Part Two: Who are these people and what are they doing?

To go to the November blog post CLICK HERE

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UDTS Students on an orientation ropes course at Four Mounds Park, Dubuque, Iowa; photo by Nicky Story

Last month I wrote about the social identity of 1st-century Christian communities. This month we move on to the social identity of 21st-century Christian seminaries. I like to use the phrase “Christian learning community” to describe who we are and what we do at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.

We’re not a church. We’re not a para-church organization. We’re not a mission agency.

Still, we are a group of people committed to Christ and to participating in the mission of God.

“Christian learning community” defines the seminary in terms of the very specific kind of work we seek to accomplish together. Here is why I landed on those three words:

  • Christian: We—students, staff, and faculty—are Christ-followers.
    • Along with other sorts of Christian gatherings, we acknowledge the presence, grace, and glory of the Triune God.
    • The faculty gathered last winter for conversations about our own understandings of the Christian faith. Here’s the Word Cloud that emerged from our affirmations:

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  • Learning: Like other seminaries, we place education at the center of our work.
    • We believe that “learning” is much more than mentally absorbing the contents of books and lectures. Learning engages the whole person—body, soul and spirit. In our context, a useful synonym for “learning” is “growing.”
    • Our professors are both teachers and learners. We take care to learn about learning by participating in workshops that develop our teaching skills.
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Iowa Rural Immersion Experience led by Rev. Dr. Skip Shaffer, January 2017

  • Community: We do this work together.
    • Last August I preached a sermon with the title “I + You = We,” emphasizing the communal nature of our educational mission.
    • Recognizing that we have different styles, personalities, gifts, and capacities, we affirm that we are still united in Christ. We celebrate the multiple perspectives and opinions that emerge in our conversations.
    • We support our studies through corporate prayer, worship, fellowship, and sharing our lives.

Through these statements and practices, we find grounding for our identity and clarity about our part in God’s mission of reconciliation in a broken and divided world.

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