Now in its 16th year at Eden Theological Seminary, the 2017 international travel study seminar program offered one of the most interesting experiences to date.

It was Eden’s first trip to Cuba and a cross-cultural experience rich with timely connections, including the recent death of Fidel Castro and the July 2015 restoration of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

As with all international travel study seminars at Eden, students focused on gleaning as much as they could from immersing themselves in the culture and in the life of the church in Cuba. They heard testimonies from locals and discussed each evening how their experiences could inform their ministry.

“They (Cubans) have more to offer us than we have to offer them, because what we can learn from them is extraordinary,” said faculty advisor Clint McCann. “We can learn about simplicity and opposed to the incredible opulence we [U.S. Citizens] think we have to have. We can learn the values of joys of community, and this is important because we come from a very individualistic society.”

For Eden seminarians, the J-term international seminar took a great deal of pre-trip planning and reflection. Students prepared by reading writings on Cuba from a variety of viewpoints, including UCC Pastor Ted Braun’s book, “Perspectives on Cuba and Its People.”

“By doing the pre-travel coursework, we’re helping students think about travel as a political act,” said Professor Kristen Leslie who served as one of the advisors on the trip. “When you travel outside of your own territory, you can’t use your own frame.”

According to McCann and Leslie, Eden’s goal for every cross-cultural trip is to have seminarians come back with a different worldview and understanding of how society can be organized—a deconstruction of pre-conceived notions about culture, religion, and politics.

protesters in ferguson

On August 9, 2014, Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, was the site of what has become a modern day “shot heard round the world.” On that day Micheal Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a local police office. And on that day, the #BlackLivesMatter movement took hold, one of the longest running acts of civil disobedience in our nation’s history. Since day one, Eden alumni, students, and faculty members have played significant roles working in and alongside the movement, not only as protesters, but as advocates for real and tangible change. Their passionate work testifies to the quality of students and graduates Eden cultivates; many say Eden dramatically helped shape their theological perspectives on race and human dignity.

While hundreds of Eden alumni have visited Ferguson to protest and advocate for an end to racial injustice, participated in local protests in their own communities, or preached and advocated for racial equity, several Eden students and alumni names continue to appear among leaders in the ongoing movement. Here are just a few of their stories.

Traci Blackmon’s Journey

In 2009, alumna Rev. Traci Blackmon became the first female pastor of the 156-year-old Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, Missouri. The position fit her strong call to Christian ministry, experience growing up in the AME church, as well as her years of studying Bible and Womanist Liberation Theology at Eden. It felt like a natural progression alongside her 30-year career as a nurse and Coordinator for health, mind, body and spirit for BJC HealthCare.

When Michael Brown Jr. was shot, less than 5 miles from Chris the King, Rev. Blackmon was one of the first pastors to respond, both by her presence in the street protests and by calling together neighborhood and state religious and community leaders for a peaceful and constructive response. She was soon recognized for her work when Missouri Governor Jay Nixon appointed her to the Ferguson Commission, a group of sixteen citizens asked to study the underlying conditions and make public policy recommendations to help the region progress after the death of Michael Brown, Jr.

“This is what I learned in Ferguson,” Blackmon said in an interview with the United Church of Christ. “The church is not a static organization that is transported from place to place, but rather that church emerges to meet the present needs of the people.”

In October of 2015, Blackmon was made executive minister of the UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries. And just four months later President Barrack Obama named her to his Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Commuting between UCC Headquarters in Cleveland, meeting with the advisory council in Washington D.C., and leading her church in Florissant has kept her busy. She believes some progress has been made, though she also says there’s still a lot of work left to do.

“We’re still thinking of stadiums before we’re thinking about schools,” she said in an interview with the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’re still fighting over whether the minimum wage should be raised or not. We’re still unfairly and unjustly targeting and criminalizing people of color. Those things have not changed.”

Susan Sneed Helps Lead Police and Community Accountability

For 2007 alumna Rev. Susan Sneed, the protests in Ferguson that followed Michael Brown Jr.’s killing weren’t something she watched on the news. She could smell the tear gas in her house.

“I live just a few blocks over from where Michael Brown was shot and killed,” said Sneed. “I couldn’t be a bystander.”

Joining in the protests was a given for her, as a citizen, an ordained minster, and a community organizer with Metropolitan Congregations United.

Through her work, Sneed is currently collaborating with a taskforce to address police reform. “So many [faith-based] leaders care about the police and what they do, but they’re also appalled by the police and what they do,” she said. Her group is creating progress reports to measure if local police departments are meeting the progress goals they set for themselves.

Sneed is also helping church leaders monitor a community benefits agreement with the Metropolitan Sewer District. “It’s important to work to ensure economic equity. The community is paying for it, and they should be the first on the list to be hired,” said Sneed.

Sneed sees protest and organizing as not just an outreach ministry, but as the heart of the church itself. “You have to preach with your actions,” she said.”To be out in the streets, standing in solidarity with people, bringing the teachings of Christ out into the streets and putting them into motion is the best preaching any clergy can do.”

Women and men from any denomination are invited to explore a theological education and a vocation in church leadership. Eden Theological Seminary’s Explore Scholarship is a full tuition scholarship for any student who enrolls fulltime in the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree program for their first year of study.

The Explore Scholarship is available to all students in the M.Div. degree program. To qualify for the degree program, prospective students must have completed a bachelor’s degree with a 2.7 GPA or above and be a person of faith involved in a church community. First-year students must also participate in contextual education, sometimes referred to as field education. Contextual education students work 10 hours a week with an Eden approved site and participate in a ministry seminar group for theological reflection.

There are no strings attached to the Explore Scholarship. This initial tuition-free first year provides an opportunity for students to explore theological education and to discern just how important this call is in their life.

Eden’s student body currently consists of women and men from approximately 18 denominations. Fifty percent of Eden students are women, with student ages ranging from the 20s to the 70s. Eden is a school of the United Church of Christ and is an Open and Affirming seminary.

For more information or to begin the application process, please contact Tiffany Pittman, Director of Admissions, at (314) 918-2504 or request more information via the link below.

scholar in library

From Feb.-April 2017, Eden welcomed Dr. Mualla Selçuk to campus to serve as scholar-in-residence. A resident of Turkey and Islamic scholar, she has added vibrancy and depth to Eden’s ongoing dialogue surrounding interfaith concerns.

“Since I’ve been at Eden, I’ve felt a part of the community. I’ve felt very welcome. I am Eden’s first Muslim scholar-in-residence, and I’ve been grateful to have a true experience around encounter. This is what my work focuses on—encounters of differences. It doesn’t have to be religious. It could be sexuality or cultural—an encounter of anything or anyone that is not like us. God wants diversity and wants us to enrich each other with what we have to become fully human. This is the journey of becoming fully human,” Selçuk said.

Selçuk graduated from Ankara University School of Divinity with a B.Sc. She was appointed as a research assistant in the same school and later granted a Ph.D. following the dissertation of her doctoral thesis titled “Religious Patterns in the Education of Pre-School and School Age Children.” In 1999, she was appointed as a full professor of the religious education department and has since held a number of leadership positions. Currently, Selçuk serves as director of the Continuing Education Center at Ankara and as president-elect and chair of the Religious Education Association, which will hold its annual meeting in St. Louis in fall 2017 with the theme “Learning in Encounter.” Her research includes published work on religious education in school and Islamic religious education in democratic cultures, interfaith religious education, and approaches to teaching from the Qur’an.

Eden Theological Seminary is seeking a Dean of the Seminary to begin July 2018. Responsibilities include leadership and oversight of educational programs that support the strategic plan of the school. The Dean of the Seminary will work on sustaining and encouraging a collegium of scholars in support of the church and its work in the world, enlivening our common work of encouraging bold Christian discipleship and fostering a vibrant educational community including new and existing programs.

Candidates for consideration for the position should have a history of teaching and scholarship, a deep commitment to the future of the church and well-demonstrated leadership experience.

A letter and CV should be sent to Dr. David Greenhaw, President at [email protected].