November 26, 2010

How NOT to Attract Young People

Filed under: Anglicanism,The Episcopal Church,Trinity School for Ministry — William Witt @ 1:51 am

Over at StandFirm, they linked to this article from the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona about “How to Get More Young People in Church.” This is the liberal TEC diocese that I found so attractive that for the six months I lived in Arizona about five years ago, I worshiped in a Lutheran church. (But, of course, I’m not a young person.) Anyway, the article prompted me to think about how one might go about not attracting young people, and it occurred to me that where I teach has figured that one out just about right.

How NOT to attract young people:

1. Build a seminary in a rundown former steel town outside Pittsburgh. This will discourage the hip and trendy.

2. Design a curriculum that is centered around biblical theology and creedal orthodoxy. This will discourage the progressive and relevant.

3. Require every faculty member and incoming seminarian to sign a doctrinal statement affirming the essentials of creedal orthodoxy.  Make sure the statement is detailed enough that it is impossible to fudge. This will discourage the open-minded.

4. Require every incoming seminarian to learn the basics of biblical Hebrew and Greek their very first semester. This will discourage those who hate hard work. (more…)

September 28, 2009

The Wisdom From Above: A Sermon for New Seminarians

Filed under: Sermons,Trinity School for Ministry — William Witt @ 5:26 am

Morning Prayer
Psalm 37
1 Kings 11:1-13
James 3:13-4:12

When I looked at the passage about King Solomon from 1 Kings this morning, I was very tempted to preach a very short sermon with some concrete applications. So, first, for those of you who are men, and who are beginning your studies here at Trinity School for Ministry—if you can manage to get through seminary with no more than one wife, and no more than one god, you’ll be better off in the long run. For the women, if the guy you’re interested in already has 700 wives, he’s probably not that into you.

On a more serious note, there really does seem to be a common theme uniting all three of the passages we’re read from the Daily Office lectionary this morning. All three passages have something to do with Wisdom.

So, beginning with King Solomon. Solomon is an ambiguous figure in the biblical canon. On the one hand, he is associated with Wisdom. At the beginning of Solomon’s reign as King, God appears to him in a dream, and gives Solomon the option to “Ask what I shall give to you.” In response, Solomon asks for an “understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil.” (1 Kings 3:5,9) Then follow several stories in which Solomon’s great wisdom is demonstrated. There is the story of the two women with one dead child and one living one who ask Solomon to decide which of them is the mother of which. There is the story of Solomon building the temple, and the prayer in which Solomon prays: “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or one earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart.” There is the story of the covenant that God makes with Solomon, promising to establish his royal throne forever. There is the story of the Queen of Sheba who visits Solomon and tells him: “Your wisdom and prosperity surpass the report that I heard.” (1 Kings 3-10)

Canonically, Solomon has historically been associated with three Wisdom books in the Old Testament canon – Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes. So Solomon is associated with Wisdom the way that Moses is associated with Law or David with Kingship.

And then there is this morning’s passage, where we are told that Solomon “loved many foreign women,” and had 700 wives, and 300 concubines, that his wives “turned away his heart after other gods,” that he sacrificed to Chemosh and Molech. This is a far cry from the Solomon who prayed at the dedication of the temple, “ there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath.” (1 Kings 8:23) This is very different from the advice we find in Proverbs, where the young man is told to “rejoice in the wife of your youth.” (Proverbs 5:18) So the reading about Solomon raises the question, “What is wisdom?”

In the Psalm and in James, we also find ourselves asking the question, “What is wisdom?” The Psalm gives a practical definition of wisdom: “Trust in the Lord, and do good, dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37: 3-4)

James asks the question right off the bat: “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.” (James 3:13) So, there is a common theme this morning, that of wisdom. What is it? How do we find it? And, in only the few minutes I’m allowed for a sermon this morning, how does that apply to students who are beginning their studies in seminary? (more…)

January 31, 2009

An Unfulfilled Promise

Filed under: Trinity School for Ministry — William Witt @ 7:21 am

I had posted what follows below shortly after having arrived at Trinity School for Ministry.  I was just adjusting to the new life of faculty and was disappointed at how little time this left for blogging.  I have since discovered that there is no letup to the responsibilities of teaching at a seminary.  Some of us have suggested that this has something to do with the Calvinist heritage of the place.  We’re all trying to prove we’re elect by putting in as many hours as we can.

Seriously, in some ways teaching in a seminary is more time consuming than teaching at a university or college,or doing full-time IT support.  There are a lot more responsibilities besides teaching classes.  All the faculty preach in chapel.  All the faculty are advisors to students.  All the faculty participate in the day to day governing of the seminary–from discussing curriculum, to student evaluations, to discussing finances.  We all promote the school in various ways.  We go to conferences. We contribute to the Theological Journal, and other publications. We have responsibilities connected with the current Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion crisis.  We teach not only on campus, but online as well.  It is a lot to do.  But I think we all love it.  And we love the students.  Or we wouldn’t do it.  But it makes blogging difficult.

I decided to add a blog to my website last January after having received complaints that people would like to be able to comment on what I had written. I had hoped that blogging might become a regular discipline. Shortly after my first few posts, however, my life was interrupted first by the unexpected death of my father, and then, by the more happy request to interview for a teaching position at Trinity School for Ministry. Since that interview, the last several months have been consumed with preparing to teach two courses I had never taught before, packing up and saying goodbye to old friends, moving to Ambridge, unpacking, saying hello to new friends, and now, the first few weeks of teaching.

So far TESM has exceeded my wildest expectations. Despite the general craziness that comes with moving to a new place–one of the movers commented while unloading one of my dozens and dozens of boxes of books, “You sure must like to read”–being here has brought me almost unmitigated joy. There are new surprises every day. This morning we heard Bishop Mouneer Anis preach in chapel, and then speak afterwards to the faculty and student body. He is the Primate of the Episcopal Church of Jerusalem and the Middle East. His diocese includes not only Jerusalem, but also Egypt, Ethiopia, Libya, Tunisia, and Algiers. He brought greetings from the Global South Primates and assured us of their support for the “remnant” of faithful Anglicans/Episcopalians in the United States. When I was a child I used to dread the Sundays when the missionaries brought in their slideshows, but Bishop Mouneer visibly moved a packed auditorium as he talked about the work of Anglican Christians in an overwhelmingly Muslim part of the world. I was moved. My jaded cynicism is having to fight hard to stay alive here.

Now that I am a little more settled I’ll try to do more to keep in touch with my readers.

Grace and Peace,


Originally published September 19, 2007

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