by Heather Roote Faller
In 2006 Cindy Schwartz and her husband gave up their jobs and moved with their three teenaged daughters from a 6,000-square-foot house in Tennessee to an apartment in Princeton. “It was a sacrifice for the whole family, financially, emotionally, and spiritually,” Schwartz said, but one that had its rewards. Among them was the family’s experience living in the residential community of Princeton Seminary, where her children “learned and will carry with them what Christian community looked like in CRW [Seminary housing]. They saw how people treated each other, how people shared babysitting…. It was an important part of my children’s spiritual formation to see people who try to live out what they claim to believe.”
Schwartz has been helping others to live in ways more consonant with who they really are for years, first as a psychologist, then as a trained spiritual director. Schwartz served as executive director of Living Waters House, a non-profit organization she started with her pastor, Chris Scruggs, and another member of Brownsville Presbyterian Church in Brownsville, Tennessee. It was a small church of less than 150, and “spiritual direction was a new concept in 1999 in the South, but they discerned a need for a spiritual direction center in the middle of the Bible Belt,” she said. The center provided support for pastors of small congregations, often working on their own and facing burnout, individual direction for members of the fifty Presbyterian churches in the Presbytery of the Mid-South, which funded the center at start-up, as well as churches of many other denominations, and congregational resources and programming on spiritual discipleship.
In the midst of this work, Schwartz attended a retreat where she had what she describes as “a powerful prayer experience,” realizing she was called to ordained ministry. “I’m grateful I had a pastor who took that call seriously, prayed with me, listened, gave me resources, encouraged me to believe there was something there,” she said. She was raising three children, so she took one class at time at a local seminary for eight years, and church members suggested to her, “You should be a pastor.” But it wasn’t until her husband said to her, “I think you are supposed to be ordained and I can support that; we are called as a family to ministry,” that Schwartz knew the time was right.
Schwartz chose Princeton Seminary, and the decision was spiritual, academic—and financial. “I was looking for a Seminary that had a variety of theological viewpoints, and high standards for theology and biblical studies,” she said. “And I wanted a good environment for my family.” The financial aid was the third factor. “I could not have come to seminary without it, because I left my full-time job and we were two working parents.”
The investment in her education was a sound one. “Princeton gave me the biblical interpretation and exegesis and a way of theologically reflecting, a framework for understanding what my tradition has believed,” she said. And her education strengthened her connection to the church. “I had a lot of professors who loved the church, who helped me love and feel that responsibility for the church. I had faculty who helped me consider how [what I was learning] could be part of my relationship with God….”
A major shift in her understanding of her calling was “being challenged [in the classroom] to think about the whole church and corporate life, how important community is,” she said. As her pastoral identity came into focus through field education experiences in churches, she came to see her role as that of a servant leader, of spiritual director to the whole congregation, not only to individuals, and to extend that one more step and consider “who we are missionally in our congregation and community, not just within the congregation.”
That challenge has become the heart of her new ministry. As of summer 2009 Schwartz is associate pastor for congregational care and spiritual formation at Advent Presbyterian Church, a 1,500-member church in Cordova, Tennessee, where her job is in part to nurture the nurturers of the congregation: the Stephen Ministers, the hospital visitation team, and small group leaders. Her focus is to connect spiritual disciplines to mission.
Schwartz is grateful for the support she received as she pursued her calling. “We are in a time and an era where the message is, if you dream it, you can do it on your own. Seminary experience is one of the rare places where the message from the church has been, We don’t do this by ourselves. We call people to ministry and we help them get there, and nourish them….” She cites as “gifts” the prayers of her congregation, her pastor, and her presbytery’s Committee on Preparation for Ministry, the support of her family, and the financial aid she received from the Seminary, aid that in her view is essential to enabling students to pursue ministry. “People come in [to school] with a huge burden of student loans from their undergraduate degree,” she said. “Families can’t live on one income with those student loans…. If we want people to be shepherds, facilitators of our congregations, the sacrifice can’t be only [the student’s]. It’s a delight and a joy to help one another find and live out our calling.”