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Rev. Shannon Kershner to deliver baccalaureate sermon

Duane Bonifer

MONMOUTH, Ill. — Monmouth College’s Baccalaureate Service speaker is an example of the importance of asking hard questions and then listening hard for answers.

The Rev. Shannon Kershner, pastor of the 5,500-member Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, will deliver the sermon at the Baccalaureate Service, which will be held at 2 p.m. May 12 in Dahl Chapel and Auditorium.

The Texas native said she did not expect to live in Chicago, where she moved in 2014. In fact, at one point in college she didn’t expect to become a minister, although she had grown up the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. But plans to become a child psychologist changed when she had a “clarity moment” in a women’s studies class during her junior year at Trinity University in San Antonio.

“For me, there was a moment when I was sitting in a class and I decided that if I felt that part of my calling was to be a voice for inclusion and continued reformation in the church, I needed to decide if I would do that within the church or outside of it,” said Kershner. “It was a strange moment because I remember sitting in that class and thinking, ‘OK, either I leave church or I stay and work on the inside.’”

Not unlike her vocational journey, Kershner said that college students must also search for their calling by asking sometimes difficult questions and listening intently for answers.

“That’s what all young adults have to figure out — what is really their own calling or vocation, and is that different or the same from what is expected by their family?” she asked. “I think that is one of the critical questions that we all must ask in college.”

Kershner said she is excited to give the baccalaureate sermon because faculty-student relationships are central to Monmouth and “my college faculty were so important to me.”

“You realize how a well-placed question can open up someone’s mind to doing something different or to remember something they had forgotten,” she said. “It’s exciting to me to speak at a place where faculty members are committed to asking those kinds of questions of students, and students are open to listening and wondering.”

And the Monmouth community is looking forward to hearing Kershner’s message.

“Ever since the Rev. Shannon Kershner was called to be the pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, I have been cheering for her and celebrating her success,” said the Rev. Dr. Teri Ott, Monmouth’s chaplain. “Shannon is one of very few women serving as senior pastors of churches with more than 5,000 members. With grace and amazing talent she has shattered what women clergy refer to as the ‘stained-glass ceiling’ in church leadership. I couldn’t be more excited to host her as our 2018 baccalaureate preacher.”

Kershner said she is aware of her position in the Presbyterian Church (USA). She mentors and advises younger women who have entered the ministry or are contemplating entering it.

“A piece of my calling has been to do whatever I could do to make it easier for the generations of women who follow me into the ministry,” she said.

Kershner came to Fourth Presbyterian Church from Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in western North Carolina, where she had served for five years. Before that, she and her family spent seven years at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas. She and her husband, fellow Texan Greg Kershner, have two children, Hannah, a 10th-grader, and Ryan, a sixth-grader.

“I did not expect that we would be in Chicago,” Kershner said. “That was not necessarily my plan. I had always assumed that we would be in Texas because that’s where all of our family is from and everyone still is. But then just through a real need to be open to whatever God might have in mind, we decided we would be open to having conversations about living outside of Texas.”

Kershner said when she decided to enter the ministry, “part of my calling was going to be for inclusion and proclaiming a wide embrace of grace from within the institution.”

“I do whatever I can to proclaim an outrageously inclusive God,” she said.