Nanette Sawyer, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry
We see you on Sundays preaching or leading worship, but what do you do the rest of the week?
My work at Fourth Presbyterian Church is all about community building. I try to help our large church have smaller, more intimate opportunities for congregants to connect with each other in deep ways. I create and support small groups, work for racial equity at our church, and develop interfaith relationships with our neighbors of other faiths.
Small groups include everything from book groups to Bible studies, from men’s breakfast programs to monthly Women at Fourth fellowship gatherings. We have groups for couples and groups for people over fifty. We’re also starting a new thing called Deep Listening Dinners to help people get to know each other more deeply and to practice our listening skills. We even have a group for people who want to play bridge!
You could spend your Sundays doing anything! Why this congregation? Why this work?
One of my passions is helping people to feel and believe how very precious to God and beloved they are. It is one of our callings, as followers of God in the way of Jesus, to share this message and this experience with as many people as possible. I see this happening all around me at Fourth Church. This good news message is shared in the preaching here, in all our mission work, in the way we work with our children and youth, and in our service to the community. I love the urban vibrancy of Fourth Church and feel honored to work with such fantastic colleagues.
In December, we are moving to Buchanan Chapel. What excited you about moving to Buchanan Chapel?
When we worshiped together in Buchanan Chapel in September, I loved how physically close we were to each other. I could see everyone’s faces and hear everyone singing. In addition to the coziness that I think we’ll experience in the chapel, there are so many opportunities for creativity and for making the space beautiful and meaningful. I’m excited to make some new banners that bring in a sense of sacred space and try some new ways of sharing our prayers with each other. One idea is to make strings of prayer flags, with our prayers written on small colored flags of fabric. I think it could be very beautiful, impactful, and moving.
What keeps you busy when you aren’t at Fourth Church?
I love to walk along the lakefront; I find it so peaceful and healing. It soothes my soul. Cozy mystery novels (that’s an actual genre of fiction!) help me to take a little mental vacation. I also love to cook, so I’m often perusing cookbooks and listening to audio books while chopping vegetables. But when I feel too lazy to chop vegetables, I like to go out for dinner or brunch with my wife and enjoy the salmon sushi or the gluten-free pancakes (with real maple syrup!).
Is there a poet, theologian, or activist who has made a large impact on your life and ministry?
Mary Oliver, without a doubt, is the poet who speaks to my soul through pretty much every poem she has ever written. She has one poem called “Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End?” In it she writes
There are things you can’t reach. But
you can reach out to them, and all day long.
The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of God.
All of her poetry, in my experience, reaches out to the idea of God. Her words brush against the edges of God, make us think about God’s mysterious beauty and presence, everywhere around us, whether we remember or forget. God is there, hiding in the beautiful details of creation. I’m so grateful that her poetry can awaken this remembrance in me.