This statement would come as a great surprise to my eighteen-year old self, who vowed to stop going to church as soon as she left home for college. Up till then I had been a confirmed member of a small-town United Methodist church.
I sang alto in the church choir every single Sunday, and attended Sunday School and youth group. I was even elected as the youth representative to the Administrative Board.
But in the 1960’s, the world around me seemed increasingly chaotic due to the continuing Cold War, several political assassinations, and passionate student protests. The civil rights movements and anti-Vietnam War demonstrations–while inspired and led by many Christians–made my own particular church seem insular and superficial. And, to epitomize the attitude of the times: “irrelevant.”
I’m not sure why I didn’t just leave the church behind, as so many of my peers did. Instead, I took my righteous anger and religious confusion to college, where I encountered the Jesus People, and folk-mass Catholicism, and the charismatic movement. Christian faith just kept dogging my steps.
I was pondering those usual questions: what is my place in this universe? . . . what am I going to do with my life? . . . why do people suffer? . . . how can human beings become more loving and more just? . . . how should I behave with integrity in my relationships? . . . and, of course, where is God in all of this?
My concerns led me to Wesley Theological Seminary (D.C.) in 1974. What a grand time to experience theological education! Living in a dorm on the quad, worshipping in a gorgeous chapel with well-planned worship services three times a week, access to an actual bookstore on campus, and dining with friends in the inviting refectory.
My perceptions of Christianity expanded as I met a great variety of people there:
- Zimbabwean Methodist ministers Canaan Banana and Abel Muzorewa
- gay and lesbian Christians just starting to articulate their stories
- male students seeking shelter from the military draft
- members of the Sojourners community Jim Wallis, and Karin and Wes Granberg-Michaelson
- gifted professors and preachers, musicians and writers.
During those years of intense study and lively community, theological education changed my life. I delved deeper into the wisdom of the Bible and testimonies from church history. I learned how to articulate my faith, and also to worship, pray, and share around the Lord’s Table. I found places to work for peace and to serve those in need. I experienced the abundant grace of God-with-us.
Theological education still changes lives today. Students follow their questions and discern their calls. Professors and mentors teach and guide them in the ways of the Lord. Prayer and celebration bind us together in the unity of the Spirit. Through these practices, we each are changed, prepared, and empowered to walk in the world carrying the good news of God’s redemptive love.
Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift.