Members of the GTS faculty accepted preaching invitations for February 2, 2014, which this year was both the Feast of the Presentation and Theological Education Sunday. Here are excerpts from several sermons.
Professor David Hurd, preaching at Grace-St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Mercerville, New Jersey, reminded us of the occasion: “I bring you greetings this morning from The General Theological Seminary, The Episcopal Church’s first school dedicated to the education and formation of clergy and lay leaders for The Episcopal Church. It has been my privilege to live at and teach on the faculty at General Seminary since 1976, that memorable year when The Episcopal Church’s General Convention first authorized the use of the current edition of the Book of Common Prayer, and first recognized the normalcy of both women and men sharing the ministry of priesthood in The Episcopal Church. In the years that have followed, it has been my privilege to teach and learn, and to seek the path of God’s ongoing revelation, the “Way of Wisdom,” with women and men, brothers and sisters in the faith, called to ordained and lay ministry for the service of God in the church and in the world.”
Professor David Hurd was alluding to a recent faculty retreat in January in which the faculty spent an intense week crafting together a new expression of our seminary curriculum. Professor Drew Kadel’s sermon at St Paul’s, Ossining, entitled “The Way of Wisdom,” expressed in his own words what that vision is. In the beginning, Professor Kadel says, “…in the early centuries of the church, theology meant the participation in the ever-deepening practice of the Christian life which we all share. We’re calling this the Way of Wisdom.”
What is the Way of Wisdom? How does it appear in places of ministry? What does it look like in seminary education?
“The Way of Wisdom is exactly the same in a parish or a seminary, or indeed in all the contexts of ministry that we have, whether a soup kitchen, community organizing, outreach to returning veterans or an EFM group gathered from a number of churches. We all share our wisdom and we encourage one another in the Gospel. But among us, some are leaders who particularly focus on encouraging and helping others to grow in the depth of the Christian life. Some become clergy and others have ministries that don’t fit that mold. So, at seminary we have a group who are seeking that, to grow into more depth, usually to become leaders in the church. Some are young, some are not; some have a lot of experience in life or in the church, some have less. But to one degree or another, they have already embarked on the Way of Wisdom – some more than they know and others less than they think. The conversation and the community broadens and deepens.
“Our goal at seminary is not to produce priests who have pre-made solutions to problems and who are solely focused on fixing things. What we are here to do is to provide wise, resourceful people who know how it feels to struggle to live on the Way of Wisdom and who know how to be companions to others following alongside. That doesn’t mean we want our students to be impractical or too abstruse to bother with finding solutions to problems. On the Way of Wisdom, sometimes you have to know some skills and whether your skills address the problem at hand, or if you need to find someone with the right set of skills. Sometimes you have to fight back against injustice, while at other times, the solution is to reframe one’s perspective and let go of the issue. And sometimes, we must just be companions to one another in the difficulty of the moment. It takes resilience and wisdom to choose and shape those solutions to the hard questions, and that is where theological education is an invaluable guide.”
Professor Joshua Davis spoke at the Church of the Transfiguration on the significance of theological education in the church and parish. As a result, the congregation was inspired to start a group to continue learning together in the following weeks. This is consistent with what faculty experience as a yearning for rigorous theological education and its importance for the parish.
Professor Andrew Irving’s homily at St. Philip’s, Brooklyn, spoke of where we belong and where we are at home: “not in some ever-decreasing handkerchief of space that we can control in the big city from which the indifference of strangers is excluded, and in which we can be blithely indifferent to the plight of the poor. Suddenly, surprisingly, home turns out to be the gift of God’s vulnerability.” Home, he says, “does not lie in our efforts at all: but in God choosing to make God’s home in us! And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth!”
Professor Deirdre Good preached at the Cathedral Church of St. John, Albuquerque, New Mexico. She spoke of listening: “Listening is at the heart of education, which is why I mention it on Theological Education Sunday. It takes many forms but is the only way to understand someone else’s life and experience. Yet most people today have been taught the opposite. We are told and we even believe that what is important about an education—and a life—is to express our opinions, to tell the world what we think. All day long—and I’m guilty of this too—we text, we tweet, we post our status updates on our Facebook pages. We are in danger of eclipsing listening, and without it, we cannot access lives, experiences, and beliefs that are different from our own. We cannot create trust. Learning how to truly listen may be the most important lesson of all.”