Welcome to the Spring Semester!
What a joy it is to have the campus once again bustling with students and faculty. The parking lot is filled to overflowing, and I hear returning students beckoning each other across the quad. The atmosphere at Wesley is crackling with energy and anticipation as we scramble to find classrooms, buy books, and orient ourselves to another semester of transformative learning together.
As most of the community ‘returns’ to campus, we want to offer a magnanimous welcome to the 35 new students who are joining us for the first time. They are coming from all over the United States and from many religious perspectives, and their participation in the Wesley community will enrich and bless us all. We want to offer a special welcome to a new international student, Rachel Yonghua He. She is a graduate of Yanjing Theological Seminary in Beijing, China, and she is pursuing an MA degree at Wesley. Please reach out to all our new students and envelop them graciously into your community.
When we dive into a new semester, we can all too easily become submerged in the daily grind and lose the larger vision of why we are here and what we are doing. But without a keen sense of our overarching purpose, without a highly personal mission, we lose the focus and passion that keeps us on track and striving for excellence.
Briefly, let me put your theological education in a larger context. Hopefully, this will help you see more clearly why your calling from God and your personal growth are so important. First, the world desperately needs persons and communities of vibrant faith to bring Good News of hope and healing. This reality cannot be overstated, and your redemptive engagement in the troubling problems and in the promising opportunities could not be in greater demand. The world needs you. And it needs the best that you have and the best that you can give. So, developing your capacity for ministerial leadership is an imperative worthy of your greatest efforts.
Second, we are living in a time when traditional forms of Christian life are becoming less meaningful. Fewer and fewer people find Christian doctrine and practices compelling. As a result, congregations, on the whole, have been losing members for the past 50 years.
If we want to be true to our faith, we must reinvent ourselves. Christianity has always done this in every age: it takes on forms indigenous to its context, so that it can speak to and transform it. Our context is indeed changing; therefore, faithful innovation of life and practice is key. This is an incarnational imperative in which the invisible truth of the Gospel is enfleshed anew.
Whether we are oriented toward congregational or not-for-profit ministry, Christian leadership must draw deeply upon the truths of the faith, immerse itself in contexts, and, relying upon the transforming guidance of the Holy Spirit, fashion new forms of Christian life. To do so is very hard work; it takes great commitment, skill, and effort.
A serious obstacle to fashioning new forms of Christian life is that Christianity has become culturally conventional. Our religious imaginations are stunted. We are so used to the way things have been that it is hard for us to imagine another way things might be.
In order to develop a prophetic imagination and a fiery passion to live it out, we need to get out of our ruts – mental, physical and spiritual. We have to swim against current conventions in order to innovate practices to better meet the challenges of the day. We do this best by concentrated, sustained effort within a community of learning that seeks to be the very change we hope to foster.
To be a learning community that strives to incarnate the divine life here and now is a missional imperative for Wesley Theological Seminary. I welcome and encourage us all to contribute vigorously to its realization here and now.
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