Why Serve 2014 Reflection: Melissa Chapman Skinner

Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Aberdeen, South Dakota; MSR Health Care Plus Federal Credit Union
January 26, 2015
By: 
Melissa Chapman Skinner

Have you ever heard the expression “You were meant to be there”? I don’t think I really ever understood what that meant until I attended Why Serve 2014. Wait, maybe I should say until I FINALLY attended the Why Serve 2014 conference. You see, a few years back, while living in North Dakota, two people, Canon John Floberg and the late Reverend Terry Star mentioned it to me. In their own words they said ‘Melissa, you should attend the Why Serve conference when you get the chance. You’ll really enjoy it.’ This was as I began my adventures back into the Episcopal Church; back then I fit the age criteria. The next time I looked into attending the conference, I noticed I was too old! That didn’t stop me from wishing/wanting to attend. As I listened to others share their stories or their experiences in attending this great conference, I thought to myself how awesome it would be to attend this, to be able to grow spiritually, and to meet others like me.

My wish came true! (Thanks to the Diocese of South Dakota and Ms. Sarah Eagle Heart) I finally attended the Why Serve conference (this is where the happy dance is done and we all yell YAY!). I have to say that my time spent in California, at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, in my mind, is beyond words, and in a way left me speechless, in awe. It wasn’t until I received confirmation of flight/lodging/conference plans that I realized I was actually going. Once it hit, I took a second to let it soak in. I shed tears of happiness and sadness; I shared with my family and friends about my opportunity; as always they encouraged and supported my adventures. I also thought back to my relative and my friend, the late Reverend Terry Star, and remembered the many ideas, thoughts and conversations we shared. I wished I could share this with him: “Check me out Terry! I’m finally going to Why Serve and I’m not too old (the age bit was an ongoing joke between us).” It was heartbreaking as I stepped onboard the airplane, and I’m sure any future events with the church will be that way as Terry was such a big part of the Episcopal Church. I decided right then and there that I would be more open to growing and learning everything I possibly could in the few days we were there. I went with the mindset of “what can I bring back to others, Indian Country & our youth?” All in all, I feel that I accomplished that. (I feel my notebook full of ideas and thoughts totally support that – ha-ha.)

While at the conference, we moved to smaller groups for discussion at times; in the group breakout sessions, I felt hesitant to engage in or discuss some topics (but I tried). On some of the topics I had no idea what to say or I wondered if I had the “right answer” and should I share (I shared). Then the other topics were so easy and I felt like I was talking to my longtime friends about our everyday life; I knew that no matter what I shared I was in good company. I also realized how much I enjoy being a Lay Reader; I love being able to share the readings. I’m not comfortable enough to “preach” or have my own sermon for the people, but being involved with the church in this way is a good fit for me.

If I had to sum up my experience, it would go along the lines of this: “California is a very beautiful state and spending time at CDSP was a great way to spend my first visit to San Francisco/Oakland area. I have grown more in my personal life as well as spiritually. I met so many new people both at the conference and while out in the community. I saw the outreach programs and how they brought the different cultures into their church; it was good to see the various projects they have done with others. Some brought me to tears; I took part in a group discussion, in which the group I was with turned the tables some and taught the locals about who we are and where we come from. I also took some time to chat with others in the group; I listened to what others are doing in their own communities as well as exchanged ideas to take back to our own communities. I know it might sound cliché but I am truly blessed to have this experience and I know I was meant to be there this year.”