God's love is far bigger than pastor Iona Dickinson can understand

"My college chaplain said to me if I can do anything else and be happy, do it!"

Iona Dickinson: “My college chaplain said to me if I can do anything else and be happy, do it!”
  • Iona Dickinson: “My college chaplain said to me if I can do anything else and be happy, do it!”

University City United Church

2877 Governor Drive, University City

Membership: 100

Pastor: Iona Dickinson

Age: 39

Born: Averill Park, NY

Formation: Allegheny College, Meadville, PA; Claremont School of Theology, Claremont

Years Ordained: 14

San Diego Reader: What’s your favorite subject on which to preach?

Pastor Iona Dickinson: I try to balance internal sermons, focusing on personal discipline and spiritual discipline, strengthening our inner faith, with external sermons which push us outward to evangelism and justice. Without the internal strength, the external stuff becomes overwhelming and exhaustive; and without the external stuff, the internal stuff seems less important. They do go hand-in-hand, and there are seasons in our lives when we need one or the other more heavily, but over time they balance themselves out.

SDR: What’s your main concern as a member of the clergy?

PD: The United Church of Christ, of which this church is part, has a saying that our faith is 2000-some-odd years old but our thinking is not. How do we engage our faith in meaningful ways that push us into the world that we are currently living in, and how do we allow our faith to speak to us in our settings? That’s a continuously changing answer, something I and my church have to keep wrestling with, so that the answer is meaningful not only to our personal faith and our church but to our community and our world.

SDR: Why did you become a minister?

PD: I grew up in the church, and it was always a part of my life. In college, I was active in campus ministry and loved studying religion. I kept coming back to this nudge I felt internally to consider ministry as an option and a sense that God was calling me to follow. My college chaplain said to me if I can do anything else and be happy, do it! But it kept coming back to ministry being the thing that God wants me to do.

SDR: What is the mission of your church?

PD: Our church is ever growing into its mission. We’re a little over 50 years old. We have an open and affirming statement which makes it clear that regardless of faith background, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, military status, or economic status, etc., folks are welcome here just as they are. We have a heart for justice for all people, continually working and advocating for justice. We also have a deep-seated belief that God loves everyone and we are to share that love with everyone.

SDR: Where is the strangest place you found God?

PD: My mom died of cancer five years ago, and through that process, I found that I had strength to face it — to do the hard things and face the hard situations. That strength came from God. God is with us in those darkest of times because we need it. Often in times like that we’re open to God, and when things are going well we’re not really paying as much attention. It’s not that God is not there at those times, but sometimes we’re paying less attention when things are going well for us in life.  

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

PD: I don’t know, but I know there’s more. What it looks like, I don’t know. I do know it’s resting in God’s eternal love. When it comes to final judgment, heaven and hell, God’s love is far bigger than I can understand.

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