Q&A With Past Chapel President Kristin (Barnett) Lewis '03
Meet Kristin (Barnett) Lewis '03
Past Chapel President
Q. Where are you now? Please share your location and job title, and provide a description of what your position entails (chief responsibilities, etc.).
A. In 2010 I was consecrated as a deaconess with the Lutheran Deaconess Association (LDA). I am currently the co-director of education and formation with the LDA. I have the joy to walk with people from college students to people in their 70s that feel called to a ministry of word and service. I walk with them through the discernment process and once they are accepted I oversee their formation process. It is a joy to see how God calls and works through the students, deaconesses and deacons in my community. We have students that are majoring in education, theology, theater and more. We have second career individuals that are in law enforcement, engineers, youth ministry workers, pastors and more. What an honor to help facilitate their formation into a community and as individuals called to a life of faith and service in their variety of vocations.
Q. At Augustana, faith is certainly nurtured in Chapel, but it is also nourished throughout campus — in our classrooms and labs, in rehearsals and at practice, in quiet consultation with professors and staff, in our residence halls and in countless other places. Please share a bit about how Campus Ministry at Augustana influenced your life. Please also share how your faith was nurtured outside of Chapel — by professors in class, by peer advisors, by friends, through participation in clubs or intramurals, etc.
A. My four years at Augustana were critical in my faith journey. I loved having the rhythm of chapel during the week as a reminder to pause in the midst of an overly busy schedule. It was wonderful to hear from peers, faculty, and staff in weekly homilies. This was an ever present reminder that those that we experienced life with on campus were more than just a professor of biology or dean. It role modeled the integration and complexities of various aspects of our life into who we were as human beings. While serving on chapel staff we asked questions about why we did what we did? What was the role of our ministry to the whole campus? On a campus with a wide variety of faith backgrounds how did we cultivate a place of welcome and conversation for all? My dearest friend in life was the head of Catholics in Action. We didn't always theologically agree, yet we found a place of deep friendship and respect through our work together on chapel staff.
I was also very activity with a bible study called Thursday Throwdown. It took place on Thursday nights and was structured around breaking into small groups and having conversation around very open questions. The role of learning to have curiosity, questions, and exploration as part of my faith was fostered through this student-led Bible study, the faithful questions I learned to ask from professors like Dr. Murray Haar and Dr. Richard Swanson, and the willingness of the chapel to also engage them. Pastor Paul (Rohde) was always willing to lead by example with wonder, but also give reassurance of God's presence in the midst of chaos with reminders of God's presence and love, and always a reminder to "Breathe." The space to learn to ask questions and understand that it was an act of faith to do so, not a challenge to faith, has continued to enrich my life and ministry. I began to learn to lean into the mystery of God's movement in this world. It also allowed me to look at my vocation and lean into what God might be calling me to be a part of, to risk trying in the midst of fog, and look for how God calls us to be community — even to those very different than us.
Q. How does Faith continue to serve as your compass? How as your faith helped you navigate through life's changes and challenges? Who was your most inspiring professor at Augie, and why?
A. This question is virtually impossible to answer. The gift of a liberal arts education is that there were professors that I met in every department that helped me wonder, grow and see the connections of the world around me. Dr. Haar’s intro to religion class was one of the most challenging and impactful. I'm thankful that I started my college experience knowing that "I wasn't in Sunday School anymore" and that it was a place to ask and explore really hard questions. Taking classes with Dr. Swanson and being a part of his storytelling group helped me see the movement of God in scripture in new ways and therefore see the pushes and pulls in the stories of everyday life with wonder and awe. Dr. Swanson is also a part of my call to diaconal life because as we studied the book of Mark, he pointed out at the end the women who were watching, women who had been "diakonia" him (Jesus) his whole ministry. He pointed out this work of diakonia that swirled through the gospels and the communities that Jesus was a part of. People that bridged needs to one another. People that worked to care for the whole of the community. When I went to seminary and learned that there was an option of a call to word and service "diakonia" instead of just word and sacrament "ordained/pastoral ministry," this lesson pulled back at my spirit. That was what I had been shaped for. To help the news of grace and love swirl through the communities I am a part of.
Dr. Peter Schotten's classes “Democracy in America” and “Constitutional Law” taught me how to read a lot and work hard. But they also helped me learn to ask questions and understand the complexities of the systems that our communities, states and country are built on. In this political climate and cultural climate of echo chambers, binary thinking and "anti-compromise," I think we all need to learn to see the complexities and the questions of our systems. We need to be able to listen to both sides with respect.
Q. What’s given you the greatest personal satisfaction since graduating from Augie? And why?
A. I have struggled to answer this question. The people that have welcomed me as part of their journey in life and who have been a part of mine is the greatest satisfaction. We were designed to be in relationship with one another and the people that have been a part of my life brings my days great richness. The memories at Augustana are shaped by the many people that I got to know on campus. The delight of getting my latte from Dorothy in the huddle and hearing about her family. The witness of Tracy Riddle and how you can support, touch and walk with all students when they are succeeding, making poor choices or just struggling with day to day was incredible. The professors that pushed me with questions, that encouraged me to ask my own, and made me see the world around me. My relationships with college students and deaconess and deacon students remind me to keep listening for where I am called. My relationships with my three children Parker (7), Atley (3) and Elyn (3) remind me to laugh, play and explore. My relationship with my husband, Jeff, reminds me the challenge and importance to be vulnerable, trust and the joy and challenge of doing life with another. My relationship with my friend Jackie Pogue '03 has taught me to never stop learning, to be honest, to laugh a lot, and the power of knowing that someone always has your back. The relationships I had with women that were homeless, at-risk of homelessness, or transitioning out of homelessness through various ministry work taught me the power of recognizing the humanity and dignity of one another. The love that they were willing to share with me, what they taught me about trust, toughness and hope, are lessons that carry me. Witnessing a community come together to try to build a community that all would be able to have a place to sleep and the opportunity to move towards stability was inspiring.
Q. What accomplishment are you most proud of since graduating Augustana?
A. From 2008-12 I served as Deaconess Intern and Deaconess at Trinity Lutheran church in Valparaiso, Indiana. I worked with youth and families, but also with community engagement. The churches in our community began recognizing the need for emergency shelter, first for single men and then single women. I led our churches efforts to be a PADS site (interim homelessness location) one night a week for the women's program. We provide a safe place for women to sleep and provided supper and breakfast. It was an honor to witness the congregation step-up and share their time (even when that time was the shift from midnight to 5 a.m.), their resources and eventually their voices. As we grew in relationship to the women that needed shelter, relationships were formed. Some of the women would worship with us, and members of the church started watching out for the women during the week. People throughout the churches that were working with the women's shelter were becoming more and more aware of the other needs of the women. Needs for the women to have a place to go during the day, assistance in navigation of systems that might help them find more stability, needs for counseling and classes, and even to have a mailing address.
In the fall of 2011 the question of how to start a day center was more prevalent. I had done nine months of Clinical Pastoral Education at a women's day center, Sojourner Truth House, in Gary Indiana. Through that experience I began spear heading and dreaming about how to launch such a ministry. Through various individual supporters, dreams and outlines for programming, grants from Wheatridge and the Porter County Community Foundation, we were able to open the doors to Dayspring Women's Center in October 2012. I found a fabulous person to hire as the executive director and continued to work with the organization as Board Chair until my twins were born. It was incredible to see the lives that have been touched and the vision become a reality. The organization has now merged with a larger housing organization in our community and many women have found support, dignity and stability because of the ministry. The ministry also helped to raise awareness about homelessness and the housing challenges in our community.
It is through my faith that I feel called to be a part of work that shows the humanity and dignity, that God desires for all creation. The good news of God's grace that promises forgiveness, dignity, honor and love is demonstrated when we show all people that dignity, forgiveness and welcome. When training volunteers for Dayspring, our No. 1 rule was that all women that would enter that space would be treated with dignity and respect. That Dayspring would be a place of hope that was willing to hear and hold their stories. This was what I see modeled by Jesus in the Bible.
When I was doing an intake in the first month at Dayspring the woman I was meeting with started crying. She told me of the abuse she had experienced, the life she had growing up, the child she loved with all her heart. I listened. I didn't have an immediate solution, but she had a space to be human and not a number. At the end of our hour together she looked at me and said "This is the first time I have felt hope in six months." That was a moment of knowing the vision for Dayspring was becoming a reality.