Campus View
News for friends of MTSO
June 2012


2012 graduates honored

MTSO Post-Graduation

The MTSO class of 2012, one of the largest in the school's history, graduated May 19. Bishop Linda Lee, who presides over the Wisconsin Episcopal Area of the United Methodist Church, delivered the commencement address. Full audio of the ceremony is on MTSO's iTunes U page.

Student achievement was honored at Closing Convocation May 8. A list of honorees is here. Graduating senior Joe Hill delivered the baccalaureate sermon, which is available for viewing here. Photos from a sunny graduation day are here.

Congratulations to all of our 2012 graduates.

From The President

Engaged in the wider world

Jay Rundell

Our seminary is a complex web of relationships with myriad objectives, wherein it often seems we are going multiple directions. This issue of Campus View illustrates there is a great deal of congruity and synergy as well.

As you peruse this issue, I trust you'll be struck by the many ways MTSO's students, alumni and faculty seek to understand, serve and connect with communities beyond our campus. For instance, you'll read about a student who has spent her first year at MTSO writing theological commentaries for the excellent State of Formation website, a clearinghouse for interreligious dialogue.

You can listen to a faculty lecture on Christian sensitivity in interreligious relations, and you can read an eye-opening Christian Century article by an MTSO professor on the ways the church might connect with those who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. A May graduate shares his thoughts as he begins a two-year term as the West Ohio Annual Conference's resident pastor at Anderson Hills UMC in Cincinnati, where he hopes to broaden his church's connectional ministries.

We celebrate the ordination and commissioning of many recent graduates, and we note with sadness the passing of Emeritus Professor of Church Administration Harold McSwain.

It goes without saying that we take seriously the academic rigor of our classrooms (including in two sessions this summer) and cherish the bonds that sustain the MTSO family. Yet the stories below remind us that, at its core, this school is a launching pad for Christian engagement in the wider world.

Jay Rundell

Chris Henderson-Johns

West Ohio taps MTSO grad for residency program  

New graduates Chris and Nicole Henderson-Johns

Not long before he was awarded a Master of Divinity degree from MTSO, Chris Henderson-Johns received unexpected news. He learned he was being considered for the West Ohio Conference residency program.

"When I got the phone call kind of out of the blue, I was a bit taken aback," he said. "It's a phenomenal opportunity."

Through the residency program, begun in 2008, West Ohio chooses one recent seminary graduate per year to spend the first two years of post-seminary ministry alongside an experienced United Methodist pastor in a healthy congregation.

The interview process for a prospective resident is thorough, and for Henderson-Johns, it meant a whirlwind day on an already momentous week.

"Because of the timing and how quickly all of this happened, I spent the Tuesday before graduation interviewing," he said. Among other things, he met with the residency selection committee, the West Ohio cabinet and, finally, one-on-one with Bishop Bruce Ough.

Evidently, they were good meetings. Henderson-Johns accepted the bishop's offer to serve Anderson Hills UMC in Cincinnati. His two-year residency begins July 1, with lofty goals for the leader he will become.

"At the end of the two years, we are appointed to a church that is considered a larger congregation within the conference – one that is considered to be generally healthy, but one that is ready to blossom," Henderson-Johns said. "The expectation is that I will go into a church at 28 years old and be able to move a church into their next levels of ministry."

A three-page set of residency goals and benchmarks defines that expectation in detail. Following his residency, Henderson-Johns will become senior pastor of a new church with the goal of taking average attendance beyond one or two "growth barriers" (200 a week, 600, 1,000 etc.) within five years.

Between now and then, he'll work under the mentorship of Anderson Hills Senior Pastor Mark Rowland to achieve goals for personal development and ministry development.

"I will have standard responsibilities, preaching on occasion," Henderson-Johns said. "It looks like my primary responsibility will be connectional ministries – fostering an environment where the church and the community know one another and function well with one another."

At just 26 years old, he brings an uncommon wealth of ministry experience to this residency. In 2006, while still a student at Otterbein University, he began serving Pleasant Chapel UMC. He has since served Madison Mills UMC, Jeffersonville UMC and Grace UMC in Washington Court House. Now he looks forward to the opportunities mentorship will bring.

"My experience has been with churches that have a membership of 100 to 200," he said. "So the first thing this will do is allow me to see what a large church looks like and feels like. Also, I have been serving as the pastor of congregations for 6 1/2 years, so I'm hoping this will be a time not only of learning for me but of spiritual renewal."

He's also hoping that the next two years will bring relative stability for himself and his wife and former MTSO classmate, Nicole. Both newlyweds received their M.Div. degrees May 19. Nicole Henderson-Johns has been appointed to serve Grace UMC in Norwood, near Cincinnati.

"This is actually our third move, and we have not had a one-year anniversary yet," Chris Henderson-Johns said between packing boxes for the move south. "We are living out the true meaning of itinerancy."

Christian Century Article

Mercadante punctures 'spiritual but not religious' myths

Professor Linda Mercadante

Do people become "spiritual but not religious" because they've been grievously wounded by the church? Rarely. Are they unusually self-centered? Not necessarily. Are there opportunities for the church to engage them in theological discussion? Professor Linda Mercadante believes there often are.

Mercadante, who holds the Straker Chair of Historical Theology at MTSO, summarized years of research into so-called "SBNRs" in an article she wrote for the May 30 issue of the Christian Century magazine.

MTSO has reproduced the full text of the article with permission here.

"It's tempting to dismiss SBNRs as salad-bar spiritualists concerned primarily with themselves. But for both demographic and theological reasons it is important to think more deeply about the people who invoke that description," Mercadante writes.

"They represent a profound challenge and an opportunity for religious groups today. Furthermore, from my intensive series of interviews over the past few years with people who regard themselves as SBNR, I've learned that many popular assumptions about this group are off target."

In 2010, Mercadante was named a Henry Luce III Fellow in Theology, which provided sabbatical funding for her SBNR research. She has shared her unique expertise on the topic though lectures and interviews around the country.

Lakeside, the Chautauqua on Lake Erie, has announced that Mercadante will be the Chaplain of the Week for Aug. 5-10. A special MTSO Lakeside lunch is being planned for 12:30 p.m. Aug. 8.

Christina Yost

M.Div. student's columns published in State of Formation

Christina Yost

Not every seminary student would jump at this offer: How would you like to do even more writing? But for Christina Yost, who hadn't yet finished her first semester as an M.Div. student, the opportunity was too tempting to pass up.

Yost was invited to become a contributing scholar to State of Formation, a website that describes itself as "a forum for up-and-coming religious and philosophical thinkers to draw upon the learning that is occurring in their academic and community work." was launched in 2010 by the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, which runs it in partnership with Hebrew College and Andover Newton Theological School and in collaboration with the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions.

Professor John Kampen nominated Yost as a contributing scholar, and her first commentary was published in late 2011. She has written six so far, with headlines ranging from "The War on Whose Religion?" to "So, a Christian Seminary Student Walks into a Mosque…." All are listed on Yost's own State of Formation author page.

"I was excited. I was a little surprised," Yost said of being tapped to join fellow up-and-coming writers from a wide variety of religious traditions. She embraced the chance to write for a broad audience.

"I've always enjoyed school, and I think writing's been a part of it," she said. "It gives you a chance to sit down with ideas that have been bouncing around in your head and wrestle with them, play with them and see where they lead you." The fact Yost plans to specialize in interreligious contexts at MTSO made this side project a perfect fit.

Kampen said Yost has distinguished herself not only in his classroom but in the initiative she took while still an undergraduate at Ohio Wesleyan University.

"I was particularly intrigued by the experience of Christina with the Interfaith Youth Core, the organization that began in Chicago under the leadership of Eboo Patel," Kampen said. "This is viewed as the organization that gave voice and direction to the new interest in interreligious connections among contemporary youth."

Through the Interfaith Youth Core, Yost led a group of OWU students in a visit to a Chicago mosque. "It is very refreshing to see a young seminarian committed to both a profession of ministry within the church and a vigorous engagement with innovative interreligious initiatives," Kampen said.

Yost is a certified candidate for ordination in the Greater New Jersey Conference of the United Methodist Church and serves as a student associate at William Street UMC in Delaware. She left her comfort zone again this spring, when, for an assignment in Professor Lisa Withrow's class, she attended Friday prayer at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin. This time, she wasn't in the company of school friends.

"It was nervous, that walk between the car and the door," she recalled. But her nerves were quickly settled, as she wrote in a State of Formation column:

"As I entered the building, however, my state of being was completely different from the nerves and overwhelming sense of being the 'other' that I had been feeling in the parking lot. The hospitality they shared with me was excellent: warm greetings, helpful guidance, and an eagerness to make me feel welcome, all the things you would imagine great hospitality to be. It put me at ease, and once that happened, I was back in my element."

Yost was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who engaged with that column through online comments and Facebook reposts: "I thought, 'Wow, this is really getting read in a lot of places.' It was a surreal moment."

As she writes for State of Formation – a site she considers "a hidden treasure" – she recalls words of wisdom from Professor Paul Numrich, who teaches interreligious relations: "When you're in an interfaith dialogue, you should speak for your own self and not for the whole community."

"I just hope," she said, "that I'm bringing a different Christian voice."

Faculty Lecture

Numrich shares insights on interreligious relations

Professor Paul Numrich

MTSO and Trinity Lutheran Seminary joined together May 10 to recognize Paul Numrich's status as full professor. Numrich, who holds the Snowden Chair for the Study of Religion and Interreligious Relations at MTSO, presented a faculty lecture on the topic "Christian Sensitivity in Interreligious Relations."

Here is a brief excerpt regarding insight he has gained from Buddhism:

Without revealing where I got this insight, I advise my fellow liturgists to be fully present in Christian worship, to clear their minds of anything other than what they are about to do in leading the congregation in its "work" of worship or liturgy. I have also reminded myself many times that if my calling is to be a minister of Christ to all people and in all circumstances, then I cannot be interrupted by anyone or anything that comes my way.

The student who stops by my office in crisis while I am working on my lesson plans for the next class session is the person in my present moment, not the students who may or may not show up in class later. It's that person in my present moment I am called to minister to. Living in the present moment as a Christian minister – Buddhists have given me some strategies for that.

Audio of Numrich's complete lecture is on MTSO's iTunes U page.

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Harold McSwain, 1925-2012  

Professor Harold McSwain

MTSO mourns the passing of Emeritus Professor of Church Administration Harold McSwain, who died June 17. A memorial service was held June 23 at Epworth UMC in Columbus.

Known as the "Godfather of the cooperative parish ministry movement," Rev. Dr. McSwain was a tireless advocate and educator in the service of rural and small-town ministry. You'll find his complete obituary and a guestbook here.