For 59 seminarians and recent grads who traveled both across the street and across the country, the end of the summer meant either a return to school to finish a master's degree, or the beginning of new expressions of ministry. Each of them, both individually and collectively, traveled to share their story of how they came to seminary (or divinity school) and the vision they have for the future of the church.
They traveled to formal events and held informal conversations. Jessica Wright, from Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry, presented at the Krista Fellows Annual retreat outside of Spokane Washington, and Sarah Jones from Garrett Seminary bused down to the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs.
In between the big events were stops at summer camps, youth corps, and opening orientations and ending debriefs for service programs.
Quantisha Mason from McCormick Seminary spoke to the residents of the Houses of Hospitality in Trenton New Jersey. Betsy Lyles of Columbia Seminary preached on the banks of Lake Champlain at Camp Dudley. Lydia Gadjel (University of Chicago Divinity School) and Birgitte Simpson (Luther Seminary) together talked with volunteers and staff about their joint commitment to service at Public Allies and CAP Corps in Milwaukee, among many others. Erika Dornfeld, a recent graduate of the University of Chicago Divinity School, facilitated a discernment conversation at the national orientation Lutheran Volunteer Corps. Dan Lillie, a student at Iliff School of Theology, walked with and learned about the journeys of the Border Servant Corps in Las Cruces, NM. Casey Guet, from Andover Newton Theological Seminary, met with counselors at a Friends (Quaker) Camp in South China, ME. Katie Fahey (Garrett Seminary) connected with youth ministers and leaders about the role of theological education via engaging communities at an annual United Methodist Conference in Orlando, FL. Christian Anderson (Virginia Theological Seminary) spoke with City Camp in Philadelphia, listening to the questions and hopes young people have for their city.
In this, the third year of the New Faces of Ministry Tour, students from the twenty eight schools recognized by Seminaries That Change the World, cast off any notion of being competitive with each other, and came together for the common cause of lifting up the role and the impact of theological education and ministry.
As students gathered in the spring to prepared for the tour, our slogan emerged. During the tour, we would seek to: Reclaim, Rebuild and Renew
Reclaim the bold language that ministry entails a powerful prophetic role to inspire both awareness of global injustice and action.
Rebuild the capacity and the promise of local congregations, denominations and theological education to repair the breaches that divide our communities by building roads and bridges and mapping out strategies to move us forward as a people together. Tour ambassador Birgitte Simpson spent three weeks on the road and saw the power of (re)connecting to those neighbors and partners.
Renew and replenish the curiosity, creativity and commitment of a generation hell-bent on making a difference, seeking ways to integrate their spiritual exploration and a deep and sustained involvement in the world.
On the tour, students went to places full of paradox: obvious but forgotten, hostile yet open. They transcended the safe boundaries of a convention table and ventured into spaces that have been neglected, forgotten, or avoided because they are uncomfortable, out of the way, and most of all, unpredictable. It is one thing to hand out a brochure about an institution that has been around for a hundred years, it is another to tell a story of who you are, why you do what you do, and to show an interest in someone else regardless of where they came from or where they are headed.
In his sermon at the beginning of the school year, Professor Dr. Steed Davidson of McCormick Seminary shared that In Martin Luther King Jr's application to enter Crozier Theological Seminary, he was asked to give his "personal reasons for the decision to study for the gospel ministry." King's responded, "This decision came about in the summer of 1944 when I felt an inescapable urge to serve society." Most, if not all of the fifty nine new faces of ministry, shared their inescapable urge to serve society and be walking the talk this summer on tour. Critically, they challenged and loved others to do likewise.
The tour was uncomfortable, unpredictable, uncertain--it wasn't always clear where people would speak, eat, or even sleep. The journey was inconsistent --one minute they were talking to someone grateful for their presence and inspired by the steps (literally taken). An hour later they were drenched in suspicion by those who assumed stereotypes of what seminarians were like. Yes, the tour was messy. But it was powerful.
Several years ago I traveled form from Sitka Alaska up to Juno on the Alaskan Highway (it was a sixteen-hour ferry ride). My two sons and I caught a ride into town, and as we were pulling out there was a sign which read: to the right, Juno 12 miles; to the left "end of the road." Growing up in New Jersey I had never seen or even conceived of "the end of the road."
With the beginning of the school year and the end of the summer, The New Faces of Ministry Tour 2015 is wrapping up. But the real work is just beginning as we reclaim what inspires, rebuild what sustains, and renew that which enables us to go deep in our service and faith.