Stations of Faith: Chrystie Adams’ Faith Journey

Photo of Chrystie Adams.

We often speak about faith as a journey. Most of our individual journeys are punctuated by experiences that have brought us clarity, or forks in the road that have defined important life choices: stations along the journey.

During the 2018 Lenten season, we focused on this theme of “Stations of Faith.” Members of our congregation shared stories of their own faith journeys every Sunday during Lent. These stories were powerful and moving, and each week during spring 2018, we will share one of the faith journey stories on our website so that we may continue to be inspired by them.


Hi’hani waste! That’s good morning in Dakota. For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Chrystie Adams and I have been at Brown for 47 years as a member of our Brown Memorial Choir. Originally, I was going to give a Minute for Mission about the Baltimore Dakota Learning Camps (BDLC) and the Pejuhutazizi Family Learning Camp, but it seemed appropriate to share my faith journey with all of you as the Baltimore Dakota Learning Camps and Pejuhutazizi Family Learning Camp have been a big part of my life and faith journey for the past 21 years.


Let me give you a little background about my faith journey:


I grew up in a small Midwestern, very Republican and conservative town of St. Charles, Illinois, about 40 miles west of Chicago. I was a “chosen baby”—adopted as an infant and always made to feel very special by my mom and dad. From the very beginning, my family, church and music—both in church and at school—were a very important part of my life.


The St. Charles Congregational United Church of Christ was the place where my faith journey started. Our church always felt like a place that honored the teachings of Jesus, despite the very narrow-minded views of life in the Midwest in the 50s and 60s. We had a female minister, a gay youth leader and a black seminary intern—all really outside the norm for conservative St. Charles where the superintendent of the St. Charles School for Boys was not allowed to purchase a house because he was black, and the mayor could not belong to the St. Charles Country Club because he was Jewish. 


 Here are a few of the memorable moments in my journey at the Congregational Church of St. Charles:


  • Sunday School every Sunday from the time I was in Kindergarten. My mom was a teacher and Sunday School Superintendent, Hannah O’Brien, played the piano every Sunday. “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” “Jesus Loves Me” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” are all still a part of the songs that live in my heart.
  • I joined the children’s choir in third grade (62 years ago). Mrs. Squire was our director and my first hymns, which I still know by heart to this day, were “Holy, Holy, Holy” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” I loved singing in that choir!
  • My dad was the custodian for our church in the evenings and he was given the old player piano from the Sunday School. It came to our home in October and I started piano lessons in fourth grade—the next step in my journey to a lifelong love of music.
  • My 16th birthday present was voice lessons and the amazing opportunity to sing in the senior choir at church. I can still remember those Thursday night rehearsals and Sunday morning worship services and the solos that I got to share with my church family.
  • Youth group was a big part of my high school years at church and our youth leader, Larry Bryant, got permission to take me with him to Arthur J. Audy Home in Chicago (a juvenile jail) on Christmas Day 1965. I played the piano for the Christmas services for the boys and then the girls. I still remember that the sisters and brothers who were in that facility could not see each other, even on Christmas! I remember telling Larry that I wanted to teach in a place like the Audy Home and help to bring music to students who were like the young people that I played for that Christmas day. Larry told me before I went off to college, “Chrys, you can’t save the whole world but you can certainly make a big difference in the lives of your future students.”
  • Off to college and still church and music were an extremely important and grounding part of my life. During a rocky five-year college journey, I continued to sing in church choirs from Appleton, Wisconsin to Normal, Illinois and then back to my home church for a brief time. Last stop on the college train was to Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA, and the Gettysburg Chapel Choir—my first exposure to the Lutheran tradition. It was here that I met Professor Eugene Belt, and this connection would later take me to Brown Memorial.


My teaching career started in Baltimore City in 1971 where I was hired to teach Music at the brand-new Lake Clifton High School. I immediately went in search of a church home and only knew of two places that I might consider – Memorial Episcopal where Edith Hoe was director (She had been a professor at Gettysburg), or Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian, where Mr. Belt was organist and choir director. When I went to see Mr. Belt he showed me the Pilgrim Hymnal that was used at Brown and I immediately recognized the hymnal I had grown up singing from in my hometown church. It seemed like a sign from God! 


I could recount so many amazing memories from my many years in the music ministry at Brown, but let me jump ahead to 1997 and a conversation with my then fifth grade daughter, Rebecca. It went something like this:


Rebecca – “Mom, you need to come and chaperone the middle school youth group trip to Pine Ridge this summer.”


Me – “No, I teach middle school all year and I need a break!”


Rebecca – “Mr. Ed (that’s Ed Richardson who was the youth group leader for the Brown/Govans combined youth program) needs adults to go and Mr. Elden and Miss Bonnie are going and they need someone to play with!”


Me – “Oh all right, Rebecca. I’ll go, but just this once!”


Famous last words! That summer on Pine Ridge changed my life and Rebecca’s life and the next summer when Doug joined us, his life was changed. My journey with youth and adults from Brown and many other churches in our Presbytery started that summer and continues to this day.


Our family spent many summers on the Pine Ridge Reservation at the Makasan Presbyterian Church helping to staff summer learning camps and making lasting friendships with the Lakota children, youth and adults who we met over those many years. God’s love was so evident in the faces of the dear children we saw each summer.


Brown Memorial was a very strong support to Doug and me when we felt called by God to spend a year on Pine Ridge as the program directors for the Makasan Multi-Purpose Center. Doug left his job, I was retired, and we took the leap of faith and moved to South Dakota. That year was one filled with moments of joy and pain and all the while we felt a strong prayer presence from our Brown Memorial family. 


Over the years, the Baltimore Dakota Learning Camps partnership has started summer camps in many parts of the Dakota Presbytery, from the Pine Ridge Reservation, to the Lake Traverse Reservation, to the Yankton Sioux Reservation. Seven years ago, one of our church families expressed a hope for their entire family to go on a mission trip together and the idea for a family learning camp was born. Brown Memorial was the founding church for the Pejuhutazizi Family Learning Camp and we will have our sixth camp season this summer. This is an amazing way for entire families to show and experience God’s love in the world. 


Please come by and talk with me after church about the possibility of your family becoming a part of our Pejuhutazizi Family!