Cross-Cultural, Urban, Reformed, Ecumenical

Focus on Shared Experiences

01-06-2021

Students are finding McCormick the place for learning to listen to themselves, each other, today’s issues, and the communities around them.

Kim Lewis closed her eyes while listening to a classmate share parts of her life story. Instead of focusing on their different appearances, Lewis could hear how they often shared similar life experiences.

Knowledge of different cultures and backgrounds were not the reasons Lewis, a second-year M.Div. student, had enrolled at McCormick. Having taught Bible studies at her church and created a nonprofit organization that mentors young women, Lewis came to expand her biblical knowledge and learn more about offering ministry. Yet it’s been listening to and interacting with her peers, professors, and the community that have been one of the greatest benefits of studying at McCormick.

“I had not taken the time to look outside my own social location to see the extent or depth of marginalization and oppression that occurs outside the black community,” said Lewis. “By closing my eyes, I could see that we were basically telling the same story. What’s encouraged at McCormick is gaining a richer understanding of our own life experiences and learning about the life experiences of others.”

The opportunity that is McCormick is an invitation to be open to reconsider all that individuals think they know about God, expanding their understanding as they engage in theological education in a multi-cultural community, believes Rev. Veronica Johnson, M.Div. ’12, Sr. Director of Recruitment and Enrollment.

“I often say that McCormick is a place where you come to study what you think you already know,” said Rev. Johnson. “It’s more than valuing differences; it’s embracing them. We are being shaped through worldclass scholars and a community of individuals who don’t look alike…who might have grown up in places on the other side of an ocean.” 

In recent years noted Rev. Johnson, McCormick has seen a growing number of students from Sri Lanka, Korea, India, Kenya, and this year welcomed a student from Ghana, recruited while Rev. Johnson, along with a group from McCormick, were on a travel seminar to that country in January. More African American women also are finding their way to McCormick to prepare themselves to answer the call to ministry.

“In the past, many people of color, both men and women, didn’t find theological education an option,” said Rev. Johnson. “Some faith traditions didn’t believe a theological education was necessary for leadership, or, for many people, the demands of daily life crowded out a religious education.”

Today, Rev. Johnson noted, McCormick’s student body is diverse in its racial, economic, and denominational make-up, but its students share a similar reason for choosing McCormick.

“What we are finding with all our students is that they want to connect everything that’s happening in the world to their faith and to God,” said Rev. Johnson. “They see the suffering in the world and want to know where God is in it, where they are as followers of Christ, and how their faith is to inform how they engage with today’s issues and make a difference.”

For Blake Collins, a second-year M.Div. student, the major reasons for choosing McCormick were its diversity, the broad ecumenical lens through which it looks at faith, and its commitment to engaging the community and world around it.

“People looking to go to seminary today want to reconcile the messages they are receiving in church with their lived experiences,” said Collins, who served as a Young Adult Volunteer, Presbyterian Mission Agency, PC(USA). “The two have to connect. We are looking at economic inequality, immigration, and white supremacy, and we want to have open conversations about these issues. Theology has to matter…it has to be relevant… it has to lead to actions that can right the wrongs of the Church and the world.”

And, the Church, Collins asserts, has an advantage over other institutions in doing that sweeping, painstaking and power-realigning work.

“There is a natural affirmation of the Church that understands that as individuals and as a community, we are flawed,” said Collins, “but we are also loved and cared for by God, and that love leads us to love and care for our neighbor. As we lean into our most important identity—being children of God—we see that we are not losing anything by bringing greater diversity to the table, but we are gaining, individually and collectively from those who are also formed by the One who gives life. If everyone’s not at the table, if we’re not honestly listening to every voice, we will fall short of the systemic change that’s needed. That’s the good—yet challenging—news I believe McCormick is helping us hear.”