather be the host than guest.

Sharon Ketcham:
That’s because being a guest means being vulnerable.

Heidi Wilcox:
And being, yes, uncomfortable.

Sharon Ketcham:
And being uncomfortable. So in order to actually know one another and to hear our different stories and experiences, in order for people to be heard, there’s times where we need to be guest in their experience that’s different than our own, as uncomfortable as that is.

Heidi Wilcox:
So you mentioned mutuality a minute ago. What is mutuality?

Sharon Ketcham:
I define mutuality as the giving and the receiving of faith, that we aren’t alone in our journey. There’s that collective image again. But Heidi, when you talk about your faith and you declare your faith, I hear you. And it actually increases mine. And at times maybe when my faith is weak, I need you to believe for me.

Heidi Wilcox:
For sure.

Sharon Ketcham:
So that’s mutuality. It’s understanding we both have agency and responsibility and care for one another in the community.

Heidi Wilcox:
So one of the things that you talk about in your book is that we hear a lot of voices crying out that the church is not as vibrant and maybe even dying because we lack young people participating in the church. So what would you say to those voices in light of mutuality?

Sharon Ketcham:
Christ’s Church is not going to die. In fact, I work with a generation of college students that are going to be beautiful leaders of a church that maybe we’re not going to recognize exactly what it looks like. So mutuality would play out by us stepping aside and sometimes those of us who are in charge as host in our churches to be guest to new ideas and new thinking and new ways in which we need to conceive of the gospel in our time and space.

Heidi Wilcox:
Doing the pivot thing.

Sharon Ketcham:
It’s time for some pivots.

Heidi Wilcox:
It is. How can we… because we’re talking about mutuality. So how can we do that with authenticity, empathy, collaboration. What does this look like to practice that? Because I like your guest, host, almost said ghost, I like your guest, host illustration. But what does that actually look like in real? Like in a real life example.

Sharon Ketcham:
I was sitting with my daughter one evening and I was being lazy. I should have been getting up to fix dinner, but we were just hanging out by the fire. It was winter. So we were cold.

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah.

Sharon Ketcham:
We needed the warmth. We live in new England, and so we needed a little bit of warmth. And down my street went an ambulance. It’s smaller neighborhood. So something was wrong and we were curious about that. But then there was another, another siren and another siren and another siren. Something was really wrong. And what we learned is that someone in our neighborhood had taken their life. I didn’t know them. Sure, we live somewhat close to each other. I’d recognize them. Our kids rode the same bus together, but I couldn’t tell you their names.

Sharon Ketcham:
And then me, I wanted to do something. Maybe I could bring them a meal or maybe invite them to our grief group at the church. But I have to recognize that both those acts were being host. A couple of days later, the announcement came in the newspaper, a public announcement of the memorial service and the visiting of friends. And I had to decide if I wanted to be the guest at a memorial service for people whose story was not my story, whose grief is not my grief, and whether I would accept that invitation or not. How is it that we enter people’s lives authentically, with empathy, in the space, the real space of how we live or am I just willing to be host, to bring them food?

Sharon Ketcham:
Not that anything’s wrong with those things, but there are different type of ways in which we interact with one another.

Heidi Wilcox:
I was struck by what you said that you have to recognize that those actions are host actions because I never would have thought like that.

Sharon Ketcham:
They’re just kind.

Heidi Wilcox:
It’s just kind. But I never would’ve thought about the position that that would put the host in in bringing the food, which is very kind, but it puts you in a position of power too.

Sharon Ketcham:
You’ve got it. And those are vulnerable people right now too. And not that it’s bad.

Heidi Wilcox:
No, no.

Sharon Ketcham:
Not that it’s bad, but it’s a recognition that maybe you’re the one that needs to be vulnerable with them and to sit in their grief and sorrow, not just make it right.

Heidi Wilcox:
Because you can’t fix those things.

Sharon Ketcham:
No ma’am.

Heidi Wilcox:
No. Why is mutuality so important in youth ministry?

Sharon Ketcham:
A lot of our relationships are top-down relationships.

Heidi Wilcox:
As in the host, guest that we were just talking about.

Sharon Ketcham:
Yeah, exactly. And now you can think of adults and children and who are children in the church. And is the only role that we have for them, is that top-down relationship or do we imagine that there are things that they bring authentically to our community? Another story. Gosh, I’m telling a lot of stories about my daughter today.

Heidi Wilcox:
I love. She’s going to love that.

Sharon Ketcham:
My son’s going to be jealous.

Heidi Wilcox:
How old is your daughter?

Sharon Ketcham:
She’s 14.

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay. How old is your son?

Sharon Ketcham:
17.

Heidi Wilcox:
Okay.

Sharon Ketcham:
So maybe he’s okay with it.

Heidi Wilcox:
He might be okay with it.

Sharon Ketcham:
He might be okay with it.

Heidi Wilcox:
When I was 17, I would want to be left out of those stories too.

Sharon Ketcham:
Right. Fair enough. When my daughter was seven, eight, somewhere in there, my mom got very sick and my kids were pretty close to my mom, so she was going to have a surgery and I told them that. And first question was, “Is Mimi going to die?” I quickly, without thinking, stuck my hand out. And I said, “Imagine that Mimi is sitting, held in God’s hand. That she’s going to be safe.” Well, my mom did die. And it was really tragic for us. The circumstances were really very difficult and it literally turned my world upside down. And during those days, my daughter and that was the darkest for me. My daughter would come up to me without any words and just put her hand out, reminding me of what I had said. God is in the palm of her hand.

Sharon Ketcham:
This is my daughter that I still need to teach the Lord’s prayer. Right? I still have so much to teach her and she ministered to me in ways that are beyond any type of teaching. Mutualities about the giving and the receiving of faith, and do we reduce children and young people just to us one way relationship or our job is to pass faith onto them. Or is there actually something reciprocal about that?

Heidi Wilcox:
I love that example because we usually do think of the older teaching the younger, which is so important.

Sharon Ketcham:
It is important, but-

Heidi Wilcox:
But…

Sharon Ketcham:
… does it cloud and not put them in a position also of being responsible to be part of the faith community?

Heidi Wilcox:
And to be involved. Because I remember just a couple of weeks ago, my pastor’s wife was talking about her son wanting to be involved in church. And I don’t know exactly how old he is, eight, somewhere between eight and 11. I’m not good at judging ages. So now he’s a greeter and I’m like-

Sharon Ketcham:
Love it.

Heidi Wilcox:
… that’s awesome.

Sharon Ketcham:
Ways for him to participate in what we’re already doing in church. And then what would happen if he wanted to do more than just participate? What if he wanted to contribute and change the greeter system? How would we respond to that? So there’s levels of which we bring and we welcome and we make space for other people. And both are important. The participate and the contribute, both are important for young people in the church.

Heidi Wilcox:
Absolutely. I really love the picture of the younger helping the older and the older helping the younger, because there have been some older people in my life who have been so-

Sharon Ketcham:
Absolutely.

Heidi Wilcox:
… transformative to me. But I also really like the idea of people who are younger, that we need all parts of the community and all parts of the church to help us.

Sharon Ketcham:
Kenny Chrissy Dean writes a book about young people in which she articulates what the greatest gift is that they bring to the church and she describes it as their passion. So what is it the church needs right now? Passion. And what is the unique gift that young people bring? Passion.

Heidi Wilcox:
It’s passion. It goes back to what I said at the beginning. Why do we keep showing up for church?

Sharon Ketcham:
Right. And maybe there’s a passion that you need to unleash that allows you to actually not just receive something from the church, but to actually help the church carry out its mission. A lot of time with young people, we think about ministry to them, rather than the ways in which all people of our church are helping to carry out the mission of that local church. That’s what it means to be the people of God.

Heidi Wilcox:
That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful.

Sharon Ketcham:
Thanks.

Heidi Wilcox:
So last question that we always ask everybody who comes on the podcast. Because the podcast is called Thrive With Asbury Seminary, what is one practice, it can be spiritual or really anything that is helping you thrive in your life right now?

Sharon Ketcham:
Okay. Can I tell two?

Heidi Wilcox:
Yeah, please.

Sharon Ketcham:
The first is the discovery of London Fogs. My students recently introduced me to them. Hmm, yum. So that’s one. Just enjoying even at home making my own London Fog is helping me to thrive. So that’s my silly one. My second, which is more honest, is learning to listen to people from different ethnic backgrounds. To be able to learn, to have the privilege to sit as guest in their stories and be able to have their experience in the world become one of which I am aware of, have empathy for and really open up my eyes to not only a bigger world, but the type of healing, specifically racial healing that we need in the church first even before in our country.

Heidi Wilcox:
For sure. And I think being guest, not that I’m an expert on this, but being guest in that situation is super important because I think a lot of times we expect others to conform to our ways and if we’re willing to listen and learn, that’s a beautiful thing.

Sharon Ketcham:
It’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.

Heidi Wilcox:
Well, thank you so much, Dr. Ketcham. I really enjoyed our conversation today.

Sharon Ketcham:
You’ve been a wonderful host.

Heidi Wilcox:
Oh, well, thank you. You’ve been a great guest. I appreciate it.

Sharon Ketcham:
There it is.

Heidi Wilcox:
Hey you all, thank you so much for joining me for today’s conversation with Dr. Ketcham. What a gift that her work is giving to the world. I really enjoyed learning more about embodied memory and thinking about the ways that we are part of a larger narrative and part of a collective community. What a beautiful picture that was and what beautiful practices there are that is a part of that. So if you haven’t already done so, make sure you pick up a copy of her book, Reciprocal Church: Becoming a Community Where Faith Flourishes Beyond High School. It’s available on Amazon or wherever books are sold.

Heidi Wilcox:
So if you want to learn more, make sure you grab a copy of that. So as always, you can follow us in all the places, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @AsburySeminary. And until next time, have a great day you all, and go do something that helps you thrive.