Representatives of General Seminary were among the supporters of The Wild Goose Festival, held annually in the North Carolina mountains. Formed in 2010, the Wild Goose Festival is “a four-day spirit, justice, music and arts festival.” This year’s festival included many public leaders of progressive Christianity including William Barber II, Barbara Brown Taylor, Nadia Bolz-Webber, and Marianne Williamson. Despite storms and rain connected to Hurricane Barry in the gulf, 4,000 people attended the festival this year.
For the second year in a row, a healthy summer downpour showered the Close until the festivities of the Garden Party began. But the rain did little to dampen the merriment of the occasion. Neighbors and friends of General Seminary sloshed through puddles on 21 Street in their festive summer attire to come together in fellowship. And upon arrival, they were met with hospitality and a lively jazz trio that kept the pace of the celebration.
The Rev. Dr. Matthew Jacobson, Class of 2017, will join the staff of General as Assistant Director of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd beginning Michaelmas term 2019. Jacobson will be responsible for managing day-to-day operations as well as working with students to improve their chapel skills. He will also be part of the team of priests that serves at the altar in chapel.
Jacobson will also continue as an Assisting Priest at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, NYC, where he has been serving since graduation. Before the call to ordained ministry he earned a BA in biology at Swathmore College and an MD at the Stony Brook School of Medicine. In addition to his background in Medicine, Jacobson has experience in hospital chaplaincy. He has worked at the Rockefeller University, the New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Cornell, and been a Chaplain Resident at Mt. Sinai Hospital.
The Rev. Jorge Juan Rivera-Torres, Class of 1962, received the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Award during the Alumni Memorial Eucharist, May 14, 2019, a highlight of the annual Alumni Gathering. As historian at the Diocese of Puerto Rico, Padre Jorge’s work has kept Anglican/Episcopal history alive, and provided an example of a bridge between the Puerto Rican identity and the Episcopal Church’s ethos and tradition.
Padre Jorge was introduced by the Rev. John Shirley, Class of 2017, who had nominated him for the award. Rivera-Torres’ work and reputation had left a deep impression on Shirley while he was working in the Diocese of Puerto Rico in 2016. He emphasized that as the contemporary Episcopal Church faces the challenge of embracing and meeting the needs of the various Latino/Latina/Latinx communities that feel called into our fold, we can look to the work and writings of Padre Rivera-Torres for an example of how a once predominantly white and Anglo religious tradition adapted itself to a completely different culture.
Rivera-Torres also preached at the Memorial Eucharist, emphasizing the timeless and transcendent value of knowing the concept of Resurrection in better identifying Jesus’ presence among us today. He noted the creative impulse of the Resurrection as a motivating force delivering God’s liberating strength to each one of us today. Read the full text of his sermon here.
The Memorial Eucharist is a time of remembrance and for lifting up in prayer those alumni whose deaths have been reported to the Seminary over the past year. The Necrology was read by Community Council President Thomas Szczerba, Class of 2020. Download a copy of the 2018-2019 Necrology.
At a reception following, Padre Jorge reminisced and answered questions about his years of work with Hispanic communities across the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. He was introduced by the Rev. Dr. Carla Roland Guzman, our affiliate professor of Church History., who glowingly acknowledged his profound support of her own discernment process as a young postulant.
Later in the day, alumni led workshops looked at the challenges of Hispanic ministry and the potential for growth. The Rev. Miguel Hernandez ’13 shared tools and techniques he is using in the Diocese of Newark. The Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija ’14, shared experiments he is developing as Director of the TryTank (a joint venture between General and VTS) to aid and inspire Latinx outreach.
Almost 12 years ago I purchased a copy of Rowan Williams’s On Christian Theology. I can still remember reading the chapter ‘Between the Cherubim,’ in which Williams compares the empty tomb in John’s Gospel with the empty mercy seat in the temple. Something about these two images of God’s presence in the face of divine absence deeply resonated with me.
Many of my hopes are being realized now. When I began work on this topic during my doctoral studies (in the early 2000’s), there were very few published books that engaged the topic of children in the Bible. Slowly resources began to emerge, but over the past ten years publications have proliferated at an unprecedented rate.
The Sunday following All Saints was an occasion for a special lesson in a parish where I was recently serving in Manhattan. The reading for that day was John 11:32-44, the story of Jesus raising Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus from the dead. The older children read the passage out loud while the younger children listened. I had questions about how that passage related to the lesson on saints that I had prepared that day, but kept silent about them.
Studying theology is one of the great joys and challenges of being in seminary. When will I have the time to engage the great theologians again at this level? Once I’m in a parish (good Lord willing), how will I be able to carve out the time to read Tanner, Coakley, Farrer, and…Williams? And, if I do find the time, how will I struggle through difficult concepts and challenging ideas without sitting in a classroom with my peers and faculty? With these thoughts in mind, I was hugely comforted when Rowan Williams stated during the Paddock Lectures on February 11th that Thomas Merton, Karl Barth, and Austin Farrer helped keep him sane during his early years of learning theology.
An Update from the TryTank
The joint venture between General and VTS, the TryTank*, is now off the ground. What a better time to present an update on some of the work. (*As a reminder, the TryTank is an experimental lab for church growth and innovation.)
By the Numbers
As of the end of the first quarter, the TryTank has 16 experiments in different stages: 4 are in active mode, meaning that they are operating and we are gathering data to gauge the success or failure of the individual experiment; the remaining 12 experiments are in the development phase to launch at different times. We anticipate that those experiments will go live in April (3 of them), May (5), June (1), September (2), and one in January of 2020. With all of the announced experiments, we anticipate working with some 180 congregations across the country. You can see the full list of experiments on our website (www.TryTank.org), and you can see where we are on any of them each week by subscribing to our newsletter on the same site. Every Monday you'll get an insider's view of our work.
As the director of the TryTank, people will often ask me the same questions: how can my church participate in an experiment? and what is the hardest part of an experiment? Let's look at both.
Let's begin with the latter: what has been the hardest part. It has not been, as perhaps my nightmares told me, that we'd have active opposition to our ideas. On the contrary, people have been very welcoming of a new "R&D Department" for the church. True, our sphere of influence is small. Those who get our newsletter now are the "early adaptors." They probably have already been doing experiments on their own and are excited by our work.
What actually has been hard is finding experiment partners. Not every experiment is the right fit for every location. But even when some show interest, typically only those churches with multiple clergy members have been able to sign up to participate. Church diversity is essential in this work. We are committed to trying every experiment in at least two settings so that we can see the differences that the context have on the outcome. And we want the experiments to be relevant to small and more resourced churches.
This leads right into the "how can we participate question." That's easy, just do the contemporary equivalent of raising your hand, sign up. For each experiment, we always announce in the newsletter that we are looking for partners. When we are looking for many, we'll open up a simple online registration form. When we are looking for just a couple, all we ask is that the person hit "reply" and announce their interest. It's that simple.
How you can help
Our wisdom as a TryTank only grows by the more people and congregations who are involved, follow our work, and provide honest feedback. This means we need you to join our efforts. Get our newsletter. Follow the experiments. When the newsletter poses a question you know something about, hit reply and chime in. Share it with others and get them to sign up as well.
So, will you join us in this work?
The Rev. Lorenzo Lebrija is the Director of the TryTank, an Experimental Lab for church growth and innovation
The Chapel of the Good Shepherd was packed with dignitaries, faculty, the Board of Trustees, current seminarians, alumni and friends. The 2019 Paddock lectures were concluding not only by conferring Honorary Doctorates to former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams and our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry. Anticipation was building to witness a sermon by Curry, whose preaching has made him beloved to a worldwide audience.