Lee Hinson-Hasty is coordinator for theological education and seminary relations in the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the PC (U.S.A.). Through his work Lee hopes to capture and share a more expansive view of theological education, of church leadership and of vocational discernment as he sees through the eyes of some exciting Presbyterians in and related to seminaries.
I welcome and thank Ellie Roscher, editor of Keeping the Faith in Seminary writer at ellieroscher.com as a guest blogger in an Advent series answering the question, What is coming and becoming in theological education?Read this post for more about this series.
A former student of mine works for an e-commerce start up company whose office is in an old church in Minneapolis. He shares the church office space with his co-workers, a priest who got into real estate to make ends meet and a man who started a grain-based veggie burger business. The church started renting its space out during the week to small businesses for the financial benefit of everyone. This worship space/business office collaboration makes sense. Being some of the biggest community spaces in the neighborhood, churches can engage in a ministry of shared space. Sharing becomes not only a creative, mutually symbiotic idea, but in some cases a financial necessity. Boundaries that used to separate church and life are blurring.
Seminaries are following suit by thinking of ways to get creative with space. Can seminaries require our students to move their families to our campus for three years? Can they afford to own all of these buildings? How do seminaries get students out into the world? Seminaries are exploring online classes and regional campuses. They are experimenting with seminary intensives followed up with life-long continuing education. They are considering inter-campus and inter-denominational collaboration, wider definitions of call and on-going internships during coursework. This shift honors the financial need and a generational shift in thoughts about faith. Theological education is moving to the context of the entire world, not just within seminary buildings. When walls come down, some people get scared. We get attached to the boundaries we build. Redefining space with fewer walls can, however, build community, enhance academic rigor and promote God's love in the world.
A few decades ago, many people went to work from 9-5 Monday through Friday. Family time happened at night while church happened on Sunday mornings. The walls that used to separated worship time from the rest of our lives are dissolving. More people are working from home, telecommuting, or working multiple jobs and taking odd hours. Millennials, loosely people born between 1980 and 1996, are driving the change. They don't want church boxed into Sundays, limited to a building, quarantined from our daily lives. They don't want to see God's call for our lives as only what we get paid to do, but our entire life's work. They want to make a difference in their communities, and they see that as church. They want their church to be relevant in the world first.
In her Human Resource Magazine article “Mixing It Up,” Adrienne Fox reminds us that Millennials are optimistic. They love collaboration and consensus building. Some believe Millennials view power as organic – it grows when shared. Churches and seminaries are also finding it challenging to connect with Millennials with their existing models. Millennials grew up watching religious extremism lead to 9-11. They watched sexual scandals covered up in multiple faiths and denominations, the co-opting of the religious right by republican politicians and infighting in mainline protestant denominations. Young people are skeptical of a church that stays locked up away from the world. Diana Butler Bass in Christianity After Religion tells us that young people want the old church order of believing, behaving, belonging to shift to the ancient approach of belonging, behaving, believing. They want churches to be counter-cultural prophetic voices relevant to the world. They want societal transformation. The networks are interconnected and dependent on each other. The walls are coming down.
I see this shift as more than just a choice to see opportunity instead of crisis. I see the shift as a reclaiming of the Gospel. Jesus' ministry happened wherever and whenever it needed to happen. He did not only teach in the synagogue. He did not heal people just on Sabbath. Walls could not contain his ministry, his love. The early church that started worshipping Jesus met in homes, in small groups, and we are seeing a swing back to that model in our context. What's coming in our seminaries is training our leaders to celebrate the dissolving of walls – training leaders to think collaboratively, share power to grow it, and get out into the communities and be part of the revolution.
Ellie Roscher is the author of How Coffee Saved My Life, and Other Stories of Stumbling to Grace and has appeared multiple times in The Thoughtful Christian, Spirit Magazine, Alive Magazine and DAPS Zine. She also edited Keeping the Faith in Seminary and Keeping the Faith in Education for Avenida Books. Ellie holds a master’s degree in Theology from Luther Seminary and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Find her writing at ellieroscher.com and Keeping the Faith Today. Follow her @ellieroscher.
Today I welcome and thank Dan Aleshire, Executive Director of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS), as a guest blogger in an Advent series answering the question, What is coming and becoming in theological education?
Theological schools are two-faced, on purpose, as it should be. One face is toward the church with its mission to nurture lives of faith and bring healing to the world’s brokenness. Another face is toward higher education, with its responsibility to teach what is known and discover new knowledge.
Advent is a paradox between what has come before and what, by God, is becoming now. An opening to the Christmas cycle of the Christian Year, Advent calls the Church to look back and look forward; to remember, reflect, and live in expectation and hope. A decade ago an Advent banner of the expecting mothers that hangs at Highland Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky drew me in as soon as I entered the sanctuary. ...
What is being foreshadowed this Advent? What will be born? Specifically, what is coming and becoming, being born and foreshadowed in theological education today?
Thanksgiving Day falls this year on the threshold between the last Sunday in the liturgical year, the Reign of Christ, and the first Sunday in a new church year, the first Sunday of Advent. That works for me, as it is a time to give thanks for the full circle of time and especially the year before, and to take Sabbath time to prepare for ways to show our thanks by living into God’s imagined future. The last month has been a whirlwind for me.
“The pathway to seminary is the long, slow nurture of faith in community.” The soon to be released “Pathways to Seminary” study by Auburn’s Center for the Study of Theological Education in collaboration with the Association of Theological Schools calls this it’s “major finding.” That long slow nurture of the best students happens most often in stable families, intentional religious nurturing, embedded participation in organizations and cultures, particular patterns of education, ministry role models, healthy peer groups, and often some sort of positive or negative dramatic experience along the way.
Last week the Committee on Theological Education (COTE) met at the new Charlotte campus of Union Presbyterian Seminary to exegete, in a way, the current theological education landscape. Two major research projects were presented and the Committee took time to dig in, magnify, and investigate what Barbara Brown Taylor might call the “splinters and the smooth places.”
My teenage son, Garrison, called my attention to it, because I only glanced at the painting. He looked longer and more deeply. “Did you see that, Dad?” “What?” Pointing to one of dozens of paintings in The Civil War and American Art collection on tour from the Smithsonian at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. We’d seen hundreds of paintings already that day and this one did not catch my eye. “Look!” I still didn’t see what he was talking about.
Brian Blount, president and professor of New Testament at Union Presbyterian Seminary, was seven years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered what has come to be known as his “I Have a Dream” speech fifty years ago this week. Blount described it as “almost biblical in its proportions.” I tend to agree. As the parent of a seven year old myself, I continue to meditate on the speech and the dream. When I hear MLK’ Jr.’s speech my mind pictures Earnest Covington.
My daughter learned the words of institution for Communion by heart by the time she was three years old because our congregation sang them. Her tea parties as a preschooler often began with her giving thanks and then offering a cup saying, “Take a drink and remember me.”
Two stories came across my desk over the last week that seek to describe the phenomenon of decline in the church in drastically different ways. One is a quote from one of two April PC(USA) Board of Pensions Regional Benefits consultations. The second is one of the first articles published on the research by Barbara Wheeler and Tony Ruger, two Presbyterians, on their extensive and decades old research on seminarians and enrollment. One seems to say seminaries are sending more graduates to the church and the other alludes to the church sending fewer students to seminary.
Both make me wonder, what is God up to and calling the Church to do?