Over the last several weeks, Union Presbyterian Seminary alumni and friends have gathered for a time of fellowship, learning, and of course eating! These “Ignite” events are developed as part of our effort to connect with our alumni and friends closer to home, while sharing resources and keeping them updated about what is going on at our seminary and ways that they can be involved.
The greatest resource that we have to offer to congregations is our faculty. Over the last few years, North Carolinians have been both reunited and introduced to these incredible educators and leaders who are helping to shape the education and lives of our students. Throughout these recent “Ignite” events, they have reunited with Dr. Frances Taylor Gench and Dr. Ken McFayden, and were introduced to our newest faculty member, Dr. Richard Voelz.
Dr. Frances Taylor Gench kicked off these series of events with a bold statement that anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I personally strongly believe as well, “Saying the Church is dying is a self-absorbed view. We are changing. We are transitioning.” She continued the address as she explored Matthew 14: 22-23, the very first text that she assigns for translation in New Testament 1. Dr. Gench reminded those of us gathered in the Fellowship Hall at First Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, that we are not the first disciples to find ourselves in a time of turmoil and that this text presents a realistic picture of the Church in inclement weather, straining to be faithful in uncertain times. Over the course of the next fifteen minutes, everyone gathered was transported back to their own New Testament experience at Union while being reminded of the challenge and encouragement we find in this text for our Church today.
Our newest faculty member, Dr. Richard Voelz, joined a group of alumni and friends at First Presbyterian Church in Durham. This lecture might have been the one that I was most excited about, in part because I had not yet had the chance to sit in on one of his lectures and also because of the title, “Preaching in Unsettling Times to Unsettled People”. As someone who has struggled many times with what to say on a Sunday morning following an attack or shooting, and especially in light of recent divisions, I greatly appreciated his transformation of the title in light of the current climate- “Unsettled Preachers preaching to Unsettled People in an Unsettled World.” Dr. Voelz continued to explain that the call to ministry comes as we receive students who feel deeply and profoundly unsettled and don’t know how to grapple with this call. Union now has to answer the question, and act on the answer of what it means to educate for ministry in this unsettled situation. “The ability to interpret doesn’t guarantee that one can lead with wisdom,” he told us. Dr. Voelz’s talk filled me with confidence as I reflected on my own education and thought about those who will be entering the ministry soon. It also encouraged me to look at my own ministry and evaluate how I am encouraging each parishioner I come in contact with to move beyond only interpretation and into wise action.
Finally, Dr. Ken McFayden joined an excited (and Barbecue filled!) gathering at First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, NC to share his own excitement for Union and our newest offering for home-based continuing education for Certified Ruling Elders, Pastors, and anyone else who wishes to develop their faith. “Pathways” is an online, five-week program brought to life through the urging of Virginia presbyteries in conjunction with two North Carolina presbyteries (New Hope and Coastal Carolina). This series of nine courses offered over a two-year period serve as a way to prepare individuals to lead a congregation as a Commissioned Ruling Elder. Anyone can join a course for the cost of $100 and then attend each course from the comfort of their own home or office at the assigned time (typically Tuesday or Thursday evening). As individual needs and demands on our time change, it is encouraging to know that there is this option available for those who might not be able to take a full week out of their schedule, or afford the travel expense, to gather in person for this training. Union is excited to begin using this very same technology throughout the rest of campus as we change the way that snow days and other gatherings look! And I am personally excited to gather online with this community next January for the 5-week course on “Addressing Racism in the Church”!
These gatherings have brought encouraging and exciting news to North Carolina, and we look forward to traveling to other areas very soon! If you are interested in attending an “Ignite” event, we invite you to join us at one of the following (For more information and to RSVP, please contact Bernie Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org):
First Presbyterian Church of Sarasota
March 19, 2017; 6pm
Speaker: Dr. John Vest
Riverside Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville
April 2, 2017; 3pm
Speaker: Dr. Christopher Richardson
Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church
April 23, 2017
(During the 11am worship with a reception to follow)
Cedar Point Country Club
May 4, 2017; 6pm
Speaker: Dr. Brian Blount
If you are interested in hosting an “Ignite” event, please reach out to our Director for Alumni Development, Rev. Clay Macaulay at email@example.com.
Rev. Jordan B. Davis