On August 19-20, Eden welcomed a new incoming class of students to orientation. We are excited to have a diverse group of leaders join us in the 2019-2020 academic year.
Dr. Williams comes with extensive pastoral and chaplaincy experience. She has a Ph.D. in Practical Theology from St. Thomas University, and a Master of Divinity from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Most recently she has been the senior pastor of Faith United Church of Christ, Tamarac, and a chaplain at Vitas Healthcare (Hospice) in Broward County, Florida.
Eden Theological Seminary will award honorary degrees at its upcoming May 17th commencement to three outstanding leaders whose accomplishments in St. Louis and around the world embody the values which are fundamental to Eden.
“These dedicated leaders demonstrate unwavering commitment to the church. Their faithful service is changing lives both within their communities and around the world,” said David Greenhaw, president of Eden Theological Seminary. “We are humbled by their accomplishments and proud to bestow these degrees upon them.”
The 2019 Eden Theological Seminary honorary degree recipients include:
Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree – Reverend Musa Kipkorir Kapkong Maina of Eldoret, Kenya, Moderator of the Reformed Church of East Africa (RCEA). Rev. Maina is a 2005 graduate of Eden Seminary, earning a Master’s in Theological Studies (MTS) degree. His education at Eden allowed him to engage the RCEA in progressive ideas that are inclusive of women as preachers and worship leaders. He has also been a strong and bold leader in his church for the ordination of women. Last July he helped achieve this milestone transformation when, for the first time in RCEA’s history, women were ordained as ministers in the RCEA church. His efforts, with support from Eden and others, also resulted in the first RCEA woman, Everlyne Biboko, to attend Eden and earn a MTS degree to prepare for ordination in the RCEA church. Rev. Maina attributes this progressive church advancement, in part, to the insight he gained of women in leadership roles in many U.S. churches while studying at Eden.
Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree – Reverend Philister Tuwei Keter, of Nairobi, Kenya, the first woman ordained in the Reformed Church of East Africa (RCEA). Her persistence and urging helped make this transformation of that church possible. Born into a humble background, Rev. Keter has volunteered in her church since high school and then studied divinity at St. Paul’s University in Nairobi at a time when women had no hope for becoming ordained. Saying that gender equity is central to serving God, she is now a voice for the voiceless and vulnerable people in society. Rev. Keter embodies the energy, passion and determination of all the newly-ordained RCEA women.
Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters – Mrs. Jean Dremstedt, a laywoman from Evansville, Indiana. Jean is well-known, and many times honored, for her life-long support and commitment to charitable causes. She served Eden as a trustee for twelve years, chairing the Advancement Committee, and has been a strong financial supporter of Eden. She is a member of Bethlehem United Church of Christ and has served with distinction on the board of the Deaconess Hospital of Evansville and the Retirement Housing Foundation of the United Church of Christ. In 2005, she received the Samuel D. Press Service Award, named for the seventh president of Eden Theological Seminary, to recognize and honor outstanding service to Eden and its mission.
Honorary Degrees and Awards recognize ordained ministers whom Eden believes are models for ordained ministries connected with the traditions, ministries, ecumenical concerns, and values that have been central to Eden and to the United Church of Christ. The Honorary Degrees and Awards also recognize laity who have lived out their baptismal ministry through their vocations, through their service to society or community, through their service to the church or through some particular witness that expresses commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Eden’s commencement will be held on May 17, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ, 826 Union Boulevard in St. Louis. In addition to the honorary degree presentation, Rev. Dr. Ted A. Smith, Associate Professor of Preaching and Ethics at Candler School of Theology – Emory University, will deliver the ceremony’s commencement address.
www.moumethodist.org, COLUMBIA, Mo. – April 9, 2019 – NextGen Ministries announced its intention to plant a new place for new people in Springfield with a focus on the college-age population. Bishop Bob Farr has appointed Rev. Tracey Wolff (Eden M.Div. 2017) to this new post. A recent graduate of Missouri’s Planting Academy, Wolff’s affinity for Springfield, particularly Missouri State, makes her a great fit this ministry.
“Some time ago, NextGen Ministries team identified Springfield as an open mission field for college-age ministry,” said Rev. Ron Watts, NextGen Ministries team chairperson. “We have been patiently awaiting the right person and we are pleased that the Bishop and Cabinet has chosen Tracey for this appointment.”
Wolff’s work will be focused on the college campuses in Springfield, particularly Missouri State University, Drury University and Ozark Technical College. This is the first time the Missouri Conference has launched a conference-funded campus ministry in recent memory. In 2007, following the work of the Pathways task force, the Conference shifted how it funded Wesley Foundations at several state universities and charged local churches with connecting with campuses in their neighborhood.
“At the time, it was the right decision to defund Wesley Foundations as we looked toward a new way of connecting with next generations of Christians,” said Jeff Baker, Director of Next Generation Ministries. “In some places, we’ve seen local churches take seriously a call to connect and disciple young people, but the Conference has struggled in some areas to connect with campuses and college-age persons. With this place for new people, we’re trying something new.”
This won’t be a Wesley Foundation, however. The leadership team is approaching this ministry like many new places for new people – with a period of visioning and the assembling of a launch team. Those will be Wolff’s primary objectives in the first months of her appointment.
Campus life has been formative for Wolff’s career. She walked onto the Missouri State’s women’s basketball team in the mid-1980s as a sophomore before becoming a full scholarship student athlete by her senior year. Following graduation, she spent two years as a graduate coaching assistant for the Lady Bears before leaving for Milwaukee in 1991 to serve as Marquette University’s assistant women’s basketball coach, a post she held for 10 years. After Marquette, she worked as Director of Women’s Basketball with Athletes in Action, the sports ministry of Cru Ministries, formerly known as Campus Crusade for Christ. Her experience working with students helped her realize a call to ministry to that age group that has persisted through the years.
“I want to create a space where college-age persons can ask the questions they want about what it is to be faithful,” said Wolff.
Ozarks District Superintendent Lynn Dyke couldn’t be happier to see the possibilities of connecting with Missouri State University, which has experienced 20 percent growth in enrollment over the past two decades. The Office of Next Generation Ministries will be working with the Ozarks District and Springfield-based local churches to identify the best location for the administrative functions of the ministry hub.
“There are 40,000-plus students at Springfield-based campuses,” said Dyke. “As a denomination, we are not reaching this critical mission field. Launching a new place for new college-age people in the Ozarks District will be important to raising up new missional leaders for the purpose of connecting Christ to the world.”
The Office of Next Generation Ministries is responsible for children and youth discipleship ministries, camping, campus-based ministries, Next Generation Ministries team, Crossroads college-age internships, youth ministry and youth leadership team.
As I approach the end of my three-year journey of earning my Masters of Divinity at Eden Theological Seminary, I have finally had a moment to reflect on the decision I made four years ago that led me to Eden and to a new path for my life.
Four years ago, I had no idea that attending a protest in Ferguson, Missouri, during my undergraduate senior year, would have such a huge influence on my future. While in St. Louis, I had a chance meeting with another protestor, Deborah Krause, who I learned was the Academic Dean of Eden Theological Seminary. I distinctly remember her fiery and determined spirit.
Following that trip to St. Louis, I met Eden alumnus Rev. Starsky Wilson, and coincidentally also met two other people, who all recommended that I consider seminary and to consider Eden Theological Seminary among others. It felt as if God was calling me to Eden and, although I had never considered seminary before, I took the leap of faith and enrolled in the Master of Divinity program.
As a first-year M.Div. student, my Eden experience stretched and challenged me in a variety of ways. I learned more about church history and theology, but most importantly, how context is essential in shaping both of those subjects. My experience has also helped me to add to my language toolbox to articulate my beliefs and identity, which is constantly forming and reforming, as a Christian and one raised in the black Pentecostal tradition.
My studies at Eden have shored up, challenged and deepened my faith. If your faith holds water, it will stand up to being at Seminary.
We support each other within Eden, and I know we will take that beyond Eden’s doors. Ministry can get lonely and having people to reach out to will be very important.
At Eden I have been exposed to strong, black women preaching social justice along with the gospel. It has been inspiring. The women I admire have doctorates, so I think that is what I want to do next; preaching and working academically toward a PhD.
This has been a journey of ups and downs, and seminary has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. I think it will also turn out to be the one of the best things I’ve done. I have been blessed in too many ways to name, and I look forward to what the future will bring to me.
Master of Divinity
Eden Theological Seminary Class of 2019
NPR/February 23, 2019
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
There’s a debate in the United Methodist Church over whether LGBTQ people can serve as clergy and permit same-sex marriage. Church leaders are meeting in St. Louis beginning today to decide and will vote on the issue. But some worry that it could tear United Methodists apart. St. Louis Public Radio’s Shahla Farzan has the story.
SHAHLA FARZAN, BYLINE: Several dozen people fill the pews at Lafayette Park United Methodist Church in St. Louis.
FARZAN: Among them is Kristen Leslie, an ordained elder in the church. Many of the worshippers here identify as LGBTQ. That’s why Leslie and her husband chose this congregation
KRISTEN LESLIE: Because it was a church that we knew was living in a place of justice just by its very presence of who was in the congregation.
FARZAN: But current rules prohibit clergy in same-sex relationships from actually serving in the United Methodist Church. Pastors also aren’t supposed to officiate at same-sex weddings. But Leslie, who’s a professor at Eden Theological Seminary, has defied that rule. Since the early ’90s, she’s performed at least 25.
LESLIE: We are made in the image of God. And how we love each other, as long as it honors God, who am I to say? Love is love is love is love, as Lin-Manuel Miranda said.
FARZAN: The United Methodists have debated for years whether to make church policies more inclusive for LGBTQ people. It’s largely been a conversation within the U.S. And that’s something that concerns seminary student S. Jewell S. McGhee.
S JEWELL S MCGHEE: I feel like the message that American Christians have given too often is that the rest of the world doesn’t matter as much. And that is a message that is against the message of Christ, as I see it.
FARZAN: The United Methodist Church has more than 12 million members spread across the world. U.S. membership has declined in recent years. But, globally, the church is growing, especially in African nations. And that presents a challenge, says United Methodist Council of Bishops president Ken Carter.
KEN CARTER: In some nations of the world, homosexuality is a taboo subject. Or it’s against the law. And so it’s just a more complex conversation for us.
FARZAN: At the St. Louis conference, more than 860 delegates from across the world will decide whether to lift the ban on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings.
There’s a lot at stake, says Daron Smith, a gay man and lifelong United Methodist.
DARON SMITH: It’s a little nerve-wracking for a group of people you don’t really know to make a decision about you. But I’m hopeful this time. If the decision doesn’t go our way this time, we’ll keep fighting.
MARIE GRIFFITH: They avoided the issue as much as they could for as long as they could because they knew this was going to divide the church somehow.
FARZAN: Mary Griffith is a historian of American religion at Washington University. She says the United Methodists are part of a long line of Protestant denominations that have grappled with this issue, including Lutherans, Presbyterians and Episcopalians. The difference is that Methodists have held together a vast and disparate coalition longer.
GRIFFITH: Some lean very progressive on the issue. Some lean very conservative. And it will be very, very interesting to see if they manage to hold that together this time or if the thing finally blows apart.
FARZAN: Methodists have weathered divides over social justice issues in the past. The church split over slavery during the Civil War and later reunited. And that gave seminary student S. Jewell S. McGhee hope.
MCGHEE: And I have a lot more faith in a denomination that has already been through trauma, that has already said, wow, we have gotten it wrong. So whatever happens, I am glad to be a part of this history.
FARZAN: Even if there is a split within the United Methodist Church, she says there’s always the possibility it will heal. For NPR News, I’m Shahla Farzan in St. Louis.
After nearly a century, German returned to the halls of Eden Theological Seminary last August with the arrival of Dr. Gabriele Metzner, a noted scholar from Germany’s Evangelisches Predigerseminar Lutherstadt Wittenberg. As Metzner taught in the classroom, sang in the choir and broke bread with students and faculty, she reconnected the Eden family with its German roots.
Metzner came to teach an Intensive Focused Learning (IFL) class titled, “Pastoral Identity and Christian Education – a German Perspective.” She made the most of those three months and her Eden experience.
Her overall impression?
“Eden is more oriented to contextual education, with more diversity of student backgrounds, ages and denominations,” Metzner summarizes. “In Germany, it is more academic, more philosophical, more historical. All students come from four regional churches.”
And her students’?
“Dr. Metzner has a great curiosity about learning new things and she wanted to know as much about us as we wanted to know about her,” shares Antona Brent Smith, a third-year Eden student who feels visiting professors such as Metzner are invaluable to her Eden experience. “She connected with students not only by teaching, but by sitting down and learning about our lives. She was very intentional about it.”
Contextual Education Makes Eden Unique
The single biggest difference Metzner observed is that Eden integrates inside-the-classroom academic education and outside-the-classroom field experience, what Eden calls “contextual education,” into a single experience over three years. In Germany, the two are separated into unique phases, requiring seven to ten years to become an ordained pastor.
“In the Wittenberg seminary, the education takes place in two parts,” Metzner explains. “Theology studies at university for at least five years. This is followed by a two-and-a-half year internship in a congregation supervised by an experienced pastor, during which the interns visit Wittenberg nine times for pastoral training.
“Eden’s system of bringing together both parts of education was very interesting for me,” Metzner shares. “Eden showed me how to bring together academic studies with the contextual education in a parish and in the community.”
Because their theological and contextual experiences are inextricably intertwined, Metzner observed that Eden students more frequently apply theological concepts to concrete examples rather than theoretical contemplation. And because Eden students are embedded in the community, the concrete takes on a greater mind space for the student. Metzner was impressed with how this is brought to life in Eden classes on social ethics, black theology and constructive theology compared to “systematic” theology common of seminary programs.
Diversity Enriches the Eden Experience
At Evangelisches Predigerseminar Lutherstadt Wittenberg, seminary students are primarily younger, traditional students coming from four regional churches with the specific intent of becoming pastors. Metzner shares she was surprised at the diversity of Eden students across different backgrounds, denominations, ages and goals. She found it interesting to hear so many different perspectives on theological topics.
“I remember the first Reformation session with Adam Ployd when he asked, ‘What is faith? What is Grace? What is Scripture? The word? Baptism? The Church?’” Metzner recalls. “The answers were so different, every student with his or her own biography, their own ways of faith and of life so different from one another.”
Metzner was also intrigued by Eden’s students who do not seek to become pastors or who are studying non-degree classes, such as the NEXT Steps program for people of faith who are at least 55 years old and looking to transition or combine professional experiences and skills to benefit the world through causes of personal importance. There are no non-degree programs at Evangelisches Predigerseminar Lutherstadt Wittenberg and students attend with the express purpose of congregational ministry rather than alternative paths, such as the non-profit or community leadership goals of many Eden students.
“One thing you have here at Eden Seminary is the opportunity to bring new ideas to the education,” she says. “That’s important to me.”
The Spirit of Eden
When asked what of Eden she’ll carry back with her to Germany, she replied with the words of former Eden professor of theology and preeminent American expert of Old Testament theology, Walter Brueggemann.
“Walter Brueggemann writes in his book that Eden Seminary is not a place; it is a spirit,” Metzner concludes. “I felt it too during my time in Eden.”
While she arrived at Eden a stranger, Metzner now carries home the Eden spirit within her, making her forever a part of the Eden family.
From Carter to Comey, the legacy of “Washington’s Favorite Theologian” endures.
Christianity Today, Elesha Coffman, May 19, 2017
Nearly 50 years since his death, theologian Reinhold Niebuhr still routinely makes headlines. A high-profile documentary, An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story, debuted earlier this year. Recently deposed FBI director James Comey “almost certainly” used his name for his private Twitter account. Ten years ago, TheAtlantic declared “Everybody Loves Reinhold”; last month, Religion & Politics called him “Washington’s Favorite Theologian.” He commands respect from left (Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama) and right (John McCain, David Brooks). So what’s the attraction?
Here are five aspects of Niebuhr’s work that help explain his enduring relevance.
1. He thought big.
Niebuhr titled his 1938–40 Gifford Lectures (the most illustrious theology lecture series in the world) “The Nature and Destiny of Man.” On page 1 of the published volume 1, he wrote, “Man has always been his own most vexing problem. How shall he think of himself?” By page 2, he was pondering “the admitted evils of human history,” “the question of the value of human life,” and “whether life is worth living.” These are not questions limited to a single church, era, or school of biblical interpretation. The resources Niebuhr brought to bear on them were similarly broad, encompassing Hebrew and Christian Scriptures; ancient, medieval, and modern theology and philosophy; and the social sciences.
Positively, the grand scale of Niebuhr’s work meant that he could engage almost anyone. Who hasn’t wondered about the problem of evil or the value of human life? (Scribner’s was sufficiently convinced of the appeal of The Nature and Destiny of Man to publish a two-volume, mass-market paperback edition in 1963. The Modern Library ranked it one of the top 20 non-fiction books of the 20th century.) On the other hand, big books full of big ideas are prone to divergent interpretation. It makes sense that people from different points on an ideological spectrum could look at Niebuhr and see what they’re looking for while missing what others see in the same work.
2. He acknowledged sin.
The early 1900s saw the rise of strain of liberal theology famously caricatured by Niebuhr’s brother, H. Richard Niebuhr, in the sentence: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” Reinhold joined his brother in disdaining this glib gospel, especially in light of the horrors of WWI and WWII. In earlier work, such as Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932), he held out hope that individuals could choose selflessness and justice motivated by love, but he cautioned that groups of people would always seek their own advantage to the detriment of others. “The larger the group,” he wrote, “the more certainly will it express itself selfishly in the total human community.”
He eventually grew more pessimistic about individuals as well, viewing them as not only prone to do bad things but as indelibly tainted by original sin. In 1954, when asked by This Week magazine to identify the key verse in the Bible, he selected Ephesians 4:32 (“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”) Andrew Finstuen explained in Original Sin and Everyday Protestants, “For Niebuhr, without an acknowledgement of the universality and inescapability of sin, Christianity—and by extension his deeply Christian criticism—had no center of gravity.” Each historical recurrence of man’s inhumanity to man affirms this insight.
3. He prized action.
Niebuhr didn’t always agree with his brother. In 1932, they exchanged articles in The Christian Century on the topic of American intervention against Japanese imperialism and, more broadly, Christian involvement in politics. H. Richard argued for “The Grace of Doing Nothing,” but Reinhold countered, “Must We Do Nothing?” Reinhold became an early, vocal advocate for American entry into WWII, a stance that accelerated a rupture with the pacifist editor of the Century and led him to launch his own magazine, Christianity and Crisis.
The United States continued to pursue activist internationalism after WWII, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, so Niebuhr’s blessing of such actions remained popular. Although Niebuhr never held political office (his 1932 run for Congress, on the Socialist party ticket, failed), he became a political figure, founding Americans for Democratic Action and serving on the Council on Foreign Relations. In this sense, politicians who claim fealty to Niebuhr aren’t so much admiring a prophetic outsider as heaping laurels on a hero of their own tribe.
4. But … irony.
The main thing that prevented Niebuhr from being a court theologian for the American political class was his rich sense of irony, most notably expounded in The Irony of American History (1952). Just as the United States was draping itself in righteousness for an epic battle against godless Communism, Niebuhr warned how easily America’s virtues could become vices, how often the nation declaimed the speck in another’s eye while ignoring the plank in its own, how many times the best-laid plans resulted in disaster.
In a Pew Forum on Niebuhr in 2009, Wilfred M. McClay highlighted a quote from the book, “We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization. We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimated.” In other words, Niebuhr said to American leaders, go ahead and throw your weight around, but don’t pretend that your motives are pure, and don’t be shocked if you achieve something less than justice. The first part of that advice has been heeded more often than the latter two.
5. He really did write the Serenity Prayer.
Tracing the authorship of this famous prayer (“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”) became something of a cottage industry a few years ago, but the best available evidence supports Niebuhr’s authorship. This is relevant to assessing his enduring appeal for a couple of reasons.
One, many, many people—including countless members of Alcoholics Anonymous—know something of Niebuhr’s theology even if they have never heard his name. Two, the prayer is a reminder that Niebuhr was a pastor (Evangelical and Reformed Church) before he was a celebrated theologian and foreign policy expert, and faith was not merely an intellectual exercise for him. He speaks to leaders of the free world as well as individuals trapped in addiction. For all of these reasons, he remains worth wrestling with.
Elesha Coffman is assistant professor of history at Baylor University and author of The Christian Century and the Rise of the Protestant Mainline (Oxford).
Reinhold Niebuhr graduated from Eden Theological Seminary in 1913.
About 1,500 people gathered in the gym of the Staenberg Family Center in Creve Coeur to denounce violent acts of hate on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018, at an interfaith vigil at the Jewish Community Center. The event followed Saturday’s deadly shooting that killed 11 people at a Pennsylvania synagogue. Speakers from area Muslim, and Christian congregations, including Eden Seminary, joined Jewish leaders to liken the acts committed against Jews at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh to other recent attacks on groups singled out for their faith, race, ethnicity, country of origin or political ideology.
Because Eden Seminary plays an active role in the interfaith community in St. Louis, President David Greenhaw, as well as Eden alumni were included in the event. The speakers included Dr. Andrew Rehfeld who is the president and chief executive officer of Jewish Federation of St. Louis, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, President Greenhaw and other religious leaders and politicians.
In addition to the vigil, the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis issued the following statement on Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. The Interfaith Partnership (IP) of Greater St. Louis and the 30 communities of religion and conscience we represent mourn the loss of life at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue on October 27, 2018. Those of us who pray, pray for the victims and their families, and offer our prayers of healing for the entire community wounded by this violence. Those of us who do not pray dedicate ourselves to work tirelessly to create a world in which attacks such as this never occur. Together we condemn this attack, like far too many other such attacks, made on our Jewish sisters, brothers, and friends. As a community of many faiths and none we continue to pray and will continue to work for the day when all people can live in peace and safety.
Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis works with congregations and faith communities to promote peace, understanding and respect among people of all faiths and within the greater Saint Louis metro area. Eden Seminary is an active member of the IP and President Greenhaw is a member of the board.
Excerpts from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Photos by Christian Gooden of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 07, 2018
Written by Connie Larkman
A week-long retreat channeled the creativity of artists and activists in the United Church of Christ in an effort to confront the world we live in today. Nineteen participants, ecumenical partners and UCC clergy from across the wider Church, were welcomed to the National Setting and the Amistad Chapel in Cleveland, July 30-August 3. The group’s goal — to create a new and evolving language of faith for this moment in time that can be used to impact and resource local churches.
“I am thrilled that the staff called artists and activists among us to take what the spirit has offered and build a new worship experience,” the Rev. John Dorhauer, UCC general minister and president, told the group on Wednesday morning, August 1. “You will help us to be more open, to feel free enough in presence of our creator to be fully who we are, without inhibition. It is the voice, the song, the words of the artist that bring full expression to the movement of the spirit. The artists and activists among us open the space for all of us to see who we are and who we can become.”
“We know that our public witness and justice work is not separate from the formation of our faith and what happens inside of church buildings with our faith communities. However, there are still very few resources and practices that bridge these areas of ministry and community building,” said the Rev. Tracy Howe Wispelway, minister of Congregational and Community Engagement, Justice and Local Church Ministries. She and the Rev. Susan Blain, minister for Faith Formation: Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts, Local Church Ministries, convened the retreat.
“We invited the artists, activists and liturgists for two reasons,” Wispelwey continued. “First, to extend our current worship resources and the ministry of Worship Ways towards resourcing local churches beyond Sunday services with liturgical pieces, rituals and art. We are also imagining ways to accompany support and extend our systemic justice work with cultural work, storytelling, art and public liturgy.”
The gathering brought together spoken word poets and performers, liturgy scholars, designers and dancers, social activists and artists who work with painting and fabric art. Each of the participants was given the time and space to share their gifts with the group, through individual presentations, larger discussions, community meals, and worship.
The Rev. Erin Beardemphl attended Eden Seminary, has served several churches in associations, and is currently a stay at home mom who fills in for her colleagues. An artist who works in watercolor, Beardemphl uses her current faith community in California, Redlands UCC, as a laboratory for worship experiments. She shared some of what she has learned with the group in her presentation Wednesday morning.
“I asked kids to do a self-portrait and put inside it what makes them feel brave and strong,” she said. Beardemphl told the gathering she was looking for self-expression; she said what she discovered was amazing. “You can see the hope, fears and dreams and love of the artists in their work.”
Art, Beardemphl said, is an expression of who one is and who he/she is becoming. “If we could, in our churches and in our communities, show people that they really are creative beings, I expect the world would be so much more loving.”
Each of the participants took time over the course of the week to share their passion. The Rev. Maren Tirabassi, a longtime United Church of Christ pastor in New Hampshire and Massachusetts is a wordsmith and writer; an author of twenty books. She talked about encouraging people to express themselves by telling their stories, writing on whatever they can get their hands on —including paper plates or band aids. “Churches are an anthology of gathering stories,” Tirabassi said. “I teach people how to gather their words.”
“The national gathering of artists and activists was amazing. Bringing in a cross section of gifted people within the UCC and our ecumenical partners is all about intersection,” said the Rev. Justo González, II, a leader in the Sanctuary movement and an associate minister of the Michigan Conference UCC. “Amazing artists, poets, scholars, dancers, story tellers and activists went hog wild in conceptualizing worship and liturgy in traditional and creative, out of the box ways. Our aim is to provide pastors, worship leaders and liturgy planning teams creative ways connect congregations, those in the pews and the real life issues that are impacting our communities across the country. We strive to create intersectional worship resources that comfort, challenge, raise consciousness and provide strategies that move us beyond Sunday and our buildings to action. We hope to raise awareness and have congregations ask impacted communities what they need rather than assuming and overstepping our role.”
“If you are willing, in a community, to try, you’ll see things happen that you weren’t expecting,” Beardemphl said. “God created us to be creative, in His image. When we forget that we are made in God’s image, as creative beings, we forget that God is in us.”
“I am grateful to be invited to part of this amazing group,” Gonzalez said. “I thank Susan Blain and Tracy Wispelwey for planning this gathering and gifting me by inviting me to part of this team.”
“Thank you for presenting yourself here for the sake of a church that is crying out and hungry for presence of the sacred,” Dorhauer said. “I can’t wait to see what the church will become through the offering of your gifts.”