An Interview with Mary Miller

Ordained five years after the 1976 vote to ordain women in the ECC, Mary Miller conducted the very first decadal study on Covenant clergywomen. At the 2017 ECC Midwinter Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, Miller was honored with the North Park Theological Seminary Alumni Award for Distinguished Service. I was fortunate to sit down with Miller to discuss the 40-year survey, how it compared to her own findings thirty years prior, and what she hopes for the future of women in ministry in the ECC. Here is a portion of that conversation, lightly edited for publication.


miller-photo

Mary Miller accepting the North Park Theological Seminary Alumni Award for Distinguished Service, January 31, 2017

Mahon: After comparing the results of the forty-year study to your own experience with the ten-year study, what changes do you see that should be celebrated?

Miller: The way the author, Lenore M. Knight Johnson, concluded the study was a celebration. She didn’t say we’re in crisis pain or in the sharp pains of trying to figure it out and feeling rejection, but that there were more celebrations. There still are horrible situations, but there are more good ones. You know, on a percentage, on a holistic, wider vision, that’s really nice to hear. For people in my generation, we have not done anything. We have not gotten anywhere. We have one woman in a church over two hundred. One woman. One, after this many years. You have a tendency to get into a funk about what has not happened rather than what has….

We’re quite adept at saying, “Oh, we have so many women who are ordained!” And we changed it so that it’s not Word and Sacrament and Specialty Ministry – it’s all lumped together. I do affirm the priesthood of believers; I do affirm specialty ministries. But the role that challenges authority is Word and Sacrament – predominately preaching these days, more than other sacraments, with our theology. So I do so very much grieve that. I also really appreciated the author bringing in contemporary readings on the subject, because I don’t know that literature.

Mahon: I also appreciated that Knight Johnson brought in other studies. It’s one thing to look at where we are, but it’s helpful to know it’s not just us. It’s systemic among evangelical denominations.

Miller: Yes. We hardly ever bring in the Holiness Movement, women who were part of their founding. I knew a woman in her nineties from the Church of God in Indiana, Anderson, and they would brag on their women preachers. There is no second-guessing or anything, and I thought, “You know, they’re evangelical.” But we only bring in a certain kind of evangelical.

Mahon: In the ten-year study, you quoted a woman saying, “When I began ministry eight years ago, I did so with full hope that there would be others, women as ‘settlers’ who would follow, surpass, better us ‘pioneers.’ Now I find that hope not just frustrated but pretty much shattered.” As one of those pioneers, have you seen “settlers” follow you? Or do women graduating from seminary today still need to be ‘trailblazers’?

Miller: I would say there are more settlers. There are some who will go into much more difficult situations and take on the challenges….Some [men & women] are not fitted, temperament-wise, to do any challenging – or they challenge itty-bitty things, rather than the main things. There’s some wisdom, and Lord knows, I challenged wrong things. I have some really stupid and embarrassing situations (but I’m not going to tell them!). But you know, you have to pick and choose. You can’t just say that everything is important…

It’s been three years since I was on the Biblical Gender Equality Commission. At my last meeting I distributed a chart depicting the number of female pastors ordained to Word & Sacrament compared to the whole ministerium. That percentage was somewhere around twelve percent at one time. Over the course of forty years it has reduced to about two percent.  It marks a huge change in the landscape of ministers in the denomination. Even if new leadership made women in senior ministry a significant thing – like we as a denomination have done with racial diversity – it would take a long time to restore.

Ministry areas affecting that decrease are hirings for church planting and some of the conference visions rejecting egalitarian relationships. I asked if I could plant a church and was denied. The percentage of solo men to women as church planters is significant. Many of the women accepted are co-pastoring as complementarian planters with their husbands. We keep adding new planters from outside the Covenant who have no commitment to theology of women in senior leadership. I think it is a justice issue that Covenant money is being given predominantly to men for this specialization. Ha! I think I know who would win a class action lawsuit!

Mahon: One of the questions you asked respondents in the ten-year study was, “If you had a magic wand, what would you do with it to aid the progress of women in ministry in the Covenant?” How would you answer that question now?

Miller: I would bring that two percent up to about fifty-one percent.

Mahon: Do you have any advice or encouragement for beginning women pastors and seminary students?

Miller: The world is getting smaller with all the technology, all our relationships and traveling, so find alternate role models, encouragements, skills, and behavior sets. They’re out there and available now, which is different than when I started. You can borrow from other traditions. You can borrow from stories of people who are now known…. I’m going to accept this award tonight on behalf of my husband who paid for my degree and then died. It was an investment that we couldn’t afford, but it gave me my whole life. I’m also accepting it for Victoria Welter. In 1903 she was the first woman to get a theological degree from North Park Theological Seminary, and the class was allowed to vote whether or not she would be in the class picture. They voted no. Now, everybody thinks the story ends there, but the grace is that she became a missionary in China. So, I know that one illustration. It’s insidious, but I’m sure they were very nice about telling her she couldn’t be in the picture. Now, though, there are enough examples like that that we know, as well as the positive ones where they were stout and it worked. In some ways those resources – they don’t do the work for you, but they shore you up and encourage you.


Mary Miller was ordained in 1981, five years after the 1976 vote to ordain women in the Evangelical Covenant Church. She currently serves as the chaplain of Covenant Village of Cromwell, Connecticut

Mackenzie Mahon is an MDiv/MNA dual-degree candidate at North Park Theological Seminary and serves as student assistant for the Covenant Quarterly

Image credit: The Covenant Companion

40 Years of Women’s Ordination: A Study by Lenore M. Knight Johnson

From Lenore M. Knight Johnson’s “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the Evangelical Covenant Church”:

Campus Forum in Nyvall Hall (image credit: CAHL 15883)

Campus Forum in Nyvall Hall (image credit: CAHL 15883)

After thirty years of the ECC’s ordaining women, Olson and Cannon argued that greater effort should be made to support women pursuing senior level positions, including lead and solo pastoral roles and positions emphasizing preaching. At forty years, this continues to be a barrier for clergywomen. Just 12 percent of respondents are solo pastors, 6 percent senior pastors of multi-staff church, and 2 percent executive pastors, representing similar figures from ten years ago.

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The largest percentage of respondents (30 percent) pastor congregations of 100 members or less. Among the twenty-three solo pastors who responded to the survey, all serve congregations with fewer than 100 members. Twelve respondents currently hold positions as senior pastors of multi staff congregations, one in a church of 200–300 members, three in churches of 100–200 members, and seven in churches with less than 100 members. In other words, women in senior leadership roles primarily pastor smaller congregations.

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Examining outcomes for those seeking a position through the call process, 9 percent (18 women) were called to a senior or solo role (8 of whom listed senior or solo pastor as their preference), and 31 percent of all respondents secured an associate role. Among those in the associate category, 25 percent found positions in Christian formation, 19 percent in youth ministry, 10 percent in pastoral care, and 41 percent of respondents selected “other,” describing positions as worship, formation, and children and family ministries. In other words, while the percentages of women desiring and securing an associate position were fairly similar, this is not the case for those seeking a senior or solo role.

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When asked how supported clergywomen feel or felt by their local church in their first position, 53 percent chose very supported, and 30 percent selected somewhat supported… The regional conference continues to be the level where support is experienced as most lacking for clergywomen. As a respondent stated, “I have found support and contact from the regional conference very limited in my time as a pastor. I have felt especially, given a first [call] as a female senior pastor, more contact would be given. I have found this not to be true. In addition, I have found that, as a pastor in general, outside of district pastors’ meetings there is little contact with respect to the pastoral care of pastors.”

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Additionally, women have struggled in finding jobs and are concerned over the underrepresentation of women at all levels of leadership, spanning congregations, regional conferences, denominational offices, and ECC events such as Midwinter and CHIC. Respondents commented on the fact that, currently, only one woman serves as conference superintendent. Women also expressed significant disappointment that not all churches, fellow clergy, and speakers at denominational events support women in ministry, with statements such as, “It is still accepted that churches do not have to embrace or even believe the biblical teaching on women as pastors.” And finally, clergywomen shared general concern over the broader culture within the denomination, describing the ECC as a “good old boys’ club” and critiquing the persistent use of masculine language.

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If the ECC only draws from half the population to lead its churches, is the denomination truly the best it can be? Are denominational leaders looking beyond the limits of congregational polity and seriously considering ways they can openly and boldly advocate for the exceptional women who are called and gifted to serve the ECC? The structural and cultural changes proposed in this article cannot be viewed as obstacles or burdens but rather as opportunities to make a thriving denomination even stronger. To be sure, change is difficult and often a slow, arduous process. But if the ECC is committed to the position it affirmed in 1976, the denomination and all those who comprise it need to determine if they are willing to do the hard work necessary to keep and support extraordinarily gifted people, create paths toward all levels of leadership, and ensure clergywomen can thrive in all realms of daily life—spiritual, personal, and professional. Until then, these same questions and issues will likely remain for another decade and beyond.

Read the full article here.

Image credit: Covenant Archives and Historical Library (Historical Photograph Collection)

Sneak Peek: CQ 75:1 (2017)

The first Covenant Quarterly issue of 2017 is now published. 2016 marked the 40th anniversary of the Evangelical Covenant Church‘s vote in favor of women’s ordination. Four decades later, how is the denomination doing? This issue considers the past, present, and future of women’s ordained ministry in the Covenant.


Lenore M. Knight Johnson

Lenore M. Knight Johnson

Lenore M. Knight Johnson, assistant professor of sociology at Trinity Christian College, presents the results of the forty-year study on Covenant clergywomen.

“While the ECC has made important strides in relation to its stated position on women’s ordination, I argue that a combined focus balancing structural and cultural change is necessary for the denomination to truly break through the barriers clergywomen continue to encounter in their service to the church.”

From “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the Evangelical Covenant Church


 

Kelly Johnston

Kelly Johnston

Covenant pastor Kelly Johnston surveys the pioneering ministry of Covenant clergywoman and theologian Jean C. Lambert (1940-2008).

“In 1989, on behalf of the board, Lambert wrote ‘an open letter to each woman seeking to obey Christ’s call to ministry in the Covenant Church, both volunteer lay workers in local congregations, and pastors, missionaries, and staff ministers.’… Lambert’s words were both stark, speaking in plain terms about the reality of sexism in the church, and encouraging, expressing solidarity with Covenant women as ministers of the gospel. She admitted that all women in ministry in the Covenant Church were ‘pioneering in a treacherous wilderness.'”

From “Jean C. Lambert: Covenant Pastor, Theologian, Pioneer


 

Denise Kettering-Lane

Denise Kettering-Lane

Denise D. Kettering-Lane, associate professor of Brethren studies at Bethany Theological Seminary, evaluates Philipp Jakob Spener’s beliefs and practices regarding women’s roles in Christian ministry.

“If anything, Spener’s correspondence to women substantially increased over the course of his life. Thus throughout his life he consistently adhered to the notion that developing a more involved laity would result in an improved church, and he recognized that women were part of that laity. While publicly conforming to many social conventions, privately Spener regularly encouraged women’s activities in his correspondence.”

From “Philipp Spener and the Role of Women in the Church: The Spiritual Priesthood of All Believers in German Pietism


Read the complete issue here.

NPTS Post-Election Statement

The faculty and staff of North Park Theological Seminary offer the following statement in response to our current national climate. Though we write primarily to our students, we hope to bless our larger community of faith as we all engage in dialogue, discernment, and action.


The United States has experienced a contentious election and post-election season marked by fear, polarization, and violence. The political climate reveals longstanding national sins of racism, elevation of whiteness, misogyny, nativism, and economic disparity. As faculty and staff members of North Park Theological Seminary who represent varying degrees of privilege and power, we join our voices with those who are most vulnerable.

We submit to the Lordship of Christ who humbled himself unto death. As members of his body, we strive to consider others above ourselves (Phil. 2:2–8) and to serve one another in humility (Matt. 20:26–28). As one body, if one member suffers, all suffer (1 Cor. 12:26); if one weeps, the body laments with them (Rom. 12:15).

A large part of our community is weeping. The fear of deportation is real. The anxiety of being assaulted is real. The fear of being forgotten or mistreated is real. Many people of color, women, and other marginalized groups feel increasingly alienated not only in the political context but in much of the white evangelical culture as well.

Regardless of where Christians stand politically, the gospel demands we recognize vulnerable populations among us who find themselves further marginalized in the wake of the recent election. The gospel also demands that Christians recognize ways we benefit from and participate in structural injustices. Ignoring policies that denigrate and even endanger vulnerable groups is not a faithful option, even if privilege allows some to do so. When we have power, we use it justly and for the good of all.

In the midst of real suffering within our community, we seek not only to love our neighbor but to know our neighbor (Lk. 10:29), through our conversations, classroom discussions, and times of prayer. We hope to embody a community in which walls of hostility are broken down (Eph. 2:14) and where love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

 

Deb Auger
James Bruckner
Mary Chase-Ziolek
Stephen Chester
Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom
Paul de Neui
Timothy L. Johnson
David Kersten
Ellen M. Kogstad
Max Lee
Alexandria Macias
Hauna Ondrey
Amy Oxendale-Imig
Luke Palmerlee
Deborah Penny
John E. Phelan, Jr.
Elizabeth Pierre
Soong-Chan Rah
Stephen Spencer
Al Tizon
Emily Wagner

Wrap Up & Look Ahead

THAT’S A WRAP

Our Aug/Nov 2016 issue of the Covenant Quarterly focused on the 125th anniversary of North Park Theological Seminary. Historians explored North Park’s origins (Philip J. Anderson) and David Nyvall’s founding vision (Scott Erickson). Former seminary student and professor John Weborg reflected on his rich experience at NPTS, and Al Tizon cast a portrait of the ideal seminary graduate seminary’s should be developing. Finally, seminary dean David Kersten and ECC president Gary Walter outlined challenges and opportunities facing North Park Seminary as it looks to the future.

74.3-4 contributors

The conversation continued on Forum, as a variety of scholars and pastors discussed the impact diversity should have on seminary curriculum (Phillis Sheppard, Mark Tao, Willie O. Peterson, & Jo Ann Deasy), and as current professor and former NPTS president and dean Jay Phelan responded to articles by Kersten and Walter. Thanks to all who contributed to our fall issue and Forum discussion.

UPCOMING

The upcoming Quarterly issue (February 2017) features the fourth decadal study on Covenant clergywomen, surveying and assessing the status of Covenant women in ordained ministry forty years after the ECC’s 1976 vote. The two articles that accompany the study (1) look back at the life and work of one of the first women ordained in the Covenant and (2) even further back to the range of ministry roles open to women within early German Pietism.

Stay tuned for publication – and please contact us if you would like to contribute to related Forum articles or recommend another author. We welcome your input!

Opinion: The Future of the Seminary is Tied to the Future of the Church

In this post, North Park Seminary professor Jay Phelan responds to Gary Walter’s and David Kersten’s articles, published in the most recent issue of the Covenant Quarterly. Do you agree with his sentiments? Dialog with Phelan, Walter, and Kersten in the comments section (link located below article title).


Jay Phelan

Jay Phelan

I deeply appreciate the commitment that both President Walter and Dean Kersten have made to the Seminary. Since I have spent more than twenty-five years of my life and ministry serving North Park, I have a vested interest in the school not only surviving but thriving. As President Walter makes clear, these are challenging days for American seminaries. I know these challenges intimately not only because of my years at the seminary, fourteen of them as president and dean, but because of eight years on the board of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). Over those eight years I was privileged to work with and learn from some of the brightest minds in theological education leadership.

For the board of ATS, the future of seminaries, and of theological education in general, is closely tied to the future of the church. Many seminaries are in crisis because the churches they serve are in crisis. The tide of Christendom is receding. And while mainline churches have struggled for years with declining membership and dwindling resources, in recent years it has become clear that evangelical churches are facing some of the same challenges.

Recent statistics indicate that evangelical churches are losing their young people at an even greater rate than mainline churches. This is not a problem that will be solved by outreach and evangelism alone, as important as both are. As the seminary needs to rethink what it means to prepare women and men for ministry, so the church needs to rethink what it means to worship, serve, witness, and teach in a post-Christian era. The Evangelical Covenant Church is historically well-placed to explore new ways of being church. Pietism has always stressed life over theological correctness, and for many people young and old this has a great deal of appeal at a time of deeply divisive theological conversations. Both the seminary and the church have stressed the deepening of the spiritual life, focusing on the spiritual formation of both pastors and “lay” leaders. And both the seminary and the church have focused on the importance of issues of justice—on poverty, racism, domestic violence, and social justice generally. The churches and the schools that are able to focus on mission and witness, that are rooted in actions as well as words, in compassion instead of condemnation, will have a future.  I think North Park Theological Seminary and the Evangelical Covenant Church can be such a school and such a church.  To that end, I would observe and recommend the following:

  • In an era of biblical illiteracy and theological ignorance, it will not serve us well to lessen our emphasis on the Bible, theology, and history. These must remain at the core of preparation for ministry. We still need a learned clergy and learned lay leaders.
  • Theological education must be a partnership not only between the denomination and the school, but also between the local church and the school. Many of our current students are online students serving in local churches already. In my opinion, local church leaders and seminary personnel need to work more closely together to assure the online student or other already-serving student is getting the greatest benefit possible from their theological educations. Churches also need to take the initiative to recognize, cultivate, and call out talent within their own congregations.
  • The denominational leadership and leadership of the school must work to preserve the distinctiveness of the Covenant. I recommend this not simply to be parochial but to suggest that our biblically centered, theologically diverse, and spiritually committed form of witness and worship are powerful and needed by the wider church. To this end both church and school need to be confident in the gifts they have to offer. For too long we have lived as if we are just a little people with no gifts to bring to the larger community. We need no more “poormeism.”
  • Finally, and perhaps not surprisingly, I believe the seminary needs to be resourced sufficiently to accomplish its tasks. The seminary, like every American seminary, even the largest ones, has faced financial difficulties in recent years. Some severe belt tightening and fiscal discipline have righted the ship. But there comes a time when a more aggressive stance is necessary. If we are going to accomplish the wide-ranging plans recommended by Dean Kersten, we are going to need more resources, especially for technology, student financial scholarships, and for increased spending in our recruitment office. With a growing seminary we will be able to add additional voices at the faculty table.

I am retiring this year and am very thankful and humbled to have spent my career at North Park. I am confident in its future and its leadership. But all associated with the school will need courage, flexibility, and imagination to enable it to succeed in its mission.


John E. Phelan, Jr. is senior professor of theological studies at North Park Theological Seminary. He previously served as the seminary’s president and dean, as well as on the board of the Association of Theological Schools.

1 Question: Diversity in the Seminary?

Our recent Quarterly issue marked the 125th anniversary of North Park Theological Seminary. In it both Seminary Dean David Kersten and ECC President Gary Walter reflected on the seminary’s future. Toward ongoing conversation, we asked pastors and scholars associated with NPTS to respond to the following question: What implications does or should shifting demographics have on our seminary and its curriculum? We invite you to engage their thoughts – and add your own – in the comments section. You’ll find the comments link below the article title.


sheppard_phillis-isabella“Seminaries by nature have always been affected by the demographic shifts occurring in society – though often with resistance to change. A failure to change the curriculum and the ethos reveals our narrow vision of community. Curriculums and seminary communities have the power to form those preparing for ministry. When the presence of people previously excluded, based on gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality, does not inspire curricular and co-curricular transformation, then we have essentially failed to become communities of formation for ministry in a diverse and changing world. Our vision for NPTS and the world has to be expansive, loving, and just.” Phillis Isabella Sheppard, former NPTS professor of pastoral care, current chair of the faculty and associate professor of religion, psychology, and culture, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee


profile_headshot_mtao“Shifting demographics spotlights the need for continual institutional reform.  Increased racial and gender diversity mandates a thorough internal review to ensure that curriculum, pedagogy, faculty standards, academic affairs, student life, etc., prioritize persons of color and women and treat intersectionality in positive and contextually appropriate ways.  This reform need not sacrifice NPTS’s core convictions arising from a socially-conscious, pietistic, Scandinavian evangelicalism. Rather, interrogating and challenging every area in which white supremacy and patriarchy have become embedded liberates NPTS to be more faithful to achieving its greatest potential while positioning it to remain a standard-bearer for effective theological education.” Mark Tao, NPTS graduate, ordained Covenant pastor, reentering call process, Chicago, Illinois


dr-willie-o-peterson“Hopefully there will be no pressure to trivialize NPTS curriculum for the sake of culture. My first reaction to this Forum question was to imagine the assumption that shifting from a homogeneous population to a diverse one presupposes an automatic curriculum overhaul. NPTS has a legacy of graduating servant leaders for the church. A mastery of the essentials remains requisite for vocational ministry no matter the generation or culture. All ministry candidates need a mastery of the Gospel’s message, and ministry methodology. Future generations will continue to need women and men who are masters of the right message and methods.” Willie O. Peterson, assistant to the superintendent, Midsouth Conference, Evangelical Covenant Church


deasy-cropped“If the purpose of seminary is to prepare all God’s people to minister to all the people whom God loves, then shifting demographics must have an impact. Theological education must be about teaching people to think, translate, and integrate what they are learning in order to serve the world they have been called to. This requires curriculum that is deeply connected to diverse communities of faith, faculty who are interculturally intelligent and engaged, students who are intellectually curious, and a denomination with a vision of theological education that prepares future ministers not for themselves but for all those who are to come.” Jo Ann Deasy, former NPTS dean of students, ordained Covenant pastor, director, Institutional Initiatives and Student Research, the Association of Theological Schools, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


How do you believe shifting student demographics should impact North Park Seminary? Join the conversation in the comments section (link located below title). We look forward to dialoging with you.

Walter and Kersten: The Future of NPTS

From Gary Walter’s “I Believe in the Future of North Park Theological Seminary”:

All seminaries, including our own, are navigating precarious times. The three-year, full-time residential model of seminary preparation that has been the standard for decades is under pressure at schools of all stripes. In the meantime, some schools are closing and others are consolidating. When I gather with leaders of other denominations, conversations about the future of theological education are common. No one is confident they have “figured it out.”
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In previous generations, the general consensus held that a seminary degree was the threshold for entering the ministerial vocation appropriately prepared. If you wanted to be in ministry, you went to seminary, just as you went to law school to be a lawyer or medical school to be a doctor. While this is still broadly true, increasingly churches are calling ministry staff based on observed rather than “projected” effectiveness. In some quarters a seminary education is viewed more like an MBA—a value-added degree to enhance the efficacy of those already in ministry rather than the necessary gateway to ensure readiness prior to ministry. This is particularly true for special focus positions such as youth, children, worship, and others, which comprise more than half of all ministry positions in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). The percentage of seminary students already in ministry positions is higher than it has ever been.
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Schools will need to see students as multi-dimensional and not merely consumers of biblical and theological content…. Intellectual preparation is only one dimension of seminary training. It is never less, but it is always more… a comprehensive view of student preparation for ministry must integrate spiritual, character, and skill development… Seminaries will need to be multi-lateral. Effective seminaries of the future will provide instruction by partnering scholars and expert practitioners…

Finally, seminaries will need to be authentically engaged in multi-ethnic realities and opportunities.
From David Kersten’s “Strategic Initiatives: Planning for the Future”:
Nyvall Hall, approximately 1950 (image credit: CAHL 4869)

Nyvall Hall, approximately 1950 (image credit: CAHL 4869)

In the past decade, the seminary classroom has been changing. No longer

are seminary courses filled primarily with those in pursuit of a senior pastor role… In meeting the needs of the changing demographics of the church, we have embarked on a vigorous strategy of “right-sizing” and “right-timing” our master of divinity degree, launching a revised degree in the fall of 2015. This degree requires fewer credit hours, decreasing its cost by 14 percent, with a strengthened and simplified core curriculum and a renewed emphasis on preaching, intercultural studies, and pastoral leadership. While we have reduced the number of credits needed to earn a degree, we anticipate the number of courses taken over a graduate’s
lifetime to increase as the interest in and demand for lifelong learning opportunities grow.
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In addition to denominational partnerships, we are pursuing further opportunities for collaboration with our university colleagues. These include joint teaching between the seminary and the university’s Biblical and Theological Studies (BTS) Department, providing students with a broader spectrum of professors. Also in collaboration with the BTS Department, we envision developing a “fast-track” undergraduate to seminary degree. The seminary currently cross-lists its courses, allowing undergraduates to take seminary classes for undergraduate credit. We hope to expand this partnership, providing undergraduates advance standing toward a seminary degree and making it possible to complete both a bachelor degree and an MDiv degree within five to six years.
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Next spring, in collaboration with Serve Globally and Start and Strengthen Churches, we will begin offering the church planting certificate to the Covenant Church in Taiwan. We also hope to offer our certificates and potentially degree programs to our partner churches in the International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches. These partnerships strengthen the cross-cultural competency of NPTS students and Covenant pastors. As the ECC becomes more reflective of all of God’s people, NPTS intends to be at the forefront of engagement with the world.
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We are researching the viability of a plan that would supply all of our students with a modest interest-free loan to cover their tuition costs. Such loans would come from major initial gifts from donors that will be invested and will also secure a larger credit facility. This would form a captive loan pool to cover seminary tuition, allowing students to defer all payment until graduation. Students would make a modest monthly payment for seven years following graduation. These payments will go back into the loan pool to help replenish funds. Through investment and program management provided by affiliates of the ECC, there is also a significant tuition discount built into the program, and the interest-free nature of the loan reduces the overall costs of seminary further. Students will also be encouraged to form a team of ministry partners to help support a portion of their education, financially and in prayer. These ministry partners can help reduce costs even further while bringing a sense of support and community to the students. Students will be held to minimum standards of performance in order to continue to qualify.
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A highlight for North Park in the area of ecumenical partnerships has been the development of a course taught by Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom at Stateville Correctional Facility in Chicago. This course involves both seminary students and Stateville students learning together. Some Stateville students have expressed the desire to continue their education at North Park after their release. This endeavor shines light on the type of restorative justice we as a community of believers can bring about in our city and world.

Al Tizon: The Graduate

From “The Graduate” by Al Tizon

graduate_procession_in_front_of_old_main_1949

Graduate procession in front of Old Main, circa 1949 (image credit: CAHL 6752)

… If at the end of students’ harrowing theological journey their love for God has not been deepened and strengthened precisely by the transforming process of quality education, then we have failed. In other words, theological education must have a spiritual formation component to it. Without this component, students can study theology devoid of spirituality, devoid of God… Like Paul, graduates finish their grueling, assumption-smashing, paradigm-shifting education with a deeper, stronger, more mature and creative love for the maker of heaven and earth and lover of our souls.

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The graduate also lives and imparts biblical wisdom… after grasping the complicated history of canonization, after analyzing the books via lower and higher criticisms, after acknowledging the disparate accounts and stories that make up Scripture, and even after interrogating some of those stories through a postcolonial lens, graduates still see the indispensable value of the Bible for faith and practice. They even appreciate it more in its ability to guide, encourage, challenge, and correct the people of God on their way to maturity. If graduates leave with more suspicion and deeper disdain than with more respect and reverence for the Bible, their theological education has failed them.
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If seminary does not teach graduates to live creatively in the tension between being in the world but not of it, they will tend either to assimilate in a given culture—perhaps offering at best a nice, non-offensive religious word that affirms all (I’m OK, you’re OK)—or to go against the culture, cultivating a “church versus world” understanding that stands in judgment over those not of the fold. Neither extreme is acceptable. The graduate recognizes this tension and lives in it, thus becoming both a lover and a transformer of culture.
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Graduate and family in front of Nyvall Hall, circa 1965 (image credit: CAHL 6754)

Graduate and family in front of Nyvall Hall, circa 1965 (image credit: CAHL 6754)

Graduates know the inadequacy of private, overly individualistic faith and are committed to participating in Christian community, despite its imperfections, blemishes, and even scandals… Lurking behind the pursuit of unbroken community, the perfect church is a denial of our brokenness, a disengagement with reality, an excuse not to be in deep relationship with others. To be committed to the church is to be committed to real relationships with real people, and quality theological education fosters this commitment… Graduates from the best of what theological education can offer have this commitment to authentic, healthy relationships, to genuine koinonia, to real church.

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This should go without saying, but the hope of theological education must not only include identifying and purging prejudice from the hearts of students; graduates must also become champions of gender equality, racial righteousness, and economic justice. Graduates fight against sexism, racism, classism, and all other injustices, beginning in their own hearts and then extending this fight to society. This affirmation turns graduates into reconcilers in the world, challenging human-made lines in the sand and creating spaces for enemies to embrace.
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And finally there’s humility, with which I have chosen to cap my list. Graduates can be all of the above… but if they are all of this without humility, something has gone awry along the way… Beyond our disability to see perfectly, humility is engendered by recognizing the vastness of God, the mystery of God. Even if we could see clearly, we are confronted with a force, a personality, far more complex than even our most enlightened selves could fully take in. Indeed, the All-Mysterious can be known because of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ—but fully known? The impossibility of grasping the fullness of the Divine keeps the graduate forever “walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). Let this be true of all of us.

C. John Weborg: Reflections of a Seminary Student and Professor

From “Inhabiting a Dwelling Place: Reflections of a Seminary Student and Professor” by C. John Weborg

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C. John Weborg (Image credit: CAHL 18760).

I left North Park with a historical and theological identity. That identity has not changed. I am still a Lutheran Pietist with only this difference: that which was a latent Lutheran dimension has become more theologically articulate. I still have a clear sense of the vocation I was taught at North Park Seminary but with a profounder confidence in the God who is at work through his word. The educational methodology that fostered this identity was in no sense a form of indoctrination. It did include a disciplined learning of the church’s confession of faith and the Scripture on which that confession is based. It is that material, long in formation, endowed with faith, hope, and love, that was mediated to us at North Park. It was an education rich in reading original sources – patristic, Reformation, and contemporary – as well as the required textbooks that provided students with a treasury of wisdom and knowledge.

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I recall asking a student from Kenya or Nigeria (my memory is not sure which) how he might teach the doctrine of the church in his culture. He told me of a certain tree whose age was older than his people. This great tree had collected so much dust in its branches, crevices, and leaf structures that seeds borne by the winds took root in the collected dust. The seeds grew into a diversity of trees, all living together in the big host tree. Birds of species normally hostile to each other lived in peace in this tree. I learned to not do the “western” thing and analyze this rich response. Theological thinking by storytelling allows the story to disclose its meaning – although I wonder if “meaning” is even too immobile a word. The story itself releases its power, enfolding the listener in it, rather than simply disclosing an interpretation or deducing a conclusion from it.

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The fixed world of my education with which I began this article met its challenge in my introduction to world Christianity. World Christianity is not simply a topic but an entire discipline, challenging church history as it is conventionally understood and taught, drawing attention to the fact that early Christianity was far more geographically vast than conventionally presented.

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Not least of the value in this global historical awareness is that congregations today are increasingly ethnically diverse. Depending on location, one’s parish may include refugees, immigrants, exchange students, and American citizens of various ethnicities. Some knowledge of this “world church” – at least enough to know where to look for the specific data one needs to do ministry – is a key component of pastoral competence. Knowledge of world Christianity also contributes to pastoral care in preparing congregants for international business, educational, and philanthropic assignments.

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Seminary faculty, 1970s. Weborg is third from the right in the second row (Image credit: CAHL 19358)

Seminary faculty, 1970s. Weborg is third from the right in the second row (Image credit: CAHL 19358).

The communication of the infinite value of a person’s humanity is gospel. It is not the entire gospel – and we cannot fail to preach and teach the full intellectual content of the faith – but it is the beginning. In Irenaeus’s bold gospel claim, the glory of God is the “human being fully alive.” The “human being fully alive” begs to know what dehumanizes the person, what vandalizes the divine image…. In order to get a hearing for the gospel, whether from the SBNR or East Germans, we must first come as fellow human beings. In meeting human to human, the Holy Spirit will show the other that we can be trusted with the deeper matters of their lives. Effective pastors something about context. And they do not make the mistake of respecting the fully human and calling it secular humanism.

Read the full text here.

Image credit: Covenant Archives and Historical Library (Historical Photograph Collection)