Diane Mowrey was seeking a fresh way to engage her students at Queens University of Charlotte in a substantial Bible study.
“Some students talked to me about wanting internships beyond youth ministry in the local churches,” said Mowrey, who serves both as chaplain and as the Mrs. John R. Irwin Chair of Bible at Queens University of Charlotte. “At the same time, my colleague Suzanne Henderson and I were also talking about ways that Queens and Covenant Presbyterian Church of Charlotte might work together on various programs.” Henderson is assistant professor of Religion at Queens.
It was then that Mowrey remembered her previous positive experience with the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Teaching of the Bible Grant.
Fifteen years ago, Mowrey had applied for and received the Teaching of the Bible Grant to improve how Queens was teaching the Bible in their CORE Program. The Teaching of the Bible Grant – offered each year to PC(USA)-related colleges, universities or secondary schools – provides up to $10,000 for the funding of a new program or new aspects to existing programs, for teaching the Bible.
“I have regularly considered applying again, but it wasn’t until this past spring that we found the perfect idea,” Mowrey said.
In 2010, Queens University of Charlotte was awarded a grant for a program that seeks to deepen students’ engagement with the scripture through intensive study and service to the larger Charlotte community.
Queens, in partnership with Covenant Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, has developed the Covenant-Queens Scholars program in which a group of 20-25 students commit to an intensive study of the Gospel of Luke. Three interns in their junior year, who have committed to study the Gospel while engaging in mission service in Charlotte, lead the on-campus study.
The hope of program organizers Henderson, Mowrey, and Carla Leaf, a member of Covenant Presbyterian Church who coordinates the church’s college and outreach ministries, is that studying Luke in the context of service to the poor draws the students into a deeper and more personal understanding of the Word, as well as greater commitment to the Church and those in need in their community.
“I feel like I just relate to it more now,” one of the participants told Henderson about her study of Luke during a midterm briefing. “It was a connection with the biblical concern for the poor, specifically in the wedding banquet story, that she looks at completely differently now,” Henderson said.
The students selected to be this year’s interns were placed in local nonprofit organizations in service to those in need in the Charlotte community. They include an urban ministry center that works with homeless individuals; Friendship Trays, Charlotte’s version of Meals-On-Wheels; Freedom School, an afterschool enrichment program; and a program that assists women who are recovering from addiction.
“We ask the students to tell us their stories and we’ve been able to match them in placements that fit their gifts as well as their interests. It’s been a very neat thing to watch the way God crafts that and brings the opportunities to the needs,” said Henderson.
“The purpose of finding challenging placements also involves our desire to challenge the students to grow in their faith,” added Mowrey, “It has been interesting and rewarding to see how they have opened themselves to sometimes difficult situations and how they have willingly engaged in soul searching and biblical reflection about how the Lord is at work in these situations and in them.”
One of the interns, who as a Presbyterian self identifies as one of God’s “frozen chosen,” is working with a small faith based community program that assists women who are recovering from addiction. “They happen to be very expressive of their faith in that process,” said Henderson. “This student told me that at first it was uncomfortable for her, but the women have really drawn her closer to scripture by their examples. Seeing how reliant people in need are; how dependent they are on a word of hope they can hold on to is pretty inspiring for this woman, who, by her own account, has had a pretty easy life. I’m so thankful to be a part of some of those ah-ha moments.”
Queens University of Charlotte requires an academic study of the Bible through the school’s CORE curriculum where students are challenged to not only think critically about scripture, but to reflect on the meaning of the texts for their lives.
“We don’t just want to bombard our kids with disorienting information and then say ‘good luck,’” said Henderson. “We care about their life with God and we care about their spiritual journey, and so this is a way to take it out of the classroom and on to the streets of Charlotte, and I think that’s really where it is coalescing for them.”
While Covenant Presbyterian Church hosts the group and is also developing a plan to partner students with host families, the program is not just for Presbyterian students, but rather seeks to be an ecumenical encounter of scripture through a world in need.
“It has been interesting to talk with the students as they have become more familiar with Presbyterian polity and theology and to see how they respond to a worship community different from their own,” said Mowrey. “I think we’re all learning something from our conversations.”
The Covenant-Queens Scholars program is another avenue for students to encounter the sacred texts together in a way that also brings them into the life of Covenant Presbyterian Church and the mission of the church in the Charlotte Community.
Another hope for the program is that participating students will help foster more student-led Bible studies on campus.
“Student leadership is a big piece of the equation,” said Henderson. “My role is to equip them but to have the interns model the kind of Bible study that their peers can connect with.”
The organizers of the Covenant-Queens Scholars program see students bringing together the academic study of scripture with the reality of life among the ‘least of these’ for a more vibrant reading of scripture.
“The benefits are enormous,” said Mowrey.
“I think the students are getting a ton out of this and I am grateful for the support of the PC(USA) in an endeavor like this,” Henderson added. “It was great to be able to go to our administration at Queens and to the church and say we are starting this program and you don’t have to put anything up. I think that’s what institutions like the Presbyterian Church are for. It’s directly affecting people’s lives, planting the seed, and making the way for future possibility and future growth.”
The Covenant-Queens Scholars program hopes to become a model that other institutions could find beneficial in their communities.
“As our denomination looks for ways to nurture the faith of our college students, I would encourage other congregations near college campuses to consider starting similar programs,” said Mowrey. “The students in programs like ours offer a vibrant presence in the local church, and they develop in a concrete way an understanding of how Christians care for those in our communities who are often overlooked or forgotten. The students then become living witnesses on campus.”
The deadline for the Teaching of the Bible grant is March 1, 2011 (postmark). Up to five $10,000 awards are available for 2011. For more information, email or call Laura Bryan toll free at (888) 728-7228, ext. 5735.
Drew Stockstill is a freelance writer in Decatur, Ga., where he is currently a student at Columbia Theological Seminary.