Many think we can plan the details of our lives, but God has different objectives. Sometimes we need reminding that wrong turns can lead to unique and beautiful destinations we never thought we would experience. Such is the case of two remarkable individuals who are all too familiar with the ways of the Holy Spirit. Enter the Rev. Stuart Higginbotham, T'17, and Kate Eaton, who will lead a workshop, "Engaging Ministry; Practices of Prayer, Worship, and Community," on the campus of the University of the South Jan. 30–Feb 1.
Stuart Higginbotham is the rector of a 1,000-person parish, Grace Episcopal Church, in Gainesville, Georgia, a small town as he describes it. Much like the small town in southeast Arkansas where he grew up—a wonderful place that lent itself to stories and relationships and family. It helped him understand his vocation as a priest to this day. "Relationships and stories matter so deeply, and I strive for that type of engagement now in my own parish."
Higginbotham was a pre-med student in college and his family's plan was always for him to go to medical school. While at Lyon College in Arkansas, he had the opportunity to study abroad in Belize. "We were all having dinner one night with my genetics professor and he noticed what I never did, that I took on a very pastoral role in taking care of my fellow students. He looked at me across the table in front of everyone and asked if I ever considered being a priest. I laughed and said, 'I'm Baptist, we don't have those.' That was the first time it was ever mentioned to me. I later transferred to the Presbyterian Church where I was asked again, then I ended up going to Columbia Seminary for my master of divinity degree. Then I found The Episcopal Church and went to the School of Theology for Anglican studies and later for my doctor of ministry degree." Higginbotham recalls, "It was very confusing for my family. Somehow people around me paid enough attention and knew to ask. I learned to humbly take that risk with other people."
It is important for Higginbotham to bring humor along for the ride. "When I was an undergrad, I hosted comedy clubs once a month. My job was to coordinate with different talent, pull them all together in a room, and set the space up, which is not unlike parish ministry. Someone performing for the first time, singing a new song, or telling a new joke was not unlike our own newcomers to the church."
Embodying his 12 years of experience, Stuart provides an introspective and insightful take on ministry. His "Heart of Ministry" portion of the Engaging Ministry conference will help paint a bigger picture of what the Holy Spirit looks like in the church today. You will leave with a stronger knowledge of the challenges faced by the church in this ever-changing world.
Kate Eaton took a wild ride "through the back door and upside down" to become what she is today, founder of Mishkhah, an organization whose mission is to reveal the mystery of Christ through the arts, music, movement, and interaction. Through careful integration of music, images, textures, found objects, light, movement and prayer, participants are invited to rediscover the landscape of their souls as they encounter the holy. Mishkhah is grounded in the beauty and wonder of the tradition, sacraments, and architecture of Anglicanism. Eaton directed the arts and music for "the Wilderness," at St. John's Cathedral in Denver, Colorado, now the longest standing experimental service in The Episcopal Church. It was through this experience of volunteering her time at St. John's Cathedral for "the Wilderness" that Eaton went on to found Mishkhah and work with congregations across the United States. She is excited to bring all of this experience to the Engaging Ministry conference.
Eaton is a professional fund-raiser, having worked for Habitat for Humanity International. She is a world traveler, and carpool karaoke master (she likes to drive around singing Michael Jackson songs). Eaton is also a passionate musician, rediscovering her love for improvising on piano in a mission-style church in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
"Through all the twists and turns of my life, I discovered God was present to me through the person of Jesus Christ. And the expansiveness of Christ is as dramatic as the entire universe; a multi-dimensional passing through time and space and yet as intimate as the most beautiful and tiniest butterfly."
Eaton believes that ministry is encouraging others to find the true Christ in both themselves and in others. When she found ministry through music, as she explains, "To this day I have no idea what drove me to raise my hand one day at church and volunteer to do the music for "the Wilderness." I had nothing to offer but some strums on the guitar and a few chords on the piano. So, when no one objected I thought 'I am in real trouble!' I can't bring what I do, or think I can do, to this gothic cathedral. I have to come up with something else and I have four months to figure it out." Kate relied on her musical friends and began with a blues electric guitar player, a percussionist, and a middle-easter oud player. Kate says "it just worked. And now here we are."
"We are positioned uniquely in The Episcopal Church. The liturgy is so rich in mystery, wonder, and sacrament. I think once people can find their way in to experience the liturgy, they too are captivated by its beauty and natural rhythm of prayer and worship."
Eaton brings an extraordinary take on worship and the mystery of Christ by "stirring the senses and opening the heart." Her "Entering the Mystery" portion of the Engaging Ministry conference will leave you with the ability to create your own imaginative worship experiences.