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FROM THE PRESIDENT

Campus transitions

I am pleased to extend springtime greetings to you from the seminary, where in just two months we’ll be sending our 50th class of graduates into the world to serve. Not unlike the liturgical year, the academic year is one of cycles, patterns and rituals, yet the seminary is quite different from year to year.

Each class is unique, and the life of the school is impacted by our students’ varying values and ideas. This is a good thing. We are not a school that teaches a static body of material over and over again. Typically, it is the students who come and go, but this year an alumna-turned-administrator and a beloved longtime professor both are moving on to new but connected forms of service.

Rev. Benita Rollins, MTSO’s director of alumni and church relations since 2007, will become superintendent of the Tuscarawas District of the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church in July. Benita left as a student 30 years ago to serve the church, and now she goes off to do so again. That is what we are about!

Dr. Vergel Lattimore, Beeghly Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling and director of the MAADAM/MACM programs for the past 21 years, will retire June 30. Vergel will return to North Carolina to be closer to family and to serve his denomination at Hood Theological Seminary. He has been an outstanding member of this community and has been essential to the great success of the MACM program.

It is seldom easy to lose colleagues and friends from a community. And yet change is part of what keeps us alive. In Benita and Vergel, we have two people who have built deep relationships on campus as well as in the larger community. They leave behind much that will endure.

Jay Rundell

 

STUDENT REFLECTION

Incredible India:
A life-changing experience 

By Deborah Caulk
M.Div. ’14 

A requirement for a Master of Divinity degree at MTSO is a Cross-Cultural Immersion Experience. As an M.Div. student, I knew I would need to choose one of the cross-cultural trips the school offers periodically.

When I saw “India,” I knew without a doubt which trip I wanted. India – I immediately thought of “Incredible India,” just as their national marketing strategy had planned. India – I’d known of it for years: the land of exotic spices, brilliant silks, tantalizing music, profound spirituality and the Taj Mahal!

Students Nick Federinko, Melissa Zimmerman, Deborah Caulk and Rebecca Hug spell out M-T-S-O on the road to Kodaikanal. Photo by Jennifer Snyder.

Yes, I had heard some people say that southern India had mosquitoes tough enough to strangle a Chihuahua, but I was not going to let a bug or a 16-hour flight or a nasty threat of “Delhi Belly” scare me away from possibly the greatest adventure of my life.

Now that I’m safely back home, I can assure you that DEET works great against mosquitoes, you can learn to get comfortable and maybe even sleep on 16-hour flights, and there are easy ways to prevent “Delhi Belly.” But more important, the greatest adventure of my life turned out to be one of the great turning points in my life as well.

For 15 days in late December and early January, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the Indian culture along with 16 fellow adventuresome MTSO students and our fearless professor, Dr. Tim Van Meter. The trip offered an exhilarating turning point for me, as I had the opportunity to go beyond the cold, black-and-white words in textbooks to experience life in India first-hand. I now was seeing information in action, and I now had details to help form my own opinions about India.

I was privileged to be right in the middle of India’s colors and sounds, to taste the deliciously spiced foods, to walk through the ancient holy places and the busy, exotic streets. I had the priceless opportunity of meeting fellow human beings in the midst of their own daily lives.

Some professors and staff members at the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary invited me into their homes, introduced me to their spouses and children, shared a cup of tea with me, showed me some of their treasured possessions, and taught me how to play their indigenous musical instruments. I walked away from each of these occasions with my mind and heart feeling expanded and enriched. I realized anew that sharing God’s love with all God’s children is a vital element in ministry.

However, the immersion into Indian culture also was quite an unsettling turning point for me. I couldn’t help but compare my typical daily life to the lives of some women I saw every day as we traveled through villages, towns and cities. In 90-degree heat, I saw old women bending over in muddy rice fields all day, young women using sledgehammers to crush piles of rocks, middle-aged women struggling behind ox-powered plows in obstinate clay soil, ancient women sitting along the roadsides hoping someone would buy their carrots, little girls walking miles to school on roads they shared with trucks, buses, motorcycles, rickshaws and cows.

One of the very contented women I met had two tea cups and two plates – no glasses, goblets, tumblers, juice cups or mugs; and definitely no eight-piece sets of holiday china used only in December – just two plain tea cups and two plates. “That’s all we need,” she said.

Another cheerful woman was seemingly happily raising her two teenage daughters in a tiny one-bedroom house. I wondered if maybe my having to tend to all my possessions could be holding me back from being able to drop whatever I’m doing to be available to answer God’s call to help someone at a moment’s notice.

Incredible India! I may have been on the other side of the world, thousands of miles away from everyone I know and love – and during Christmastime. Yet I experienced profound turning points. From the moment I arrived in India, I never felt a sense of loss for what I had left behind.

The people I met were so welcoming, so caring and so happy to have us with them that I felt I lacked nothing. As I learned to make myself at home there, I found my heart and mind were changed forever.

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SERVING THE CHURCH

Casperson helps spark
an innovative UMC venture

Casperson

As the Leadership Table of the United Methodist Church’s Council of Bishops began fleshing out a bold vision for young entrepreneurship, Rev. April Casperson got an email. Casperson, director of admissions for Methodist Theological School in Ohio, was asked to join the design team driving the fledgling effort. The resulting project, dubbed Spark12, took a big step forward Jan. 21 with the launch of its website, Spark12.org.

So, what is it?

“Spark12 is an entry point for those interested in ministry leadership that allows them to discern while serving,” said Casperson, an ordained deacon who earned Master of Divinity and Master of Theological Studies degrees from MTSO. The church hopes to tap the fresh ideas and energy of young people who aren’t yet ordained – or perhaps aren’t choosing a path that leads to ordination.

Later this year, Casperson and her fellow leadership team members will sift the first batch of proposals for innovative ministry from individuals or small groups of 18- to 35-year-olds. Those whose projects are chosen will become Spark12 fellows and awarded funding from a $175,000 pool established by several United Methodist sources.

Fellows will meet with coaches and mentors for an intensive weeklong orientation, after which they’ll prepare to launch their ministry visions over the following 12 weeks. At the end of that time, fellows will again gather in person to present, meet with potential investors as appropriate, and conclude their formal relationship with the program.

Casperson is careful not to suggest what a winning Spark12 project should look like. “We were deliberately vague in order to leave things open,” she said. But she noted that leadership team members have identified a couple of ministries they believe are similar to what the leadership team might want to fund: the Polaris Project, founded by Brown University students to fight human trafficking, and Ambatana Threads, a handmade-clothing business utilizing the skills of refugee women.

Joining Casperson on the Spark12 leadership team are three other young people from around the country, all with day jobs serving the church. The executive director, Rev. DJ del Rosario, is director of young adult ministry discernment and enlistment for the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry; Director of Communications Patrick Scriven is associate director of connectional ministries for the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference; and Director of Community Care Joseph D. Kim is director of children’s rights advocacy for the General Board of Church & Society.

As Spark12’s director of internal operations, Casperson’s role is to take the big ideas of her teammates and figure out how to make them happen.

“DJ is a dreamer. I’m like, ‘We need a spreadsheet,’” Casperson said, laughing.

One of the things the group had to dream up was a name. “Our previous name was Genesis Project,” Casperson said. “But that was far too common. Everything from an Orthodox Jewish outreach organization to Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan has used it.” A brainstorming session with Corhouse, a Seattle branding company, led the group to choose “Spark12,” honoring a number that appears frequently in biblical text, from the 12 apostles to the 12 tribes of Israel to the 12 remaining baskets of food after Jesus fed the multitudes.

Casperson said the process of defining the Spark12 mission gave her a new appreciation for the principles and values she absorbed as an MTSO student.

“The entire team is about developing principled Christian leaders,” she said. “We are also about social justice and transforming the world, and that parallels the way I was shaped and formed at MTSO.”

The synthesis of the team’s vision is apparent in the first words of the group’s mission statement: “Spark12 invests in young entrepreneurs to launch innovative ideas that will transform the world.”

Spark12 is one of several areas beyond MTSO where Casperson puts her education to use. Among other things, she is Design Team co-chair for Exploration 2013, an event for young people considering ordained ministry, and a member of the Campus Ministry Task Force of the West Ohio Annual Conference. She also is pursuing a Ph.D. in higher education administration at Ohio University.

It all makes her grateful for her experiences as an MTSO student: “I would not have had the foundation to do these things and think this way without this education.”

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BEYOND STEWARDSHIP SUNDAY

MTSO and the Lake Institute
offer church-giving seminar

MTSO and the Lake Institute on Faith & Giving are pleased to offer a unique opportunity for church leaders to learn and implement the best faith-based fundraising practices available today.

In partnership with the Lake Institute, MTSO is hosting a three-part seminar, titled “Creating Congregational Cultures of Generosity,” on April 27, June 6 and Sept. 19. The nonprofit Lake Institute, a program of the nationally renowned Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, specializes in congregational fundraising. It provides a safe and neutral environment for religious and philanthropic practitioners, scholars, and the public at large to engage in reflection and conversation about the role of religion’s ultimate taboo topic: money.

This seminar is designed to help pastors and their leadership teams rethink their role in congregational finances, become better stewards of their donors’ gifts, and awaken an ongoing spirit of generosity within their communities. It will provide valuable learning material, training, theological reflection and ongoing plans of action for participants.

Learn more and register here.

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THEOLOGY IN NEW PLACES

What do vampire stories
tell us about God?

Student Jess Peacock on the campusof Florida State University, where he presented a paper in February

It’s safe to say the fictional undead have lived the good life lately. There are the Twilight books and movies, the AMC series The Walking Dead, and even an iPhone app that inspires you to jog faster by pelting your eardrums with hysterical warnings that you’re being chased by zombies. It’s easy to dismiss these pop-culture phenomena as mindless diversions, good for a quick scare or even a laugh. Easy, that is, unless you’ve come across MTSO student Jess Peacock.

Where others see cartoonish flesh eaters and blood suckers, Peacock sees an opening to explore serious theological questions in new venues. While working toward a Master of Divinity degree and laying the groundwork for doctoral study, he is establishing himself around the country as an authority on the intersection of religion and the horror genre.

At the Florida State University Department of Religion’s Graduate Student Symposium in mid-February, Peacock presented a paper titled “Such a Dark Thing: Liberation Theology and the Breakdown of Community in Stephen King’s ’Salem’s Lot.”

“King paints a picture of a community that is oppressed,” Peacock said of the vampire novel. “There’s child abuse, spousal abuse, devious land deals. That’s before anything crazy starts happening. The vampire just basically gives some sort of flesh to that oppression.”

In the struggle of the book’s heroes against an increasing vampire population, Peacock sees what Gustavo Gutiérrez calls a “theology of hope.”

“Ultimately they do battle against oppression, and in the end they don’t necessarily succeed,” he said. “But that’s not the point of liberation theology. The point is working toward the cessation of oppression without necessarily reaching that goal in your lifetime.”

In late March, Peacock will share two papers at the American Academy of Religion’s Midwest Conference in Illinois. Along with the ’Salem’s Lot paper, he will present “OMG! The Role of Otto’s Mysterium Tremendum Within the Traditional Vampire Narrative.” Theologian Rudolph Otto used the term mysterium tremendum – tremendous mystery – to discuss the combination of wonder and terror invoked by a personal encounter with the divine. Peacock will extend it to the reaction to vampires in literature.

He’ll fly to California in April for the Claremont Lincoln University National Student Conference, where he’ll present a third paper, “The Pontypool Effect,” inspired by a horror novel and film in which words become a virus, infecting people who hear them on the radio and inspiring murderous rage.

“What I want to do is examine Muslim-Christian relations and the subtle rhetoric of religious exceptionalism, which almost creates a virus,” Peacock said. “People believe they’re engaging in true interreligious dialogue, but these little words they use create a virus that creates an environment of exceptionalism and results in religious and cultural divisiveness.” He’ll explore whether incidents such as last year’s Koran burning by Florida pastor Terry Jones can be attributed to a real-life Pontypool effect.

Closer to home, Peacock will spend part of his Easter weekend as a panelist at MARCON, a fantasy and science fiction convention in Columbus, where he will be part of a panel that considers the interplay between religion and the horror genre.

Peacock aspires to earn M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees on the way to a college teaching career, where he would like to guide students in the examination of religion and culture: “What I think I can help people do is see where religion is being discussed in culture, maybe when you don’t even know you’re talking about religion.”

In a directed-study paper at MTSO, he explored the theological underpinnings of the vampire genre. “One of the things I discussed was theodicy: why evil exists in the world. What is the relationship between God and evil? The vampire is a modern way of looking at that.”

Peacock’s advisor for the paper was Dr. Tim Van Meter, assistant professor of Christian education and youth ministry.

“When I read Jess’s directed-study paper, I thought he had things there that were publishable,” said Van Meter, who’s thrilled to see Peacock sharing his work with a broader audience. “He’s found some avenues to put that out there in a way that it might be used.”

Even though Peacock generally dislikes traveling, he’s energized by his opportunities this spring to help sci-fi and horror fans consider the theological implications of the genre – and also to help those who think theologically to apply their discipline to the themes of popular literature and media. In his mind, these are obvious pursuits.

“After all,” he said, “on the classic Star Trek, they were always discussing religious issues.”

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COMMENCEMENT

Bishop Linda Lee will
address 2012 graduates

Lee

Bishop Linda Lee, who presides over the Wisconsin Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church, will deliver Methodist Theological School in Ohio’s 2012 commencement address May 19.

Lee assumed leadership of the Wisconsin Area in 2004. In 2000, she became the first African-American woman to be elected bishop in the North Central Jurisdiction, presiding over the Michigan Area for four years.

Born in Cleveland, Lee has served United Methodist congregations in Ohio and Michigan. In the late 1980s, she was assistant to the dean for educational administration at MTSO, focusing on the Master of Arts in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Ministries program. Lee will retire from the episcopacy in September and plans to join Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary as bishop-in-residence in 2013.

“We’re delighted that our graduates and guests will benefit from the wisdom of a former member of our campus community as she looks back on a groundbreaking ministry,” said MTSO President Jay Rundell. “We’re also happy to hear about her new role with our sister seminary. As a school that has been blessed by the contributions of Bishop Judy Craig, we’re well aware of the value a bishop-in-residence brings to theological education.”

The MTSO commencement ceremony begins at 11 a.m. May 19 in the Dickinson Courtyard on the MTSO campus. Guests are welcome, and tickets are not required.

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APRIL 18

Greek Orthodox bishop
and Muslim scholar to speak  

A Greek Orthodox bishop and a Muslim scholar will discuss historical relations between the two faith traditions at the Eighth Annual Lecture on World Religions and Interreligious Dialogue, sponsored by the Theological Consortium of Greater Columbus. The lecture will be held at 7 p.m. April 18 in the Gloria Dei Worship Center on the campus of Trinity Lutheran Seminary, 2199 E. Main St. in Bexley. It is free and open to the public.

Methodist Theological School in Ohio is a member of the Theological Consortium, along with Trinity Lutheran Seminary and Pontifical College Josephinum. The lecture is coordinated by Dr. Paul Numrich, an expert on world religions and interreligious relations and a tenured member of the MTSO and Trinity faculties.

Demetrios and Nizamuddin

The April 18 lecture, “Conversion and Conflict: Reflections by a Greek Orthodox Bishop and Response by a Muslim Scholar,” features Bishop Demetrios of Mokissos and Azam Nizamuddin. They will consider the two faith traditions’ approaches to the notion of conversion – ranging from mutual peaceful tolerance to violent hostility – and will examine how these two traditions may move from the turbulent present into a peaceful future based on the positive contributions of current dialogue.

Bishop Demetrios, born Demetri Kantzavelos, serves as an auxiliary bishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and as Chancellor of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Chicago. He is renowned for his ecumenical and interfaith work, including efforts to improve relations between the Turkish and Greek communities in Chicago, for which he received the Fethullah Gulen Award from the Niagara Foundation, a Turkish Muslim organization. He is a member of the Illinois State Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and a regular contributor of editorials on issues concerning the Greek Orthodox faith and Hellenic culture in local and national media outlets.

Azam Nizamuddin is principal of a law firm in the Chicago area, where he practices business litigation, family law and real estate law. He teaches Introduction to Islamic Law (Sharia) in the School of Law, Loyola University Chicago, as well as courses on Islam and History of Islamic Thought in Loyola’s Department of Theology. Nizamuddin lectures extensively on Islamic theology, law and civilization, and he has provided testimony to the Illinois Commission on Civil Rights regarding the status of the American Muslim community after 9/11.

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MARCH 19 AND 20

MEI speakers explore missional
church in three contexts

With the theme “Missional Church in Many Contexts,” MTSO’s 2012 Mission and Evangelism Institute offers pathways toward becoming a missional congregation in rural, suburban and urban settings. Our three institute speakers are proven leaders who have had breakthroughs in transforming congregations from inward-oriented to mission-focused.

Learn more and register here.

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