Illustration by Lisk Feng
I came to theological education driven by a curiosity about the ways practices and stories shape religious communities across generations. This curiosity kept me motivated not only in my pursuit of advanced degrees in religious and theological studies but eventually a teaching career. It also played a role in forming me as a theological educator, including the ways in which this particular identity informs how I live. This curiosity about the religious communities, their identity, and how they live these commitments in the world also led me to say yes to the invitation to lead as a higher education administrator.
As a theological educator, I gained an understanding of my responsibility to care and tend, when necessary critique and ultimately own my responsibility to help reshape the contours of the religious tradition I claim as home in the hopes of passing on a richer inheritance to the next generation. This sense of responsibility to tradition was a challenging lesson. It revealed the permeability of the boundary I’ve drawn between my professional role as an educator and my personal life as a person of faith. The traditions I once considered as intriguing artifacts for academic scrutiny have alighted my theo-ethical imagination, requiring of me not a dispassionate examination but a decision of whether or not I would be a capable steward of their inheritance.
When the call came to lead Meadville Lombard Theological School into its next chapter, my “yes” was a response to the living tradition that grounds its mission. The Living Tradition, as Unitarian Universalists refer to our chosen faith home, is the religious inheritance that I’ve claimed and that has claimed me in return. As an administrator, I play a role in its stewardship for a new generation.
When the call came my “yes” was a response to the living tradition that grounds our mission.
Those who lead theological schools today face challenges not unlike those that confronted our predecessors. How do we ensure institutional vitality? Can we strengthen the bonds of shared ministries with our communities of accountability? What are the essentials in our theological and ministerial toolkits that our faith leaders need to thrive? What is our responsibility as stewards of traditions to care for the inheritance we’ve received and hold in trust for the next generations? How do we lead with moral clarity and spiritual integrity, warding off the creeping theological malpractice of misplaced pride?
Each generation, institution, and leader is called to face anew such challenges, inspired by the hope that our work of faithfully tending our fields plays a part in enriching the theological soil in which the next generation will take root. As we tend to our gardens, may the rain of grace caress our fields, may hope whisper to our seedlings stories of establishing deep and strong roots for nourishment, may our shoots find courage in facing the weather of change, and may our labor lead to a season of plenty – for our generation and those to come.