August 30, 2014

Reflecting on Racism

          I have been hesitant to write about the events in Ferguson, MO, over the past couple of weeks because of fear of insensitive or simplistic response to this human tragedy.  I have feared that one more ponderous white voice, which hardly can plumb the depths of black umbrage in the face of white privilege, would not be helpful.  I am, at heart, an academic, who tends to prolong thinking at the expense of action.

            Keeping silent, however, gives the impression of lack of care or negligence in the face of ongoing racism in our neighboring city, St. Louis, or our own Kansas City, which has its own racial dividing lines.  I cannot fathom the despair of black parents who do all they can to prepare their children for the disparity in educational, financial, and social dimensions of 2014 American life.
            I am a child of the pre-segregation South/Southwest, albeit Oklahoma did not fit neatly into the protracted civil rights journey of Alabama and Mississippi, and other states of the Deep South.  Yet, the bigotry of Jim Crow shaped my educational experience, also.  We had two high schools in my hometown of Muskogee—Central High School and Manual Training—the former white, the latter black.  Even the name of the black high school indicated a prejudice about academic promise.

            I remember when my home church took a vote on whether to admit black members of the congregation.  It was not a placid business meeting in the late 60’s, and I wondered about the ferocity of the argument.  It seemed at odds with our understanding of the Gospel, yet parochial tradition retained a strong voice. The stain of racism has blemished many a Baptist church, my own included.  Hence, it would be only fair to describe myself as a “recovering racist.”
            Central strives to be a school that “flattens” educational privilege.  This means that we are intentional about whom we will scholarship and how we will build diverse cohorts.  We are learning that white churches and black churches and immigrant churches need one another to live into the dream of Jesus’ prayer—“that they might be one.” Yet, we cannot spiritualize the real acts of violence that are based in racial prejudice.
            Several of Central’s alums have been close to the bloodstained drama unfolding in Ferguson.  Ministering in neighboring communities, they have drawn near to the need for pastoral care, thoughtful interpretation of what they have observed on the ground, and relevant advocacy for justice.

            The Director of Social Media for Central, Francisco Miguel Litardo, felt drawn to be present to the critical events in Ferguson, especially the ways in which pastoral care has been offered to the suffering.  I give thanks for his presence and willingness to provide images of what has been transpiring.

            Central is aware that we are still viewed as a “white” institution, even thought we are not majority white.  While that is our historic identity, the presence of many others, all a part of the family of God, is transforming us toward the goal of racial equity.  For this, we are grateful.

            Molly T. Marshall

            Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.

August 25, 2014

Forming create Cohorts

            Each fall new cohorts of create students gather at Conception Abbey for orientation to the program, times of prayer, shared meals, learning activities, and reflection.  Benedictine hospitality welcomes us, and we get to know one another in that rather remote and peaceful setting.  This context is unfamiliar for the majority of these entering seminarians, and the feelings of dislocation open up the possibility for new learning.

            The name of the course is Spirituality and Creativity, and we focus on how the Spirit of God will awaken the unique giftedness each has been given for the creative challenges of ministry.  A key objective of the course is for participants to get to know themselves better, an essential task for authentic Christian vocation.  We also begin to sense the significance of community to sustain lives of faith and service.

            We witness the graceful community of monks, where each is to be “received as Christ,” and we strive to recognize the presence of Christ in one another, through the power of the Spirit.  Simply hearing one another’s stories of God’s providence in their lives evokes deepening faith, hope, and love.

            New this year is the Women’s Leadership Initiative.  Twelve women constitute this cohort, and the life experiences and ministry goals are impressive.  Some are writers; some are pastoral leaders; some will devise new ways to minister to women; some will pursue chaplaincy; and, some will pursue the academic life. These women are passionate about being agents of transformation, and I believe they will be a force for change! [It doth not yet appear what these women will accomplish!]


            Based in Nashville, this cohort will convene at Scarritt-Bennett Center, a hub for educational programming.  Formerly a college in the Methodist tradition, the Center is forging partnerships that focus on the empowerment of women, racial equity, and spiritual renewal.  Thus, there is a natural synergy between Central and Scarritt-Bennett, and we are excited about a shared vision of leadership development for women.  The CEO, Dr. Jocelyn Briddell, and the Director of Programming, Dr. Jackie Halstead, spent the four days at the Abbey, strengthening our partnership.

            Central has a capable leadership team on the ground in Nashville.  Dr. Sally Holt is the site director, joined by Dr. Eileen Campbell-Reed who will coordinate coaching and mentoring, and Dr. Ircel Harrison who will oversee key dimensions of the program such as the capstone project.  How grateful I am that the cohort will learn from these wise leaders!

            And so another semester begins.  By my reckoning, this is my 78th semester in seminary, combining the years as a student and faculty member.  I do love theological education, and I give thanks for what transpires in the lives of fellow learners as we seek God together.

            Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.