One of the main ideas of my Introduction to Christianity course is that Christianity is not merely a set of ideas or beliefs. Christianity is lived. Christianity, as any religion, is known not just in what people say but in what they do, in how ideas and beliefs intersect with, shape, and are shaped by the social and material realities of the world.
I am grateful for the opportunity to serve both as a professor and as chaplain at Wesleyan College. This dual role demands that I put into practice what I teach. I have the exciting, profound, and humbling opportunity to help students make connections between what they think and the ways they live. I am able to encourage students to think critically about how they and others make meaning of their lives and also to walk with students as they consider who and how they want to be in the world.
And I learn from the students too. They are creative, passionate, and faithful in so many ways. Students at Wesleyan are not afraid to take the lead. Participants in our Wesleyan Disciples program put their many talents to work in leading worship and serving the community, and the varieties of ways they express themselves and carry out meaningful worship and service truly reflect something of God’s expansive love.
Our Campus Ministry Assistants, who offer interfaith programming and peer counseling in their respective dorms, regularly amaze me with their creative ideas for helping students take time out of their days, reflect, and grow together through caring community. And when tragedies strike, like the recent instances of mass violence in New York and Texas, students are the first to call the community to prayer. Wesleyan students put their faith into practice.
In just my first semester as professor and chaplain at Wesleyan, I have seen so many glimpses that remind me of one of my favorite faithful women of early Christianity. Her name is Thecla (you can read about her in the Acts of Thecla). Learning from the apostle Paul, Thecla becomes devout in her faith to the extent that her fiancé, mother, and the whole community beg her to set aside her convictions because they reject Paul’s teaching. In the end, Thecla claims her spiritual authority, baptizes herself (because no one else will), faces every trial boldly, and brings many to faith by her example.
Students at Wesleyan take the lead. They take seriously the needs of those around them, act out of their convictions, and serve. As the world’s first college chartered to grant degrees to women, Wesleyan has made space for so many women to learn together, grow together, and be empowered to change the world.
It takes all of us working together to create opportunities for such learning and growth, intellectual and spiritual. Thank you to all of you who have given of yourselves and your resources to make Wesleyan what is has been, is, and will be! And if you have the ability to share new opportunities, whether through giving or partnering with us for learning and service, we will be ever grateful to work together to live out our convictions.