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Faculty Reflections

A Shared Passion for the Gospel
Reflections from an Episcopal priest teaching in a United Methodist Seminary

I have always chosen to study—and now, to teach—in  institutions that extend beyond my own Episcopal tradition. I did my master’s-level work at Yale Divinity School and my doctorate at Duke, where I now teach and direct the Doctor of Theology program. For me there are great gains in being in a setting that has both strong ties to the United Methodist Church and a lively ecumenical fellowship and conversation. The strong denominational ties mean that the teaching and worship of the Divinity School keep their proper focus: the education and nurture of future pastors and leaders for the church. Most of these students will go on to serve congregations faithfully and well; some of them will become bishops; some will serve in different institutional capacities in the United States and around the world. Some will go on to do doctoral work and become thoughtful, rigorous, and faithful scholars. Rooted in the daily realities of ministry on the ground, our students learn to ask questions that lead to deep scholarship and to read and write in ways that feed back into the life of the church. My experience tells me that without the accountability and opportunity afforded by its strong connection with the Methodist church and tradition, it would be easier for Duke Divinity School to lose its moorings. Thankfully, that is not the case.

I love the fact that I have student pastors in my classes, and I treasure the insights and questions they bring to our discussions. And I love the fact that many of my students will in turn have such a positive impact on the church when they leave here. Of course, this does not describe only Methodist students, and I am glad to be in a divinity school that has so many different denominations represented in my classes and in our worship: Baptist, Episcopalian, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian, to name a few.

And that brings me to the importance of the ecumenical fellowship and conversation I experience here among faculty colleagues and students alike. Conversation with fellow Christians who think differently is an invaluable experience. It sharpens our thinking about why we believe and think the way we do and what makes us distinctive. But it also highlights the importance of the common faith that we share. Above all, in my view the most positive characteristic of faculty and students at Duke Divinity School—across all denominational lines—is a passion for the gospel. Students who are engaged in active ministry remind us why our scholarship matters.

I have experienced this shared passion for the gospel vividly in the international initiatives of the Divinity School. Two examples in particular come to mind. Twice I have been privileged to travel in Peru with students and other faculty, where we worked with clergy and lay people in the Methodist Church in Peru. Also I have been privileged to travel to South Sudan through the Visiting Teachers Initiative, in order to work  with the Episcopal Church of Sudan. Both Methodist and Episcopal faculty at Duke Divinity School are involved in building ties with churches in South Sudan, and in the past we have sent Baptist, Lutheran, Nazarene, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Methodist students to teach and serve in short-term ministries. God willing, we will do so again.

The motto of the Anglican-Episcopal House of Studies here at Duke Divinity School is “Roots Down—Walls Down.” That strikes me as an apt image for the best of Duke Divinity School, which is rooted in the Methodist tradition and yet generous in its welcome of the wonderful diversity of Christian fellowship. We have roots down in the riches of Christian Scripture; the communion of Christians across time and around the globe; the complex, glorious, and terrible history of the church; and the resources of Christian theology. And we practice “walls down” in the call to fellowship and learn with Christians of other traditions, coming together to witness and serve in local congregational and community ministries as well as in international field placements and Divinity School initiatives.