For graduates like Emily Smith ’19, the combination of academic and spiritual growth she enjoyed at Valparaiso University and the Chapel of the Resurrection has led to a joyful and fulfilling career that combines her skills and passion.
Emily now serves as sacristan and worship administrator at Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver, Colorado. As a sacristan, she oversees all baptisms, weddings, and funerals. Walking alongside families and individuals pursuing these Christian milestones is another rewarding part of her role.
“I love my job!” Emily says. “I say it is the best because I get to work with people at the most holy parts of their Christian life. Baptisms, weddings, and funerals are all very important and influential, and I have the opportunity to work with people from the beginning to the end of their life.”
When worship is held in person, Saint John’s Cathedral can serve nearly 600 people each Sunday. As worship administrator, Emily is the primary contact for volunteers and clergy. From greeters to acolytes and a variety of positions in between, Saint John’s Cathedral has many opportunities for volunteers, and special services like Easter Sunday can require even more detail.
Emily graduated with a bachelor’s in communication with a concentration in public relations and a minor in professional studies from Valpo. She also served on the sacristy team in the Chapel, assisting in services and event facilitation.
“The public relations side of my studies is a significant part of my job,” Emily says. “Developing and maintaining interpersonal relationships and learning how to meet people where they are: these are skills I use every single day. I’m grateful to have developed these skills both in my classes and my job on the Chapel sacristy team.”
The opportunity at Saint John’s Cathedral came through her relationship with Jim Wetzstein, M.Div., University pastor at Valpo. Pastor Jim shared the posting with graduating leaders involved with the Chapel of the Resurrection, and at first, Emily deleted the email.
“I had another path in mind post-graduation,” Emily says. “After some hiccups in the application process for a different opportunity, I drafted an email and shared it with Pastor Jim for his feedback on how I could share my frustrations. Instead, he re-sent me the application for Saint John’s Cathedral.”
Working closely with her throughout her years on the Chapel of the Resurrection sacristy team, Pastor Jim was confident Emily would be a great fit for the position at Saint John’s Cathedral.
“I had Emily in mind before I even sent out the position notice. I called the application contact at Saint John’s Cathedral and said, ‘I’ve received your email about this position and I know a very creative, liturgically informed, graduating senior with lots of event planning and Chapel sacristy team experience. Is this the sort of candidate you’re interested in?’ The response was enthusiastic, she was precisely the type of candidate they were seeking,” Pastor Jim says. “I promised the contact that I’d encourage the student I had in mind to take a look at the opportunity. That’s when I reached out to Emily. I thought she’d be perfect.”
After completing an initial phone interview with Saint John’s Cathedral, Emily and seven other students travelled to León, Spain, to walk nearly 200 miles of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage as a part of a course she took her final year with Rev. David Weber, Ph.D., professor emeritus of theology.
“The Camino is a constant variation of eat, sleep, and walk. It gave me a lot of time to think,” Emily says. “I realized I had been holding onto too many things for so long. At the next opportunity, I stopped at a coffee shop to use the wi-fi and remove myself from my initial post-graduation plan. I was still in the interview process with Saint John’s Cathedral and I didn’t have a backup plan or another offer waiting. It was a leap of faith that I had to take.”
When she returned home from walking the Camino, Emily received an email with travel information for in-person interviews with Saint John’s Cathedral in Colorado. Everything went smoothly, and she had enough time to travel home, pack her bags, and move to Denver before starting.
“It was a whirlwind few weeks, graduating, walking the Camino in Spain, interviewing, getting hired, moving, and starting my new job,” Emily says. “If I had more time in the process, I might have become discouraged with how things worked out, but it went so quickly and I settled into this position so well that it was meant to be and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Emily had a jump start with her on-the-job learning thanks to her time on Valpo’s sacristy team. She had already been involved in experiences such as serving as an acolyte and altar care, many tasks which are similar from church to church.
“My job is different from serving on the sacristy team at Valpo, but like an advanced version of it,” Emily says. “I would not be as successful in my position if I had not been on the sacristy staff at Valpo. Working at the Chapel was invaluable for my curiosity, my intellect, and prepared me for my future career.”
Starting a new job can be challenging, but thanks to the preparation and support Emily received at Valpo, she has thrived in her career so far.