When I say one of the cool* things about my job is that I get to meet with the presidents of our Presbyterian-related seminaries, I am often met with blank stares or quizzical looks, but I mean it. Michael Lindvall, pastor of the Brick Presbyterian Church in New York City, has referred to our seminaries as the "crown jewels" of the denomination. And so they are. Last week, I had the privilege of being an invited guest at a meeting convened by the seminary presidents. Because their relationships with both the PC(USA) and each other matter to them deeply, they meet voluntarily to resource, support, and enjoy one another. Our seminary presidents are smart, dedicated and faithful, and it was a special treat for me as an observer to see what good colleagues they are for each other.
(*cool betrays my generation, so read groovy, awesome, or sweet depending on yours)
As part of my itineration throughout the church, I have been invited to meet with the boards of our Presbyterian-related seminaries. It's been interesting to me to see how each seminary has its own character. Each seminary picks a topic on which to focus the conversation in addition to our each sharing our priorities and initiatives to become better acquainted. At McCormick, we spoke about multicultural theological education; at Princeton, commissioned lay pastors and resourcing the whole church; Christian education combined with theological education at Union PSCE; passing on the Reformed tradition for the practice of ministry at Austin; disciplines of spiritual formation, critical theological reflection and skills and arts of ministry at San Francisco; world mission at Pittsburgh; and common interests at our neighboring seminary in Louisville. I’ve yet to get to Dubuque or Johnson C. Smith, but hope to do so, and the Columbia visit on the pastoral needs of the future church was held before I came to the GAC.
Last week, I joined the presidents in a stimulating dialogue about preparing leaders for building up the church. In a denomination that is increasingly comprised of smaller membership churches, we spoke of the challenges of identifying, preparing, supporting and encouraging leaders who can undertake the starting of new congregations, or transform existing ones into healthy and vibrant congregations. There are some striking examples already out there. Through the Mission Initiative: Joining Hearts & Hands, critically needed support has been provided for a number of new churches that are off to promising starts.
Our morning conversations last Friday began with worship, where we remembered and gave thanks for the life of Jack Stotts, a former president of two Presbyterian seminaries, McCormick and Austin. I remember Jack fondly from his association with my home church, Fourth Presbyterian, Chicago. My husband, Chris, also had the opportunity to talk to Jack on the recognition of his 50th anniversary graduation from McCormick when Chris was at the board meeting. How wonderful that he was so honored then, and at Fourth, and how glad I am that I had the chance to greet him and receive his blessing when we were at Austin Seminary. The seminary, by the way, is inviting congregations to use portions of the Brief Statement of Faith on Sunday, February 10, the day when Jack’s memorial service will be held. What a moving tribute this will be for the man who chaired the committee that wrote the Brief Statement. May God comfort Jack’s extended Presbyterian family, who mourns the loss of this good and faithful servant of the church.