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.

August 18, 2014

Finding Mary

            Baptists, and Protestants in general, have not known what to do with the Catholic preoccupation with Mary.  We just do not get the nuances of the Immaculate Conception (different from the virginal conception of Jesus) and the Bodily Assumption, two significant affirmation of that venerable tradition.
            When possible, we gather at Conception Abbey for the annual faculty retreat.  It is an important time for assessment of our previous work and planning for the new academic year. This welcoming Benedictine monastery invites us into the rhythms of prayer and table hospitality, and we leave refreshed for having been there.  We also live into the Spirit of Jesus’ prayer “that they might be one.”

            While at the Abbey this past weekend, the community observed a major feast day, the celebration of “Mary being taken up into heaven,” the Bodily Assumption.  In this affirmation, Roman Catholics have added tradition to the spare scriptural narratives about Mary, thus elevating her role in the story of redemption.
            The hymns and chants portrayed her as the “New Eve,” the one who had reversed the curse brought about by the mother of the race.  There was no mention of Adam and Christ in these pieces, which startled me theologically. And the incense was as thick as the cloud that carried Mary upwards.

            After Vespers, the Abbot and I had a chance to catch up for a bit.  After regaling each other with our tales of travel and fund development, he inquired about how our group was engaging the Marian piety on display, knowing of our Baptist sensibilities.  I wryly noted that the scriptural warrant seemed a little thin, but simply stated our respect for our differences.
            In further reflection, I wished I had said that our Baptist expression of the Body of Christ could do well to make more of the life of Mary.  After all, she was the first disciple.  She believed that the Messiah was coming and that she was God’s unique instrument in the story of salvation.  Her adolescent trust rightly earned the description of “blessed.”

            Her unselfish sharing of her Son, even when she did not fully understand the nature of his ministry—and certainly not his death—remains an exemplary model of faith.  Indeed, giving prominence to Mary has been a means for Roman Catholics to include the role of the feminine in God’s salvific purpose.
            It is time we find more room for Mary in our preaching, giving her more than a nod as she sits wordlessly in the Christmas tableau.  Her trust and resilient faith have much to teach us, also.

            Molly T. Marshall

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