After a long effort, Andrews University has been confirmed to receive a $5,000,000 grant from the Lilly Endowment Incorporation. This money was given to support the Seminary with pastoral training regarding how to serve the community in an effective way, and this training will mainly come through the new Seminary Center of Community Change. Many are excited regarding this new initiative, including the seminary students. Daniel Fukuda (graduate, MDiv) the Seminary Student Forum (SSF) co-president this year, has shared his excitement about this initiative. He said, “As a student, it is very encouraging to be part of a school that actively encourages, recognizes, and rewards students who get involved with the community. I pray that the new Andrews Center for Community Change will empower more and more students to embrace our identity as world changers in the world community.”
However, the description of the Seminary Center can be somewhat vague and abstract to many of us who are not involved in the seminary or related services. To learn more specifically about how the center will be effective in establishing safer and happier communities, we asked Dr. Jiří Moskala, the dean of the Seminary. You can also learn more about the Lilly Endowment Inc. and the visions regarding the Center for Community Change in this article published by Lake Union Herald.
Hi, Dr. Moskala! First of all, could you please let us know how the endowment is supporting the seminary and their goals?
This endowment is to help the Andrews seminary train pastors regarding how to do the community work—combining faith and responding to the needs of people in the community. The center will have a director, two trainers, and a secretary. The trainers and the director will then visit different places in the United States and maybe even in Canada to initiate urban ministry by training the pastors within those communities. The pastors will learn how to assess the needs within the communities. One might be full of immigrant families, and there can be communities suffering with poverty. So once the problem is identified, the pastors can plan and initiate different approaches to alleviate the problems. This will not only empower the pastors, but the entire church community, since this is not a one-person job, but a collaborative one that needs support from everyone including the conference. Pastors are there to lead.
That sounds ambitious, and it makes a lot of sense why the endowment was needed to initiate this effort! May I know the realm of this project? Is it for the communities within the Lake Union Conference, or is it going much bigger than that?
So the center’s effort includes the North American Division—the entire United States and Canada—although we probably will focus more on the United States. It really is a very big project, and that makes us ask for collaborative support from the divisions, unions, and conferences, but also hospitals like Ketting Health or Advent Health in Florida. We hope that in the process of bringing practical change into people’s lives, those individuals will be drawn to the beauty of God's character, because the ultimate goal is always to become a witness of Christ, and to bring people to live eternally with Him.
So you mentioned hospitals, and from our conversations, I'm pretty sure their role will be very big in this ministry. Are we only collaborating with the big Adventist hospitals that you mentioned earlier, or are we expecting to join the effort with the local hospitals?
We are definitely trying to combine our efforts with others. In fact, many hospitals usually have their unique way of community outreach so we try to provide additional support to their system. For example, we are collaborating with the local Lakeland hospitals with their outreach effort. Our roles would be to provide assistance to what they're already doing, or adding more side projects such as education.
So this community center would not be just for the students who are studying at the seminary right now, but it would include the training of all the pastors who are already ministering.
Exactly, this will be a center for the pastors to help them develop new skills. We want them to be on the field. The center made it possible for us to offer them a new concentration called urban ministry within our Master of Divinity program. This concentration will help our students learn how to work in the communities and in the big cities, and we are also inviting other pastors already working.
Awesome work! I'm also assuming that Andrews Seminary is not the only one who had this goal and received the fund from the Lilly Endowment. Were there any other universities that have received their support, and if so, would we be collaborating with them?
Yes, there were a few more universities, although the application process started out with many more. And although we are open to working with other schools, I think we will work more independently as I think that what we are doing is something very unique. Nonetheless, we would always love to collaborate.
But within the process of reaching out to communities, I believe we would always have to interact with churches or maybe even hospitals that share different faith backgrounds. I was wondering what that interaction would look like?
A very good point. We are not limiting the training to Seventh-day Adventists but pastors and ministers from all denominations and faiths. For example, if we are visiting Benton Harbor, the main pastors there could be serving Presbyterian Church, Baptist Church, or Lutheran Church. Regardless, we would like to help them develop their skills to better serve and lead the community.
What unique training or perspective do you think the Center, established in an SDA institution, can provide to the pastors in different denominations?
I think the uniqueness can be seen in our names. Adventist is unique in that we have our faith rooted in creation. The name Seventh-day brings us back to the creation story that emphasizes the physical creation. So we are not only interested in the spiritual salvation, but also the physical aspect of salvation. We have an understanding that God not only cares about our spirituality, but our physical life. This is why we have the health system and educational system—the quality of life. We are collaborating with God on this plan of salvation, which is not only spiritual, but also physical.
Thank you very much for your response! Is there any last word you would like to remind the student body? Or could you share your perspective regarding what you believe is the unique role theologians and the seminary take in our communities, other than preaching, like what we usually think pastors do?
Well, I think that this program has great potential; it brings not only new awareness of the physical needs of people, but it can be a tool to train numerous pastors. There is a need out there, but it requires training when it comes to knowing how to go, connect, help, and reach out to maybe the mayor of the city or the council, other pastors or leaders in the community.
I think that the role of the pastor is, first of all, to present to people, the beauty of God and make the character of God relevant. Preaching is one way to do so, and it's very important for the pastor to have something unique, apart from the world, not just anything that people pick up from the media or the news. The center is not trying to tell the pastor to stop preaching, but to guide them how to reach the community in a way that their message will be relevant. So it's an effort to practice the practical part of the gospel.
Very often our churches are open only on Sabbath for four or five hours. We want to change that, and make the church a center for outreach, somewhere that is available 24 hours per day, seven days a week. People will recognize that the church would care about their needs. Growth of the church starts from there, making God relevant to the community.
The Student Movement is the official student newspaper of Andrews University. Opinions expressed in the Student Movement are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors, Andrews University or the Seventh-day Adventist church.