Prayer for the journey
This past summer, Mary Karsten Surridge became North Park University’s tenth president, and the first woman to hold that office. This reflection was shared on All Saints’ Sunday at the nearby North Park Covenant Church, as her congregation prayed for her new ministry.
Sandy and Karen asked if I might share a bit of my story this morning, and include a few things for which I humbly seek your support in prayer.
My story begins with growing up in Wisconsin in a family of seven, including five children. It was a wonderful place to grow up, and I am grateful to my parents for many things, including the formation and foundation of a church-going home. Though we were involved in church, I cannot say that my own personal walk became real until a few years after I left to go to college. But one thing that was introduced very early in life in our home, was the value and privilege of being a part of a community. And with the blessing and privilege of being a member of the family and community, go the responsibilities of contribution to that community. This has been a guiding principle throughout my career and personal life, and has helped to frame much of my thinking and service.
When I was an undergraduate at Northwestern University, through the challenges and opportunities that can happen during the undergraduate years, I was introduced to and became involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. My faith became personal and real, and my daily walk with Jesus truly began.
This was my first introduction to the idea that the college years can be a significantly formative time in education, in one’s faith, and in the development of one’s life. If faith is introduced and developed during the undergraduate years, it can be the guide for every professional and personal decision in the future.
After a series of several progressive positions in higher education – including coaching, student development, and advancement work – I eventually returned to the Chicago area, when I was asked to serve Northwestern University in the role of Planned and Major Gifts Officer.
Jack and I were married in the summer of 1996, and we moved to the neighborhood when he joined North Park University as athletic director and professor of Genetics, and we began coaching North Park women’s basketball together. Our days of recruiting students for North Park University had begun and continue to this day.
Our life in this church began shortly after our life at home changed in the very best way life can ever change, when our daughter Jessie was born on Christmas Day in 1998. In the days of pre-registration for everything that goes with labor and delivery, imagine entering the emergency room on the night of Christmas Eve, and being asked “are you in labor?”
“What’s your name?”
The nurse then looks at my husband, Jack. “Oh, and I suppose you are Joseph. Do you think it is funny that we have to work on Christmas Eve…”
Jessie was born the next day, and has been the joy of our life ever since. With no immediate family in this area, we knew we would want help in raising and encouraging our daughter in a life of faith and friendship. We were searching for a church home and found it in North Park Covenant Church.
On the first Sunday we visited, Jessie was a few months old, and we sat in the South Room, where families with little ones would sit. The first people we met here were Chris and Jack Rosell, who had their two older children, Tyler and Jessie, at the time and were expecting their dear Courtney Ruth, who would be born the following July. They reached out and welcomed us and we have been blessed with a life of faith, fellowship and friendship from that day forward.
Over the past 20 years, this church has stood by us, and stood with us, during times of pain at the loss of parents and siblings. And through great joy and celebration, with the faith development of Jessie – through Sunday school, confirmation, junior high and senior high youth group, camp, CHIC, and graduation. And along with our family and faith life, you have joined us in the joys and challenges of the ministry of North Park University.
Today, I am hoping for that partnership more than ever. Just over one year ago, I was invited to respond to a nomination in the presidential search process for North Park University. Following a great deal of prayer and discernment with God, and out of deep respect for the individual who submitted that nomination, I did respond – placing the entire process in God’s hands, and clinging throughout that sacred and confidential process to the four word prayer that never fails: THY WILL BE DONE.
Not known to me but certainly known to God, each progressive step in my journey of service to North Park University has led to invitations to accept broader responsibility and expanding leadership. It has been the delight of my professional life to serve the mission of North Park in each of those roles – arriving at this significant time in the life of our family, and in the life of our beloved university.
As we face our future together, I am very grateful for the legacy and faithfulness of the past, which gives us a compass to guide our future. This church has always been a place of vibrant engagement with the academic community of North Park – countless alumni and friends, faculty and staff have worshipped here, and we are the church home for many students while they study with us.
This is a great strength for North Park University and for this church. May we continue to draw strength and support from each other in many meaningful ways.
Personally, I seek your prayer and encouragement for wisdom, for patience, for truth. Even as the responsibilities are great and the volume of work is high, I must seek opportunities for rest and reflection. My responsibilities may take me away on some weekends. During those times, I will miss you deeply, but I will seek ways I can remain involved in serving the vital ministries of this congregation.
I am asking a few individuals to pray with me. And I am asking all of you: Remember the Mary that I am in this church – friend, spouse, Jessie’s mom. Thank you for the ways you have embraced our family over these many years. I am grateful.