Contextual Education Positions Eden Students to Create Change

Racial injustice in the St. Louis region came into the spotlight in 2014, but the fight against inequality in the region continues as countless individuals and organizations fight for equality in the community. One of those individuals is Laurie Anzilotti. One of those organizations is Faith & For the Sake of All.

Faith & For the Sake of All reaches out to the St. Louis faith community to diminish racial disparities in the region. St. Louis native Anzilotti, a third-year Masters of Divinity student at Eden Theological Seminary, became involved as part of her contextual education at Eden. Eden is one of the few seminaries that sees a pedagogical benefit to learning concurrently in the classroom and in an outside contextual placement for three years through work with churches, social justice agencies and nonprofits, which helps students integrate the theology they are learning in their classroom with the ministry they are encountering in their work context.

“The contextual education requirement at Eden is unique. It immediately in year one puts people into the context of ministry, in addition to classroom learning. It’s putting you in the world as a seminarian, which is a half-step to being in the world as a minister or priest. It helps you know if the job is for you,” explains Anzilotti.

Anzilotti, who will be ordained as a priest of the Episcopal Church this summer, is pursuing a “bi-vocational” educational experience focused on two things: the priestly call to build a church community centered around the Eucharist; and the church’s and laity’s roles in standing for the gospel and against injustice in the world.

“The first year contextual education program is designed toward social justice and work in the world,” Anzilotti shares. “My first placement in 2016 was with the Interfaith Partnership because my personal call to the priesthood was driven by a desire to work on social justice issues in an interfaith context.”

Two years earlier, a group led by Washington University and St. Louis University released For the Sake of All, a report which identified disparities in the health and well-being between African Americans and white St. Louisans and why they matter to everyone. The Faith & For the Sake of All initiative grew out of this report as a means to deepen congregations’ understanding of and response to issues of race inequality in the region.

Created through a grant awarded to Emanuel Episcopal Church in St. Louis from the Trinity Episcopal Church of Wall Street in New York, the purpose of Faith & For the Sake of All was to inform and activate St. Louis’ faith community in responding to the report’s findings through a workshop called, “Mobilizing the Faithful.”

By the time Anzilotti became involved in 2016, it was time to update the initial curriculum in response to the results of a survey of workshop participants.  The survey showed three things. “First, better training was needed for volunteers who would present the workshops. Second, volunteers and participants needed clear steps on how to take concrete action on the recommendations,” Anzilotti recalls. “And third, people wanted to be connected to each other in that work.” Interfaith Partnership, working through a memorandum of understanding with Emanuel Episcopal Church, was charged with updating the workshop curriculum. That responsibility fell to Anzilotti. She was in her mid-40s and already had extensive professional background in teaching and curriculum development in high schools and camps, which made her the ideal person for the job.

Anzilotti started with reviewing and having wide-ranging conversations with early participants about how they would re-imagine the curriculum. She also relied heavily on support from her peers and teachers at Eden. Anzilotti says that while contextual education appears very much “out in the world,” it remains very rooted in Eden. It allowed her to engage with faculty and staff in a deep and collegial way.

Her successful efforts with updating the curriculum led Anzilotti to her second-year internship, when she was asked by Emanuel Episcopal Church to intern with the church and to broaden her scope beyond curriculum to include all aspects of the Faith & For the Sake of All initiative. In year three, she remained with Emanuel Episcopal Church and divided her time evenly between priestly liturgical and pastoral training and Faith & For the Sake of All.

“It was exactly the work I wanted to do when I entered seminary: to be a priest that worked in the community on issues of justice,” Anzilotti says.

Increased success of the program led to even bigger questions of what to do next. Anzilotti’s efforts focused first on recruiting and training volunteers, getting connections in the community and signing up churches to participate in the workshops. Success in those efforts brought even more volunteers and more training. The critical question changed again, this time asking, “How can volunteers go beyond awareness and instead actively advocate for systemic change?”

Eden’s Professor Deb Krause challenged Anzilotti to think about advocacy partners. Krause’s counsel, along with the support from the rest of her faculty and peer community at Eden, was instrumental in shaping the evolution of Faith & For the Sake of All during this time.

A particularly valuable experience was her third year directed study entitled, “Faith Based Community Organizing” in which she looked at secular, interfaith, Jewish, Evangelical, and Catholic community organizing models and applied her studies directly to the work she was doing with Faith & For the Sake of All.

Faith & For the Sake of All now offers two workshops, “Mobilizing the Faithful: Health” and “Mobilizing the Faithful: Housing,” a new workshop that will be released this coming February. In addition to workshops, the initiative offers advocacy training in conjunction with advocacy partners in the region. The organization continues work with For the Sake of All (now known as Health Equity Works) and George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis, to research and respond to racial justice issues in the St. Louis region.

“Contextual education taught me about the interfaith landscape in St. Louis, that service work can be very siloed by faith and that social justice work is relational,” Anzilotti reflects. “The only way we’ll wind up changing systemic issues is through relationships. It is those relationships that I’ve been able to make through my contextual education experience for which I’m most thankful.”

As Faith & For the Sake of All grows, so too does Eden’s connection to it. Reverend Gabrielle Kennedy, a third year Eden student and ordained deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, joined the Faith & For the Sake of All staff in October 2018, and Eden is co-sponsor of the February 3rd Housing Advocacy Fair which will feature the new “Mobilizing the Faithful: Housing” workshop and eight partner agencies focused on eliminating segregation.

For more information about Faith & For the Sake of All and the “For the Sake of All” and “Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide,” reports, visit www.forthesakeofall.org.

 

 

 

 

February 3, 2019, Faith & For the Sake of All will hold a Housing Equity Fair from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the grounds of Eden Theological Seminary. The Housing Equity Fair will feature many of the housing groups which contributed to the ”Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide” report and will premiere the new Faith & For the Sake of All “Mobilizing the Faithful Housing” workshop. Housing groups will speak to their particular connection to the report’s findings and will provide attendees with examples of concrete actions they can take to dismantle the housing divide in St. Louis. The event is co-sponsored by Jewish Community Relations Council, We Stories, The YWCA, Eden and Faith & for the Sake of All. For more information on the event visit Housing Equity Fair.

 

Black and White Photo Credit: Tim Reed

 

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