Wes Granberg-Michaelson, author of several books including “Future Faith: Ten Challenges for Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century” sits down with Kyle Small to discuss his start in public theology, his latest book, and walking the Camino De Santiago together this summer. For 17 years, Wes served as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, and has long been active in ecumenical initiatives such as the Global Christian Forum and Christian Churches Together. He is a frequent contributor to Sojourners Magazine.
Wes Granberg-Michaelson, author of several books including Future Faith: Ten Challenges for Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century sits down with Kyle Small to discuss his start in public theology, his latest book, and walking the Camino De Santiago together this summer. For 17 years, Wes served as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, and has long been active in ecumenical initiatives such as the Global Christian Forum and Christian Churches Together. He is a frequent contributor to Sojourners Magazine.
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By David Stubbs
Professor of Ethics and Theology
Last year I was given a treasured gift: time off from teaching and administrative work in order to devote myself to research and writing. My main project was writing a book called Temple and Table, and my wife Lynn and I decided the best context for that work would be in Rome.
I contacted the Waldensian Theological Seminary in Rome (If you are an Italian Protestant, you are probably a Waldensian). The dean of the seminary, Fulvio Ferrario, opened the arms of his institution, offered an apartment we could rent, and kindly helped us navigate the mysteries of Italian bureaucracy to secure a visa for our time there.
What a rich context in which to research, write, and live!
Snapshot 1: Typical Research Day
My day would begin with a commute by foot of about 25 minutes. After breakfast, sometimes shared with the students at the Waldensian seminary, I’d walk across the Bernini Bridge of Angels with its view of St. Peter’s Cathedral, past the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain to the “Greg”—the Pontifical Gregorian University. The Gregoriana is a world-renowned center of learning with deep resources. I would often pop in my ear-buds and study Italian on the way, or simply take in the sights and sounds of Rome. Once I arrived, I would check my backpack into a locker, bring my books and computer with me, and find a desk alongside about 200 other people, mostly Roman Catholic men and women from around the world, and get to work.
When lunch time came, some days I would find Johannes, a kind, bearded, grey-robed Austrian monk in his 40s working on his Ph.D., who became my friend. We’d grab lunch at the café and talk about American or Italian politics, Roman Catholic youth ministry in Austria, what it is like to be a monk, the finer points of his work on the theology of Aquinas, or my own project.
Back to work, then home at 5—when Lynn and I would meet with our Italian tutor, Marta, or explore some new church, museum, or Roman ruin before dinner at 9pm. When in Rome…
Snapshot 2: Churches Coming Together
Every few weeks a group called “Churches Together in Rome” would meet. Pastors, priests, and lay leaders from the English-speaking churches of the city—spanning from Pentecostal to Methodist to Roman Catholic—created this group and regularly gather for fellowship and projects. They invited me to join them during the year. During our meetings, we read and talked our way through the ecumenical document, From Conflict to Communion, a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, written jointly by Lutherans and Catholics. On some weekends, I worked side by side in an ecumenical garden with Russell, a Franciscan monk doing important work for the order in Rome, and Dana, an Anglican priest.
What a gift to be part of this group, talking with these brothers and sisters from so many different backgrounds, seeing in one another signs of hope of the healing of the deep wounds of division within Christianity …right there in the epicenter of the Roman Catholic Church.
Snapshot 3: Immersion
I often tell people that as you walk the streets of Rome it is as if 25 centuries of history are constantly whispering to you. It shapes your imagination. It shapes the conversations you have with people. Part of my writing project involves trying to understand more deeply how the early Christian church imagined what was happening as they celebrated the Eucharist together. Physical evidence of that is found in the catacombs surrounding Rome and in the beautiful mosaics that decorate some of the oldest surviving Christian church buildings in the world. Experiencing those places while doing my work was a deeply moving and formative experience.
Writing about the Eucharist while experiencing contemporary Roman culture was also formative. I felt the divisions within Christianity and ecumenical possibilities in a new way, watched from afar the growing divisions within the United States, saw firsthand the refugee crisis that affects Italy more than most countries, watched the papacy of Francis and the growing secularism of Europe unfold at the same time, tasted the beauty of a carefully prepared Roman meal, saw what Protestantism means in a place where it is a minority, and shared meals and conversations with refugees, monks, deans from English universities, ambassadors from Nigeria, ecumenical delegates, and artists in residence. Rome is a global crossroads and was an immensely fertile ground for contemplating what the central meanings of Eucharist have to say to us today.
Rome was a gift, a wonderful place in which to do my work. I have nearly completed my writing project, Temple and Table: The Jewish Roots of the Christian Eucharist (forthcoming from Eerdmans), and I have high hopes that it will be a helpful contribution to the church and academy. But Rome also worked on me. It broadened and deepened my understanding of Christianity and the place of Protestantism in it, of the Eucharist, and of this chaotic but lovely world that God created and continues to hold in his hands.
David Stubbs teaches ethics and theology at Western and is available to share more about Temple and Table in churches and other settings. In his book he identifies five central meanings of the Eucharist and draws bold lines of connection from the Jewish Temple to the contemporary church. He also offers a series for churches, “Walking in the Way: Christian Ethics for Everyday Christians.” Contact him at 616-392-8555, x124.
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.
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.
A 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.
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.