From the President: Coming Alongside
Of the many unique features of the Gospel of John, one of my favorite is the Fourth Evangelist’s description of the Holy Spirit. Paracletos is the Greek word John employs, and it is translated variously as “Advocate,” “Helper,” and “Comforter.” But it’s really a compound noun perhaps better translated as “the one who comes alongside of” another.
I love this word because I think it captures beautifully the work of the Holy Spirit not to solve our problems, but to come alongside as we struggle, not to grant our wishes, but to come alongside and test our visions and encourage us to work for our dreams.
More recently, I’ve also thought paracletos well describes the work of congregational leaders. For at least the last century, we were trained to “do” the work of the Christian people — to interpret Scripture, to teach, to share our faith, to offer pastoral care. Today, however, when the culture no longer has a vested interest in sending people to church to be inspired by the professional, and in a world with so many stories that people give themselves only to those that actually mean something to them, the work of the congregational leader is more to come alongside Christians and help them “do” their faith for themselves. Hence, the mark of excellent ministry, in my opinion, is not how well the pastor can preach and teach and witness, but rather how much better the congregation can do these essential tasks of the Christian life because of the ministry — the coming alongside — of the rostered leader.
This move from what I call a “performative” model of ministry to a “formative” model of ministry has great implications for seminaries. For too long, seminaries taught their students to do ministry rather than how to coach and equip their people to do ministry for themselves and for their various communities. That is changing. In terms of programs, curriculum, and pedagogy, we are learning to come alongside our students as together we learn and practice a new way of being a leader in Christ’s Church.
But our work doesn’t end when we graduate formative leaders. In some ways, in fact, it is only beginning. For in a changed and changing world we recognize that we cannot be content with the best practices of the previous generation but instead need to keep learning how best to share the Gospel with the people all around us. Which means that increasingly we need to come alongside our graduates and constituents, offering places for lively investigation and conversation about ministry in this new landscape.
We are working hard at LTSP to be that kind of seminary. And while our “coming alongside” will take many and various forms, I want to let you know about several efforts to come alongside all those working to be faithful stewards of the Gospel.
The first will be on Thursday, September 17, as we will again offer a free “Resource Day” at LTSP. Following the pattern set by our event last December, we will have two free lectures as well as time for chapel and lunch together. We will start at 10:30 am and be done by 4:00 pm to make it easier for folks to get to and from campus. I’ll be the speaker this year, outlining my own response to the changing world in presentations delving into “Gospel Proclamation and Ministry in the Age of Digital Pluralism.” I am pleased that the Episcopal Diocese of Philadelphia and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod are joining us to sponsor this free event. Learn more and register – it’s free, lunch optional – here.
The Opening Convocation on the 2015-16 academic year theme of “God’s Creation and Public Theology” is on Tuesday, October 6, at 11:30 am in The Brossman Center. LTSP Professor Emeritus Dr. Timothy Wengert will be the presenter that day, speaking on “From Conflict to Communion.” And we are grateful that Sr. Margaret Scott of the International religious order “Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” and a current LTSP DMin student, has agreed to offer comments on her encounters with ecumenism. Given the Pope’s visit and the impending 500th Anniversary of the Reformation, we think this will be a wonderful and inspiring day. This event, as with all of our Convocation lectures, is free and open to the public. More information is here.
In October, starting at 11:00 am on Monday the 19th and concluding with worship and Holy Communion on Wednesday the 21st, we will host the first annual “Preaching Days.” Actually, and as some of you may remember, “Preaching Days” had a long and successful run as a week-long summer preaching class and event at LTSP under the direction of former Professor of Homiletics and President Bob Hughes. We are renewing “Preaching Days” as a three-day fall conference with a host of wonderful presenters who will each lecture and preach at our gathering. I’m pleased to announce that Thomas Long, author of The Witness of Preaching and so many other influential books, will be the inaugural St. Paul’s Doylestown (PA) Lecturer. Long will be joined by Paul Scott Wilson, Canadian pastor, preacher, and writer of such books as The Four Pages of the Sermon, and our own Karyn Wiseman and Wayne Croft. It will be a wonderful three days of preaching, worship, and inspiration. Registration is open – invite a colleague and join us for Preaching Days.
We are planning more ways to come alongside those God has called to various kinds of ministry, and I encourage you to check back on the Ltsp.edu home page and the Upcoming listings in PS Portions often to see what’s coming. For now, I trust that these three events should get us off to a good start for what will be a wonderful year of learning with and from each other as together we labor confident that the Holy Spirit, Advocate, and Comforter continues to come alongside us as we seek to give faithful witness to the grace and mercy we know in Christ.
Yours in Christ,