Comings and Goings is a blog written by Theology, Worship and Education Director Charles B. "Chip" Hardwick as he travels throughout the church. God is on the move out and about in the world, working to redeem all things in Jesus Christ. As we join this mission, by the power of the Spirit we see God on the move. This blog contains glimpses of how Chip finds this to be true in his comings and goings.
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Earlier this week I was in Charlotte, NC, for a meeting of the Committee on Theological Education, a group of the ten PC(USA) seminary presidents and 13 elected teaching and ruling elders from throughout the church. This committee helps to coordinate joint projects between the seminaries and to look for ways to build connections (in both directions) between the greater church and the seminaries. Its meetings rotate among the campuses, and this meeting was held at the Charlotte campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary (UPS).
I was very impressed to learn about a preparation for seminary program called “Communities of Learning” offered to incoming students at both the Charlotte and Richmond locations for UPS. It is “designed to increase readiness for theological education among admitted students by shaping them into learning communities.” Through on-line communities and a mid-point retreat, the ministry covers basic biblical literacy, theological vocabulary, the nature of theological education, spiritual formation, foundational concepts, critical thinking, and communication skills.
One particular aspect of the course that I appreciate is its focus on spiritual practices. The course is ten weeks long, and each week the students practice and explore a different spiritual discipline, such as daily Bible reading confessions, praying the news, and practicing the presence of God. UPS President Brian Blount told me that this emphasis helps to reinforce the critical nature of spiritual formation, developing life-long habits for students before classes ever start.
This work is consistent with the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s strategy of developing transformational leaders. Without a doubt, the foundational trait of an effective leader in the PCUSA (or any Christian ministry for that matter) is a firm commitment to Christ and growing in the faith through spiritual disciplines, which then strengthen us to join God's mission to the world.
Seminaries are the most substantial locale for formal leadership training within the PCUSA. I’m grateful for efforts like UPS’s to focus on spiritual practices as one critical piece of this training.