“My call has never changed: train the church’s leaders. I felt like that was my call when I was a pastor, that was my call during chaplaincy, and it is my call in this place,” Valerie Bridgeman said.
Since arriving at MTSO as a visiting professor in 2014 and being appointed associate professor of homiletics and Hebrew Bible in 2015, Bridgman has lived out that call in a dizzying array of leadership, scholarship and discipleship endeavors. She has been published dozens of times, preached more than 50 sermons from Philadelphia to Denver, and given a multitude of academic lectures over the past four years.
In addition to all of this, Bridgeman was appointed to a three-year term as dean and vice president for academic affairs at the May 2018 Board of Trustees meeting. Her Nov. 2 installation ceremony began a day of events, including a panel discussion and jazz concert.
Bridgeman spent her year as interim dean honing the questions that will frame her tenure.
“The question driving me is: Is our school a prophetic witness in the midst of all kinds of theological contexts?” she said. “The thing that is most fascinating to me is how our commitments across faculty, staff and administration are toward the gospel in relationship to social justice. We do not believe that the gospel of Jesus Christ can be unmoored from what is right in the social realm.
“How do we continue to infuse in the work we do and in the publics we encounter this sense of moral imagination in God’s theological project? How do we join the movements that are God’s theological projects? How do we make people aware? At the end of the day, we are an educational community, so whatever we do around social justice ought to be at its core a learning opportunity for us.”
After receiving a Master of Divinity degree from Austin Presbyterian Seminary, Bridgeman earned a Ph.D. in biblical studies from Baylor University, with a concentration in Hebrew Bible and secondary studies in ethics. At Baylor, she realized she wanted to be a part of an institution that truly valued teaching, not just research. At MTSO, she has found a deep commitment to teaching and preparing students for life beyond classroom walls.
“Our graduates go out into the world and know how to think,” she said. “They don’t just have techniques. They don’t just have tools. They know how to think so that when things change, they can continue to do their good work in the world. I want us to keep honing and strengthen that in our programs.
“My role, besides answering emails and pushing paper, is to keep us oriented as an institution to the idea that God is a part of social justice activities already, and we are joining in that work with a God who’s already there waiting for us.”
Bridgeman’s scholarship and impact are being recognized far beyond the MTSO campus. She was recently named to the publisher Rowman and Littlefield’s Womanist Readings of Scripture advisory board. And over the summer, she was selected as one of 70 delegates from 36 countries to the Carter Center Human Rights Defenders Forum. With this group of international leaders, hosted by President Jimmy Carter, Bridgeman spent four days in July discussing issues from income inequality to the resurgence of authoritarianism to repercussions facing human rights defenders.
Bridgeman was deeply inspired by the discussions at the forum: “Being in a room where you listen to these human rights violations – not just from around the world but also from your own government and country – helps me recommit myself to the work of justice. And it is my deepest hope that I can help to send out emissaries from this school who will put their hands to this work, too.”
Methodist Theological School in Ohio provides theological education and leadership in pursuit of a just, sustainable and generative world. In addition to the Master of Divinity degree, the school offers master’s degrees in counseling, social justice, theological studies and practical theology, along with a Doctor of Ministry degree.
Danny Russell, communications director