by Julie B. Sevig
AS A PERSON TOO TENDER-HEARTED to even watch an episode of “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” I began my month of grand jury service with great anxiety. Suddenly, I became privy to the details of investigations galore.
My Chicago friends raised their eyebrows and sighed when I told them I drove every day to “26th and California.” They knew about the criminal courthouse of Cook County. Folks don’t go through those revolving doors and tight security for joyful reasons. The nation’s largest jail is also there. The first thing I realized is that everyone has an opinion or story about jury duty—even if they haven’t served on one.
Many of my conversations included someone’s: 1) delight or surprise at never being called; 2) sincere interest in my “case”; and 3) advice for getting out of jury duty (apparently a chiropractor will vouch for your inability to sit that long).
Well, I did sit that long—19 weekdays to be exact, with a cross-section of 15 other citizens. I went in knowing nothing. And I came out feeling as though I knew more than anyone should about the roughest neighborhoods in Chicago. This was the homicide and sex unit.
Unlike other juries that decide guilt or innocence of one case, a grand jury decides whether enough evidence exists to warrant a trial. Grand juries also hear from witnesses—police investigators, social workers, victims, and others who have witnessed the felony.
Boredom, sadness, fascination
My experience from the front row (literally) was a mix of boredom, deep sadness, and fascination. We listened to rote legalese and heard gut-wrenching testimony from victims of abuse and people who had seen others killed. Many stories came from the whispered voices of children and teenagers.
And every day I slid into my seat, I felt it was a privilege—not a burden—to serve. As I listened to testimony from gang members, prisoners, and victims of sexual abuse and gun violence, I found myself caught between judging and pity. But I tried desperately to do neither.
Daily, I was fortunate to return to a safe home, and weekly I was grounded in worship with my faith community. Midway through the month, the gospel reading was from John 14, in which Jesus promises the Holy Spirit—also known as advocate, comforter, truth-teller. An advocate (paraclete) can function in a legal sense, of course, one who advocates for you before a court of law. But it can also mean something more relational—one who brings help, consolation, comfort, and encouragement.
As people of faith, we are called to serve in a multitude of ways—including in the public square. And that just might mean jury duty, phone calls, and standing up for strangers.
Julie Sevig is content and social media manager for the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago and does freelance writing and editing. Prior to her current position, she was managing editor of publications at the ELCA. This blog first ran as a Give Us This Day column in Gather magazine.
How are you are called to serve? Download free resources from Women of the ELCA’s “Called to” series to find out.