Dawn Treading A Monthly Blog Dedicated to New Experiences and Practices in Faith Development
Editor’s Note: In the coming months we will post a blog each month in hopes of deepening our experiences in Christian education and faith development. We will seek to share insights on how one might grow in her/his relationship with Christ. We will use a variety of methods but each month we will visit with a professor from a different university or seminary to explore what is happening on his/her campus in relation to faith development. In addition to learning about what is happening in theological education we will also ask for recommendations on what folks are reading at their seminary.
This month Dr. Jill Y. Crainshaw, the Interim Dean and Blackburn Professor of Worship and Liturgical Theology at Wake Forest Divinity School, has consented to give us a flavor of Wake Forest Divinity School and its current faculty and student body. Dr. Crainshaw emphasizes in her writing and teaching how Christian worship and leadership arise from and return to human experience. Her newest book, When I in Awesome Wonder: Liturgy Distilled from Everyday Life (The Liturgical Press, September 2017), explores how worship’s sacramental elements such as bread, wine, and water are connected to local fields and farmers, waters and artisans.
Dr. Crainshaw’s teaching focuses on intersections between religious leadership and sustainability, social justice, and “grounded” human experiences. She is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and a regular contributor to Patheos’ Unfundamentalist Christians and The New Verse News, an online publisher of “politically progressive poetry on current events and topical issues.” Dr. Crainshaw recently edited two student publications, Uncommon Words, Common Worship (Library Partners Press, WFU, 2016) and Words Made Flesh: A Collection of Poems and Prayers for Worship (Library Partners Press, WFU, 2017). Both books feature student liturgical writing completed as part of a course project.
DT: Tell us a little about yourself and your work at Wake Forest University School of Divinity.
JC: I have been at Wake Div since 1999, the year the School welcomed its inaugural class. I have served in a variety of administrative roles at the School, including Director of the Art of Ministry, Associate Dean for Academic, and, now, Interim Dean. I am also the Blackburn Professor of Worship and Liturgical Theology. Folks say that I am Demon Deacon through and through since I graduated from WF college in 1984. I am without question a Divinity Deacon. Our students are amazing, and I enjoy every day I get to spend working with them to discern and embody our common callings.
DT: Give us a general feeling of what is going on at your seminary these days.
JC: We welcomed an entering call of about 39 students this year. They come from a wide array of geographical locations and theological perspectives. New and returning students have brought with them this fall energy and excitement for the work they believe God has called them to embody in today’s world. Our students are fun to teach, and they invite me each day to live with passion into my own calling as a theological educator.
I also enjoy working with faculty and staff colleagues who are excellent at their jobs and who are passionate about the work our community takes up each day to equip students to be agents of justice, reconciliation and compassion.
DT: What are the areas of specialty that seminarians are focusing on at your seminary.
JC: Our students bring with them diverse interests and perspectives. Many are attracted by our six joint degrees (with Law, Counseling, Education, Sustainability, and Management) or by our growing Food, Faith, Health, and Ecological Well-being initiative.
53% of our graduates are in ordained ministry (congregational or chaplaincy); 12% have found their way into non-profit contexts of various kinds; 7% are exploring additional educational opportunities; 7% are teachers are administrators in diverse settings. Others are finding unexpected and innovative ways to live out their callings.
What is exciting to me about this is how nimble our students are and how willing they are to seek out and try new opportunities that afford them the chance to embody ministry. With more than 38 denominational traditions represented in our student community, I am not surprised by the diverse ways students live out their Gospel vocations.
DT: How much personal one-on-one engagement do students get with faculty?
JC: Faculty at Wake Div consider student-faculty engagement to be a vital part of their professorial identity. The average student-faculty ratio at Wake Div is 7 to 1. Also, most faculty attend our twice-weekly chapels and the community lunches that follow. Students have abundant opportunities to seek out faculty mentors and to explore mentoring relationships with the community leaders who join us in our work as internship supervisors, peer group facilitators, and practitioner-teachers.
DT: What kind of ministerial training do your students receive?
JC: We want our students to be equipped to lead a diverse array of communities. To prepare them for diverse contexts, we invite students into a three-year program of vocational discernment and formation called The Art of Ministry. We also provide students with substantive courses to help them be conversant about the role of faith and Christian communities in today’s world. These courses include traditional theological school offerings, such as biblical studies and theological studies, as well as courses that emphasize learning areas such as race and class, gender and sexuality, religious pluralism, and science, health and ecological well-being. Students are also required to complete courses in the areas of proclamation, relational care, community building, and formation.
What I consider a unique and powerful gift of our program is our diversity. Students who complete our MDiv course of study do so alongside other students who have different perspectives, ideas, life-stories, and callings than they do. Together, as we break literal and metaphorical bread around communion and meal tables and around classroom study tables, God’s presence is made known in our midst and we see God in new and unexpected ways. This, in my view, equips our students to be leaders and build authentic relationships in a world that is multidimensional and multi-contextual.
What makes all of this work together toward educational excellence? Students who show up at Wake Div eager to learn and grow and outstanding faculty who are experts in their disciplines and who are themselves called to the work of theological education.
DT: What are the issues challenging the students these days in terms of theology, social justice and the likes?
JC: We focus at Wake Div on place-connected teaching strategies. These strategies are intended to help students attend to the unique realities that are present in each particular ministry context. Some communities, for instance, are in regions where food insecurity and related social challenges are particularly intense. Other communities, such as congregations, wrestle with the issues that are most prevalent in their denominational structures or in their locales.
Our hope is that students gain self-awareness and experience through courses and internships that prepare them to be healthy public leaders who work with communities as they respond to a wide array of social challenges.
We also want our students to be able to bring to public decision-making tables articulate and thoughtful religious perspectives. No not-for-profit, congregation, or civic entity can solve local and global social problems alone. Collaborative dialogue and partnerships are vital to local, national and global health. We want our students to bring their perspectives and skills to this work alongside other business and civic leaders.
DT: What are some of the teaching strategies/techniques employed by the faculty?
JC: Our faculty is committed to teaching strategies that equip our students for ministry in today’s contexts. Experiential learning is central to this commitment. We have also explored as a faculty a number of learner-centered teaching practices, seeking always to be aware of who our students are and what needs and skills they bring with them to our classrooms.
Our faculty also seek to create a rhythm by which their research and writing are connected to and integrated with their classroom teaching. Students inform our research even as our research and writing make their way into our teaching.
DT: What are the students reading these days?
JC: I assign readings by Howard Thurman in almost every course I teach. Students enjoy Thurman and conversations about Thurman’s unique balance of theological thinking and reflective, compassionate wisdom.
DT: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about your school?
JC: We work hard to listen how God is calling us through our students and our supporting communities. Wake Div’s vocation as an educational community preparing students to be ministers is a vocation that we take to heart. What it requires of us is that we seek each day to strengthen our curriculum and our programming so that it responds effectively to students’ needs and to local, regional and global realities. We are grateful for the many communities and individuals who support us in this calling.
DT: Please help us thank Dr. Crainshaw for her time and insights. She can be emailed at divinity.wfu.edu.
In an article by Deb Peterson, she shared an interesting idea to get to know your students
better. She asked: Is a party game appropriate in the classroom? Yes! Games for adults make
great classroom energizers. Get your students on their feet and moving, and they’ll return to
your topic refreshed and engaged.
If they made a movie of your life, what kind of movie would it be and who would be cast as you? Are you Bond…James Bond? Or more the Arnold type? Maybe you’re like Scarlet in Gone With the Wind. Or Cat Woman. Is your life an adventure, drama, romance, or horror flick? Entertain us.