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From the Director of the Center:

Centering Thoughts - 

Transitions and Hope in the Year Ahead

 

In describing their shared lives, early Christians in Asia Minor could use the word – oikonomia.  Today that word is akin to our expressions on the vibrancy of a household, seeking unity in relationship to one another and to God or the Transcendent.  Recall earliest memories of a family or community gathering, and the sound of shoes scurrying across wooden floors and the pranging sound of a screen door opening and drawing close.  A household can be a loud place, filled with energy.

 

In Christianity, this image and sound of an ecumenical house dates back to the first decades of its earliest expressions of the community.  Christians in 1st Century Asia Minor gathered largely in private homes, which is why the writer of 1 Peter calls these local expressions the “living stones, built into a spiritual house.”  All in all, the household is a place of unity that both provides protection and is a place of welcome growth.

 

For thousands of students over five decades, the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University (STM), including its previous institutional forebears, has been such a house.  Its substance is constructed not of wood and hinge, but from the textures and tactile spiritual compositions of students, staff and faculty who have taken up residence here, and who in one form or another have felt safe to grow in this home.  As an intentionally ecumenical School in theological education and ministerial formation, STM drew from the organizational wisdom of regional ecumenical partners, interreligious and intercultural colleagues in the region and nation, and it did so uniquely aligned with an Ignatian commitment for spiritual discernment within a Jesuit, Catholic University in Seattle.  There is no place like STM in the world for all of its uniqueness, and I am grateful to be an Associate Professor in this home. 

 

Over these years, STM garnered a national and international reputation as one of a handful of intentionally ecumenical schools for theological and ministerial formation in the world, with a clear commitment to a deep unity that first century Christians would have recognized.

 

The spiritual power of a community – its charism, as another word used in religious circles – is never identical with a place.  As the community grows, a home of spiritual welcome will be a residence of inclusion, always drawing from its roots and reaching beyond its current form.  Inclusion does this, so that ecumenical unity necessitates outreach for connection to additional religious traditions and spiritual pathways.  That too is part of the story of STM.

 

Over the past ten years, students, staff, faculty, advisory councils, external stakeholders, and university colleagues, have crossed the threshold of STM.  Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Christian, Bahai, Hindu, Jain, and so much more, have responded to this core question of inclusion in one form or another: what is the home we are becoming, and what will the world need of leaders who arise from this house?

 

Today, due to challenges facing higher education, STM is teaching out its ministerial programs, and the School will close in three years.  The future of theological education and ministerial formation in the region, the commitment to vocation, the desire to envision anew the ways of meeting these needs, will take place of necessity in the region.  The university is very aware that alumni in the region are living daily the spirit of formation that they experienced at the School, and the university is well aware that these inspiring leaders are the legacy of the School and its preceding institutional receptacles. In this way, Seattle University hopes to find new ways to contribute to the future of theological education and ministerial formation in the region that is sustainable and will convene a committee to envision anew what these possibilities can be, in the months ahead.

 

The Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs, currently located within STM, is one intentional opening window of the charism of this community.  And, as its Director, surrounded by the most competent team of Student Affiliates and Staff, I am grateful for the creative efforts going forward as described in part below.  I am also currently seeking additional STM students and alumni to join the Center’s Ecumenical and Interreligious Advisory Council.  Please consult this newsletter and reach out to our Program Coordinator, Linzi Stahlecker at Stahleck@seattleu.edu, if you have interest!

 

The Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs is tasked to explore how spiritual and religious traditions and spiritual pathways contribute to understanding and responding to the world’s most pressing social challenges.  The Center’s charge includes creating curriculum and co-curricular programming that enhances the vitality of theological education and ministerial formation at Seattle University and within the communities that have journeyed so far with STM.  This charge is also aligned to the Seattle University Strategic Directions 2020-2025 for “building within our students the capacity for critical thinking, spiritual discernment, ethical reasoning, artistic appreciation, effective communication and digital competence.” 

 

The Center accomplishes all of its goals through the long-standing guidance of its core Ecumenical and Interreligious Advisory Council of leaders and relationships from around the region, country and world.  I encourage you to view our New Center Website, in order to see and hear about the Center’s work.    

 

This fall is a time of significant growth for the Center.  The Team begins with a slate of new directions, all focused on outcomes and our clear mission around a 13-page Strategic Directive, that was developed with all of the stakeholders in and around STM and Seattle University.  These include:

 

  • A Faculty Fellow Program: The Rev. Dr. Edward Donalson, Director of the STM Doctor of Ministry Program, is the Center’s first Faculty Fellow, with a focus on scholarship, a webinar on the public religious response to the Movement for Black Lives, and the construction of a new course in the area of theologies and rituals of resistance.
  • A Community Fellows Program: Lutheran Bishop Shelley Bryan-Wee from the ELCA in the region, and Dr. Arun Gandhi (the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi) have already started collaborating with the Center this year in areas of public presentation, teaching students, and more.  You will hear about their efforts in the weeks and months ahead on specific webinar opportunities for students and communities in the region.  We are grateful for their presence among us.
  • A Student and Alumni Scholars Table, will be comprised of theological graduate and undergraduate students and alumni, in consideration of two specific themes per year, that are then folded into the curriculum as a learning advantage.
  • A Symposium (Spring and October, 2021) for the Center’s next major theme – on the value of gratitude in sacred texts, and how the religious response of gratitude to God/transcendence is recalibrated through and after societal injustice, structural cruelty, or the calamity of a viral pandemic.
  • Curricular Development: The Center Team is working with faculty across the university in order to create a Canvas Module that highlights the wisdom within their disciplines, including the construction of a new course template for the Center, which we believe will allow for the creation of substantively new kinds of courses at SU.  If you are faculty or staff at SU, and would like the team to highlight your leadership, please be in contact with us at TheCenter@seattleu.edu
  • Emerging Relationships: In recent months, the Center has developed strategic relationships with other Centers and Institutes at SU, and with external agencies such as the United Nations Environment Program Faith4Earth, Church World Service, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and more.  The Center is also creating podcasts in collaboration with the Religica Theolab, interviewing influencers at the axis of religion and society from around the world. 

 

Finally, in our first Newsletter for the Fall Quarter in this mailing, you’ll see our call for Students and Alumni to join the Center Advisory Council, the introduction of Linzi Stahlecker as the Center’s new Program Coordinator, an invitation to review the Center’s new website, the biographies of our new Center Fellows, and finally we encourage you to listen to six podcast interviews on the theme: Wisdom in the University, with Carlos Bello, undergraduate Center Student Affiliate; Julie Prentice, graduate student at STM; Katelyn Mendoza, SU Director of Alumni Engagement; Dr. Shane Martin, SU Provost; Dr. Marilyn Gist, Professor Emerita from Albers School of Business and former Director of the SU Center for Leadership Formation; and Father Stephen Sundborg, S.J., President at Seattle University. 

 

As we move forward into the year, and in the spirit of a charism that guides our shared lives in this community, know that we welcome your thoughts, suggestions, and reflections to us.  You can reach out to me directly at Tricem@seattleu.edu.  I am always pleased to hear from you.

 

With very best regards at the start of the Quarter,

 

 

Michael Reid Trice, PhD
Director
Spehar-Halligan Associate Professor in Constructive Theology and Theological Ethics
School of Theology and Ministry
Seattle University