It is really March in Kansas, and the whipping wind heralds a season of warmer weather and up tempo basketball. [Go Jayhawks!] Following a long winter, the signs of spring are especially welcome during the season of Lent 2011. The greening of the earth prompts us to reflect on what is struggling to be born in our lives, a key practice in this liturgical season.
Several American Baptist seminary presidents and deans (ABASA) gathered at the Proctor School of Theology of Virginian Union University this past Friday and Saturday. Founded in the Lumpkin Jail in Richmond for “freedmen,” this venerable university demonstrates a remarkable mission and bears enduring witness to the early work of the Home Mission Society. How prophetic to start a school in the only “free space” for African Americans shortly following the War Between the States! This collaborative vision displays Baptist generativity at its best.
As we gathered, the wind called attention to itself as it whistled outside the conference room where we were discussing new movements of the Spirit within the larger Baptist family. We reviewed many things: regional needs for training in transformational leadership; ways to minister with refugees from Myanmar who are reconfiguring the landscape of American Baptist life; how to disentangle the biblical narrative from certain North American assumptions; pathways to encourage adaptive change in churches; and, chiefly, how our schools can shape leaders to call forth discipleship and incarnational practice. Roy Medley, General Secretary of ABC, quoted a wise insight from David Coffey, former leader of the Baptist Union. He observed that renewal efforts among the people of God must have a “theological vanguard.” Business practices can be helpful, but deep conversation about core theological issues and practice is essential for revitalizing Baptist identity and mission. Our reflection was frequently punctuated by the sound of the wind, “blowing where it chooses.”
The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus (John 3:1-17) illumines the call to discern what the Spirit is doing in our midst. Nicodemus struggled to understand language of being “born from above” and reverted to ludicrous physical impossibilities, i.e., “can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” At times we are like him, not tracking the wild freedom of the Spirit and trying to circumscribe where the Spirit can be at work. The Spirit has not abandoned churches and leaders in our day, but we may have to be willing to leave some things behind to follow the Spirit’s listing. In a recent issue of Colloquy, the magazine of the Association of Theological Schools, Dan Aleshire writes about theological schools: “Any school that changes from what it is used to being to what it has never been before will need to do some leave-taking…”. This surely applies to our churches and wider denominational life, and the Spirit precedes and accompanies us.
Molly T. Marshall
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