Dealing Faithfully with Dementia

Introducing the work of Dr. Suzanne McDonald,

Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology

Dr. Suzanne McDonald has been studying and reflecting on the topic of dementia for 20 years. She has developed a two-part class for churches called “Dealing Faithfully with Dementia,” and this semester she began teaching a course for Western’s new Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry program entitled, “Ministry, Aging, and Dementia.”

Dr. McDonald first became interested in this topic in the late ‘90s when she was working for the Red Cross in Australia. Her boss, a retired army colonel, was not a Christian but began asking tough questions about God when his wife’s mind quickly deteriorated from dementia.

“What kind of a God do you believe in that could do this to my wife?” he would ask, or “Why is this happening?” and “Who is she and where has she gone?”
It was very hard to watch and got Suzanne thinking about what it would mean to walk well with someone going through this.

Her colonel friend, Walt, eventually did become a believer in Christ, in no small part because of how Suzanne and others surrounded him and his wife, Pearl, with love during that time. It was such a powerful experience for Suzanne that she went on to complete Clinical Pastoral Education in a dementia ward in England.

Her series, “Dealing Faithfully with Dementia,” is for congregations and pastors who want to be faithful to God and the Gospel, and also faithful to the very difficult realities of the disease, as they walk beside those with dementia and their caregivers.

It is important to give people space to lament and not move too quickly to oh, it’s all ok because of Jesus.

“Dementia can be devastating,” she says, “but we have in the scriptures and in our theology ways of talking about it that acknowledge the pain and also the presence and work of God in the midst of it all.”

Her series for churches looks at Holy Saturday (the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday) as a theological space that mirrors dementia. The disciples did not know on that day that the story would end in Christ’s resurrection.

Those walking the dementia road can say that in Christ all will be well in the end, she explains, but for now there is no cure and in the later stages, there are only occasional glimpses of who the person is.

Dr. McDonald calls these “resurrection moments” when there’s a flash of remembrance.

She recalls a woman who had been married to her husband for 50 years but didn’t recognize him at all. Then one day, he came to see her all dressed up in a suit and wearing a very strong aftershave.

As soon as she smelled it, she sat bolt upright and said, “Harry! Where are you taking me tonight?”

Harry was ecstatic because she hadn’t recognized him in so long. He thought, “I’ve got it. I’ve got the trigger!” The next day he came dressed the same way…but she didn’t recognize him. He couldn’t stay long because he was crying so hard.

“It was a reminder that you can’t manufacture these things,” Dr. McDonald says. “If these resurrection moments come, they are a gift.”

In part two of the series, participants think about issues of personhood, image of God, and how they can walk with people in a pastoral sense. Suzanne emphasizes the importance of not just a person’s mind but their body as well.

She remembers Walt saying toward the end with Pearl, “When I look in her face, I still see the beautiful woman that I married.”

Dr. McDonald suggests two resources she has found helpful: 1) John Swinton’s Dementia: Living in the Memories of God, and 2) Benjamin Mast’s Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel During Alzheimer’s Disease. She also plans to do some writing on the topic herself.

“Know who in the congregation either has dementia or is caring for someone with dementia,” she suggests. “Especially be there to support the family at the various stages and learn better strategies to do that.”

What tends to happen is that when someone gets dementia and it starts to progress, they stop coming to church because they can’t remember names. It’s too awkward and embarrassing. At the same time, people in the congregation get uncomfortable as the disease progresses because they don’t know what to say or how to deal with it.

Dr. McDonald’s passion is to help people learn better ways to faithfully show the love of Christ to those with dementia and to their caregivers. She speaks multiple times per year at churches and is happy to accept invitations. These events are usually open to the public.

Contact Dr. McDonald about speaking at your church. 

May 8, 2017 – Commencement and Alumni Day

Monday, May 8 Schedule:

8:45am – Opening Worship and Senior Blessing for DL and DMin students, friends and family (Mulder Chapel)

11:45am – Registration & Reunion lunches for the Class of 1967 and the Class of 1977 (Semelink Hall)

1:30pm – Alumni Day Forum with Dr. Miroslav Volf, “What Will Save the World? Flourishing in a World We Cannot Save” (Mulder Chapel)

2:45pm – Class of 2017 group photo (steps of Mulder Chapel, outside)

3:00pm – “A Look at Western’s Future” – Hear an update about the seminary’s capital campaign and building project coming soon. (Mulder Chapel)

3:15pm – Commencement Rehearsal (Dimnent Chapel of Hope College)

5:00pm – Alumni/ae Dinner (The Commons). Contact Tamara for reservations at 616-392-8555, x109.

7:30pm – 141st Commencement (Dimnent Chapel of Hope College) with Commencement Speaker Dr. Miroslav Volf. Doors open at 6:45. No tickets necessary.

Commencement is followed by a receiving line on the lawn between Dimnent Chapel and the seminary, and there is a reception in the seminary atrium.

Stories from the Oman Intercultural Immersion

Matt Shults

M.Div. Middler

We were halfway around the world sitting at a conference table listening to stories and concerns that sounded so familiar, it was as if we were sitting at grandma’s kitchen table having similar conversations. I found this to be the case many times on our intercultural immersion trip to Oman. Over and over again we had moments when we realized that we have far more in common with the people of Oman and with Muslim/Arab Culture than differences.

I was blessed to travel to Oman with thirteen other students from Western, along with our professor, Dr. John Brogan. For a majority of our trip we stayed at the Al Amana Centre in Muscat, Oman. The center is in an older area of Muscat known as Mutrah. It was a great neighborhood to call home. It was just a short walk from the corniche, the road that winds along the harbor, which gave us a great view of the Gulf of Oman. We were also just a short stroll from the souq, which is a traditional market filled with many shops.

The Reformed Church in America has had a missionary presence in Oman since the late 1800s. The RCA built hospitals and schools in the Middle East before oil was discovered, and the RCA is still beloved in Oman. The country of Oman presents a unique missionary scenario in that proselytizing is illegal for all religions, including Islam. The Al Amana Centre, led by Acting Director Justin Meyers ‘03 and newly appointed Director Aaro Rytkönen, continues the work of the RCA by trying to bring together religions and cultures to further the common good and create open and peaceful dialogue.

We spent much of our time traveling to different locations throughout Oman, which is a stunningly beautiful country. We hiked in the mountains, visited an ancient village, swam at the Wadi Shab, and even stayed overnight in a Bedouin camp in the desert. We were able to see the national museum, tour an historic fort in Nizwa, and visit two mosques. One of the mosques was built in the 1500s, and the other was the stunning Grand Mosque in Muscat. Oman is an easy place to fall in love with.

Despite all the great places we were able to experience and the unique bits of culture we took part in, it was the Omani people who will remain forever in my memory. It was the hospitality of Shah, who owns a shop in the souq filled with the

In the center, Shah (Nawaz Rafiq) poses with Matt Shults, John Brogan, Jacob Van Steenwyk, and retired RCA missionary Gary North.

most beautiful cashmere scarves you have ever laid eyes on and woven carpets that are stunning works of art. Shah greeted us warmly every time we stepped into his shop, ran to get us chai (sweetened tea), and made sure we were all comfortable. We spent several of our evenings just relaxing in Shah’s shop and processing the day. If any of us wanted to buy from another shop in the souq, he would accompany us to make sure we were getting the best deal possible. Shah could not have been more generous with his own prices. We bought many scarves and other gifts from him, and I would be surprised if he made any profit from us. Shah’s generosity and hospitality with be forever etched in my memory.

Saba was one of the last people we had a chance to meet. She runs an organization that helps young children with mental and physical disabilities in Muscat. She is a native Omani who grew up in Muscat and went to college and graduate school in the United States. She had great perspectives about her faith—and her passion for helping those with disabilities was contagious—but it was her wisdom about the concerns the Omani people have for their quickly changing culture that hit me. It was at this moment that I felt as if I was at my grandmother’s table. I was made more aware that so much of what we desire and fear as humans is the same, no matter if we are from the U.S. or Oman.

An Omani woman dressed in traditional clothes at the Bait al Safa Museum.

The number of people who made an impact on me is far too great to describe here, but I quickly realized on our trip that we have far more in common individually and societally than one could ever imagine. Yes, many of us have different theologies and political views, but when it comes down to it, we celebrate many of the same joys in life and we share many of the same concerns. We want our friends and family to be safe. We want a roof over our heads and clothes on our back. We want our societies to thrive. I learned that we must celebrate the 99% of life that we agree on instead of the 1% where we disagree.

Our current moment in history is full of contention and disagreement. This is especially true when it come to dialogue about Christian/Muslim relations and cultural differences between the U.S. and the Arab world. Our trip to Oman humanized this dialogue for me and made me realize our first instinct in these discussions and conflicts should be to recognize that the “others” we are talking about are human just like us. These humans are children of God just like you and I are. This is a lesson I will never forget. We truly are all the same.

I feel the call of Jesus more strongly than ever to fight against injustice and to join God in the work of reconciliation. Our trip was brief and I am not going to pretend I am an expert in the Muslim faith or in Arab culture, but I will be quick to share the stories of the people we met and the great lessons I learned from them.       —MS

 

Western’s M.Div. students travel to other cultural contexts to experience the diverse character of the church’s witness and mission. These trips present students with problems and opportunities posed by cultural differences, secularism, social fragmentation, religious pluralism, and ecumenism. This year’s trips included Oman, the U.S.-Mexico border, and Israel.

Osterhaven Lecture Series on Theology: March 20-21

Sola Scriptura? Scripture and Tradition”

Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation

Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholic scholars reflect on the Reformation notion of sola scriptura.

Monday March 20 at 3:00 PM in Mulder Chapel
Dr. John L. Thompson
“The Peril of Reading Scripture Alone”
Monday March 20 at 7:00 PM in Mulder Chapel
Dr. Edith M. Humphrey
Prima Scriptura and the Company She Keeps”
Tuesday March 21 at 3:00 PM in Mulder Chapel
Humphrey, Thompson, Keating
Panel Discussion facilitated by Dr. J. Todd Billings
Dr. Edith M. Humphrey
Professor of New Testament Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
The author of numerous articles on the literary and rhetorical study of the Bible, Dr. Humphrey has also written five books on subjects as varied as ancient apocalypses and Trinitarian spirituality.
Gaylen and Susan Byker Professor of Reformed Theology Fuller Seminary
A specialist in the writings of John Calvin, Dr. Thompson has focused especially on how the history of interpretation serves as a resource for the proclamation of the gospel.
Professor of Theology Sacred Heart Major Seminary
Dr. Keating teaches on Scripture, Theology, the Church Fathers, Evangelization, and Ecumenism. He has been involved in student ministry for over 30 years and regularly lectures in the United States and Europe.

Register Now for the 2017 Writer’s Workshop

On May 16-17, Western Theological Seminary and Hope College will co-host a Writer’s Workshop featuring award-winning author Barbara Brown Taylor.

Barbara Brown Taylor is a New York Times best-selling author, professor, and Episcopal priest. Her first memoir, Leaving Church, won a 2006 Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. Her last book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, was featured in TIME magazine. She has served on the faculty of Piedmont College since 1998 as the Butman Professor of Religion & Philosophy and has been a guest lecturer at Emory, Duke, Princeton, and Yale. Taylor and her husband Ed live on a farm in the foothills of the Appalachians, sharing space with wild turkeys, red foxes, white-tailed deer and far too many chickens. –from barbarabrowntaylor.com

Workshop Schedule

Breakout Seminars

Workshop Speakers

Also Included: One-on-one meetings, Open mic, Bookstore

Advanced Writer’s Retreat (separate registration required)

Lodging

Rachel Held Evans will join Barbara Brown Taylor along with many other authors.

Rachel Held EvansRachel Held Evans is a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Faith Unraveled (2010), A Year of Biblical Womanhood (2012), and Searching for Sunday (2015). Hailing from Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925— she writes about faith, doubt and life in the Bible Belt.

Rachel has been featured in The Washington PostThe GuardianChristianity Today, Slate, The Huffington Post, The CNN Belief Blog, and on NPR, The BBC, The Today Show, and The View. She keeps a busy schedule speaking at churches, conferences, and colleges and universities around the country.

A lifelong Alabama Crimson Tide fan, Rachel is married to Dan. Her preferred writing fuel is animal crackers and red wine. –bio from rachelheldevans.com

Read Rachel’s blog HERE.

Other authors holding workshops at the event.

books

Learning_to_Walk_in_the_DarkAltar_in_the_wo BbtanotherwayfiLeaving_Church

“My Job is to Notice”: Connecting church, city and community

The Van Raalte Fellowship is a new partnership between Western Theological Seminary, 3sixty ministries (a community development non-profit), Pillar Church, and All Saints Anglican Church. The two-year fellowship allows students to earn internship credit, participate in a mentored peer group, and worship with Pillar Church and All Saints Anglican Church while helping to connect the church with opportunities for justice in the city of Holland.

Three of this year’s Van Raalte Fellows are first-year seminary students Alisha Riepma, Katie Alley, and Leah Wielenga.

A week in the life of a Van Raalte Fellow involves attending classes at WTS, meeting in a peer group and individually with Rev. Jenna Brandsen ‘15, pastor of formation for mission at Pillar Church, and having lots of conversations with community members and neighbors. At least once a week, the fellows eat at the Community Kitchen at WTS. On Sundays, they work as interns at Pillar Church, and Katie helps with the children’s ministry. They can also attend morning and evening prayers at All Saints Anglican Church throughout the week.

Every other Sunday, the fellows host dinner at Alisha’s house, inviting members of the Holland community to eat with them. Recently they were joined by two Holland police officers and got to hear about their experience in the city. Another evening, they invited a student who lives at the Friendship House to talk about intentional communities at the seminary. Soon they hope to invite a woman who has her MSW and is living in low-income housing doing grassroots social work in Holland.

Their goal is “to live outward-focused lives.” An important focus of the internship is living right in the neighborhood they serve. Each week they walk through the city and pray to have conversations with their neighbors.

“Something has changed within me to expect conversations with people, to seek out those conversations, and to find ways that I can really know my neighbors,” shares Leah.

One of these conversations happened when Leah noticed a neighbor sweeping up a broken bottle on the sidewalk. She stopped to chat and he explained that when underage drinkers don’t want to get caught with an open container, they throw it out of their car. In the past year, three neighborhood dogs had to be put down because of serious infections in their cut paws.

She quickly discovered that her new friend, Ed, was the neighborhood go-to-guy. He pointed out who lived where and shared that he used to make pots of coffee for the police officers and firemen in the area who would come and chat in his driveway. One time, he helped a woman who was being harassed. He already knew the police were looking for a suspect who had harassed other women, so he was able to put her in contact with them to help catch the guy.

“Community development is not about always having big plans and big goals,” explains Leah. “It’s about knowing what matters to people and knowing what people have to offer and care to invest.”

The fellows’ goal is to connect people to their communities and specifically to help the church connect to the city in a real, meaningful way.

“It’s like there are underground cords connecting people already, but they just don’t know they’re there. It’s our job to unearth them,” Leah shares.

Alisha Riepma

Alisha Riepma

Katie Alley

Katie Alley

Leah Wielenga

Leah Wielenga

One way Katie gets to know her neighborhood is by walking everywhere she goes and shopping at the stores closest to her home. That way she makes sure her mind is always focused on who the people are around her.

This internship has caused Katie to form friendships with neighbors like the greeters at her local Meijer store, the workers at Kilwins where she gets a weekly ice cream cone, and her mailman.

“Being in an internship that says, ‘your job is to notice’ has changed my mindset to recognize that these are members of my community who are often overlooked, they are my neighbors, and I benefit from their work, so I want to know them,” she explains.

Alisha has noticed that topics from her classes at WTS spill over into her life as a Van Raalte Fellow. Whether at church or in a conversation at the Community Kitchen, she has “a good theological framework.”

For Katie, the internship has stripped away a lot of preconceived notions about people and has caused her to ask different questions in class.

Because the fellowship is so new, there is a lot of openness and flexibility for the fellows to explore different passions. Katie has developed a passion for one-on-one connections that have led her to pursue chaplaincy. She is working with Jenna to visit shut-ins through Pillar Church. Leah is realizing that it is easy for her to connect with people who are more “rough around the edges.” She hopes to use her passion for drama and improv to plan some improv workshops in the community. Alisha is thinking deeply about what church could look like with a more community-oriented mindset.

Katie recommends the internship for students who feel called but don’t know what they want to do yet, because it allows the chance to converse with lots of different people and be involved in different types of ministry.

“The leadership has been really excellent. I feel like we are learning from people who genuinely care about us, and the city, and the church,” Katie shares.

Above all, the fellows are humbled by the work God is already doing in the city of Holland.

“It’s so easy to think I’m going to bring Jesus into the Community Kitchen, and then I’ve been so surprised and proven wrong that Jesus is already there,” shares Katie. “Every time we sit and eat with some new friends, I think, ‘maybe this person doesn’t know the Lord,’ but then we start having conversations and they know more about the Bible than we do! Or they invite us to church! It’s like a really beautiful un-learning of things, where God keeps showing me where I’ve been wrong the whole time. It’s been exciting and so humbling.”

“It’s not enjoyable in the moment to be wrong,” agrees Alisha,“But later it’s enjoyable to know that God is so much bigger than what I perceive things to be, and He’s at work everywhere and in ways more expansive than I imagine.”

 

 

Check out the Housing page for more info about the Van Raalte Fellowship. 

Doxophilia 2017

March 13-17, 2017

with Worship Artist-in-Residence

Greg Scheer

 

 

Events:

  • Mon-Fri, March 13-17, 9:40-10:00 – Chapel every day
  • Monday, March 13, 3:00pm – Lecture: “Praise & Worship – from the Jesus Movement to Gen X” (in Semelink Hall)
  • Tuesday, March 14, 7:00pm – Big Sing Liturgy-Thing Psalm-Song Sing-Along (in Mulder Chapel)

Western Theological Seminary is pleased to announce an annual worship-renewal event: Doxophilia. Each year we will bring a noted worship expert on to our campus for a week. He/she will be an Artist-in-Residence.

This year we are welcoming Greg Scheer, a widely published composer of worship songs, and the author of The Art of Worship (Baker, 2006), and Essential Worship (Baker, 2016). He will lead chapel each day during the week of March 13-17. He will also offer a lecture on Monday, March 13, in Semelink Hall entitled, “The History of Contemporary Christian Music: From the Jesus Movement to Gen X.”

Perhaps most significantly, he will lead a “Big Sing” on Tuesday night, March 14, at 7:00pm in Mulder Chapel. At this event, we will sing through a number of Greg’s settings of the Psalms — a handful of favorites, and a few very recently composed. All these events are open to the public and free of charge.

 

Celebration of Women in Church Leadership

3rd Annual

Celebration of Women in Church Leadership

Saturday, March 4th, 2017

8:30 am-4:00 pm Western Theological Seminary

This full-day retreat will celebrate, encourage and equip women, creating sacred space for us to connect with each other, our stories and God’s plan for us in authentic​, healing and ​transformative ways. During our time together, we’ll ​identify and honor our ​leadership gifts through interactive plenary sessions, ​Bible study​, ​​small group sharing, ​personal reflection, and prayer. We will also explore how we grow as leaders in beloved community…. community that both empowers and challenges us to live fully into God’s call on our lives. We will leave this day with tangible next steps on how to be co-creators with God and the broader church in the ongoing work of transformation, mission, and leadership.

More information and registration here.  Or in .pdf form.

Our New Day at Western Theological Seminary

sq-daniels-danaBy Dana Daniels ‘16

Associate Director of Development

 

“For capital campaigns, we recommend appointing a campaign manager.” My ears perked up when I heard this advice during a presentation from The Focus Group, the firm selected to provide campaign counsel to WTS.

Throughout my tenure in advancement, I’ve heard repeatedly about the energy a capital campaign generates, so serving as the manager for such an adventure intrigued me. I quickly expressed my interest and have been working in this capacity for the last 18 months.

Most of the work I’ve done has been behind-the-scenes: organizing a feasibility study, assisting with the creation of campaign materials, and serving as the liaison between the seminary and our campaign advisors.

Last May, after multiple revisions to arrive at a building design best suited for the seminary, the Board of Trustees approved the Our New Day capital campaign, and I am eager to share about this ambitious and necessary project.

Western Theological Seminary’s “new day” has been steadily dawning over the last twenty years. Our enrollment is approaching 300 students—more than double what it was in 1996—and is still growing. We have attracted talented faculty members, experienced greater diversity in our student body, and responded to the changing needs of the church with innovative programs and partnerships. In other words, Western is thriving and has a bright future.

Despite this good news, we face challenges. Our present facility, built in 1955, has deferred maintenance that cannot be postponed any longer. Also, to secure a healthy financial future for WTS, our endowment must grow.

This campaign, with two distinct projects, will transform the seminary’s physical plant and increase its endowment resources. The $25 million Our New Day campaign is the largest in the seminary’s history, and we fully recognize that it will not be accomplished without participation from people who care about what we do.

The Building Project—a $15 million goal

The original impetus for considering a building project was the need for a new library. After years of dealing with water problems that damaged both the structure and its contents, we learned that the library building’s issues would make its renovation cost prohibitive. As we imagined other possibilities, a comprehensive project affecting 70% of the seminary building developed. Instead of only replacing a library, what emerged is a plan that includes two areas of new construction in addition to significant renovation to parts of the existing building.new entry

The first area of new construction is located at the front of the seminary. A new and more grand entrance will be constructed providing a well-defined “front door” to WTS. The two-story addition will house administrative offices for several departments and open directly to the reception desk making navigation of the seminary easier and more welcoming for our guests.

Extensive renovation will refresh several classrooms, upgrade the Commons with good lighting, sound systems, and (finally) air conditioning, and replace old windows with ones that have double panes and proper insulation. We will also expand and update the Commons’ kitchen which is used daily to provide meals to the hungry in our community.

interior of new libraryThe second area of new construction is located off the back of the seminary. A revitalized Semelink Hall will become a world-class learning center designed around the way people study and teach today. The learning center will be a welcoming, open space with collaborative settings that facilitate our growing student body and provide space for new ways of learning to come. This project will bring the seminary’s facilities into compliance with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), making WTS accessible to all.

We have secured $10.5 million in pledged commitments toward a cost of $15 million for the new construction and renovations. The Board of Trustees has approved beginning construction when we reach 90% ($13.5 million) in pledges. In the coming months, we hope to secure several more leadership gifts with a goal of breaking ground in the spring of 2017. After the leadership phase is complete, we will welcome wider participation in raising the necessary funds for the building project.

The Endowment Project—a $10 million goal

Although no blueprints exist to generate enthusiasm for the endowment project of the campaign, it is equally important to Western’s future. The $10 million addition to the endowment will allow us to provide more scholarships as we grow our student body, attract top-notch scholars to our faculty, and maintain our existing and new facilities.

We have already secured over $8 million toward our goal to raise $10 million for the endowment. These commitments have come through both cash pledges and planned gifts. Counting planned gifts toward the capital campaign is a unique feature of the endowment project. The campaign provides a great opportunity for donors to think intentionally about including Western Theological Seminary in their estate plans.

Of the $8 million raised for the endowment, more than $6 million represents gifts that will be realized in the future. If you are interested in discussing a planned gift to the campaign, I am eager to visit with you.

As the Our New Day campaign continues, I look forward to sharing progress reports. In the meantime, would you pray for this campaign and the ministry of Western Theological Seminary? We are grateful for the support and encouragement provided by those who care about WTS and her service to Christ’s church.

 

For more information about the campaign:  Contact Dana Daniels at dana@westernsem.edu or 616-392-8555, x155

Building-rendering-back

 

The Past Speaks to the Present

bosma-marcia-sqby Marcia Bosma

Master of Divinity Student, Middler year

This past June, I had the incredible opportunity to participate in Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE). Every year, FASPE selects small groups of medical, business, law, journalism, and seminary students to travel to historical sites in Germany and Poland to learn about the Holocaust through the eyes of the perpetrators. Throughout the program, fellows connect lessons from the past to ethical challenges today.

Our group of twelve seminarians included future Protestant pastors, Catholic priests, and Jewish rabbis. The founders of FASPE recognize the unique dynamics involved in the seminary group, as faith is intricately woven into the understanding of ethics.ethics-discussion

The 12-day fellowship included touring historical sites and engaging in classroom lectures and discussions. We began our trip in Berlin and visited important Holocaust sites such as the Topography of Terror, House of Wannsee, Grunewald Track 17, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

A week later, we flew to Krakow, Poland. We toured the Jewish quarter and the site of the Jewish ghetto during WWII and considered the changing religious landscape of Poland since the Holocaust.

Finally, we traveled to Oswiecim and spent two days touring Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is difficult to describe the experience of being in a place where such unfathomable evil occurred. Our group gave each other a lot of grace to feel and express different emotions both during the tours and in our seminars afterward. It was a humbling honor to walk alongside new Jewish friends as their own history came alive in that place.

Train Tracks into BirkenauA couple of specific lessons from FASPE have been formative for my ministry leadership. First, FASPE gave me the opportunity to build relationships and engage in open dialogue with people of different faiths and religious traditions. Although our core beliefs differed, we discovered how much we have in common. We questioned but respected each other, learned from one another, and discovered beauty and truth in each of our faith traditions. Having to articulate my understanding of Scripture and Reformed beliefs sharpened my own theology and helped me identify areas I’d like to explore further. Because the FASPE interfaith experience was so powerful, our group continues to engage in conversation through round-robin emails.meeting a Holocaust Survivor

FASPE also helped me recognize the importance of clergy prayerfully engaging matters of oppression and injustice. The reasons most German Christians remained silent in the face of growing anti-Semitism are complex, but also disturbingly similar to the reasons Christians do not fight injustice today. As a future pastor, I am called to encourage and equip the church to live out the gospel in everyday life. The gospel we embody should be good news indeed for the marginalized and suffering.

The entire FASPE experience was intense, challenging, and life-changing. Honestly, my faith was shaken at Auschwitz as I wrestled again with questions about human suffering and the sovereignty of God. Yet in the face of such evil, I realized I can choose despair or hope. I came home with a strengthened faith in a God who does and will bring redemption to our broken and sinful world.