WTS Impact Stories
Artistic Director of Just One Spirit Dance Ministry / Dancer / Choreographer
Hometown: New Brunswick, NJ
Master of Arts ‘20
“I wrote on my first day of orientation, “Seminary is a seedbed. The seeds of faith planted in the seedbed of seminary life will bear fruit throughout the seminarian’s life and ministry. If you invest and trust the process of seminary life at Wesley, you will have the tools to bear fruit.”
MB: What led you to seminary?
EJ: Dance led me to seminary in 2016. At the age of 10, Claudia Gitelman introduced me to modern dance. I began my dance training with an after-school program called Art Matters. Art Matters was a modern dance program at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, to expose underprivileged youth to the art of modern dance. At 14, Michael Gary invited me to join his modern dance company, Acrodanse Theater Company. Acrodanse allowed me to meet people from different ethnic, social, economic, and religious backgrounds. My defining experience happened during Acrodanse’s annual presentation of the Gospel Gala in 2001. Gospel Gala was an evening of worship through the art of dance, and a blind man stood up during our Q&A, saying, “I could not see the performance, but I felt the spirit." I was the principal male dancer for Acrodanse for many years before I stopped dancing and relocated to Maryland. Ten years passed before I would dance again. In 2015 I auditioned and danced with Dancing by the Power Dance Company, where I met Wesley alum Dr. Josie Hoover. I danced my way to and through seminary.
MB: How did you learn about Wesley, and when did you know it was the right fit for you?
EJ: I remember Dr. Hoover shared information about Wesley Theological Seminary with me as I shared with her about my life, my dance journey, and my goals for a dance ministry. She invited me to a Wesley open house event. After being on campus and taking a class, I felt something familiar; Wesley created the space for me to meet people from different ethnic, social, economic, and religious backgrounds.
MB: How did you decide on the Master of Arts degree?
EJ: It allowed me to tailor my focus on worship, particularly dance, and the role of dance within the church's structure, specifically the black church. The black church has always produced an environment for black bodies to be free, but there’s a thin line between dance and worship.
MB: What was your experience learning and studying with individuals who worshiped differently from you?
EJ: My experience learning and studying with individuals who worshiped differently from me was a unique growth with a multi-faceted level. I enjoy being in a space where being different is the norm. The knowledge production from Wesley's classrooms was often dynamic and generative.
MB: What did you learn about yourself as you advanced through the program?
EJ: I learned many lessons, but the one that advanced me through my program was the concept of process. Everything is a process. Moreover, the process is a process, and through my seminary process, I learned that my connection with dance and movement gave me a better sense of my value toward scripture. I became more invested with dance as worship being a part of the same discussion (dance can be worship, and worship can be dance). I moved from reading scripture as static text to reading scripture as a movement in the living word. Through the advancement of my program, I began to exegete scripture to extract movement. I learned that my theology is a theology of movement rooted in liberation theology.
MB: How has your degree helped you advance your ministry goals?
EJ: The '200 Years of Returns' celebration in partnership with Colonial Williamsburg took place the weekend of Saturday, July 2nd, 2022, and marks 200 years since the first Black Americans settled in Liberia through the American Colonization Society. A project inspired by Black merchant Paul Cuffee's repatriation journey to Sierra Leone in 1815 and catalyzed by New Jersey's Robert Finley in 1822 that would result in what is arguably the earliest historical site of Black American liberation. "200 Years of Returns" is a collaboration between Burning Barriers Building Bridges (more commonly known as B4 Youth Theatre in Liberia), the Museum Theatre Department of Colonial Williamsburg (CW) in Virginia, United States, and Just One Spirit Dance Ministry with the Angles of Praise of Baltimore, Maryland. This interactive performance juxtaposes past and present "returns" to Liberia since 1822 when Black American settlers first encountered various African ethnic groups.
A team of seven dancers from Just One Spirit Dance Ministry with the Angles of Praise and five actors from B4 Youth Theatre in Liberia shared the stage with actors from CW Virginia at Hennage Auditorium in the Colonial Williamsburg Arts Museum to commemorate the "200 Years of Returns" anniversary. In December, as a continuation of '200 Years of Returns,' Just One Spirit and Angles of Praise will travel with B4 Youth Theatre and the Colonial Williamsburg theatre program to Liberia, West Africa, to celebrate '200 Years of Returns'.
MB: What was one of the best things about attending Wesley?
EJ: It's diversity.
MB: What advice would you give someone who wants to attend seminary and Wesley?
EJ: Speed bumps are a part of the process. Seminary is a space where you can and should ask all your questions to formulate more questions. At Wesley, there are many different levels of perspectives and understandings. Wesley offers something for everyone.