Yale Divinity School officially welcomed an incoming class of 150 students to campus during four days of the traditional Before the Fall Orientation (BTFO) Aug. 23-26, followed by Opening Convocation on Aug. 30—a worship service that blended traditional music with Ghanian drumming and featured an address on “Everydayness” by new faculty member Emilie M. Townes.
Lunches, dinners, chapel services, tours of downtown New Haven, and presentations on topics like “God in the Classroom” and “Inclusive Language and Chapel Guidelines” were all a part of BTFO week, which was capped off with a concluding cookout and Fatted Café social event in the Quad.
Jennie Ott, M.Div. '05, a co-chair of BTFO along with Jessica Anschuz, M.Div. ‘'07, offered a warm greeting to new students at the official welcoming on the opening day.
“We're thrilled to have you here this morning,” Ott said, observing that some new students “have traveled the globe to be here.” For others, she noted, Yale is like a backyard. Some students arrived on campus alone, others with spouses, partners or kids. Some “know exactly where (they) are heading;” yet others may be “on a wild ride.”
Once together, though, students will be part of a Yale Divinity family—no matter the differences—who will “live together, grow together, learn from one another and grow as a community,” Ott assured the newcomers.
The entering class of 150 is almost equally divided between men and women. Of the 150, 13 are affiliated with the Institute of Sacred Music program. Sixty-seven M.Div. candidates are in the entering class; 65 in the M.A.R. program; 11 S.T.M.; and seven non-degree students. Additionally, there are four exchange students, two each from Cambridge University and Gettysburg Seminary.
Twenty-five percent of the class is Episcopal, 10 percent Roman Catholic, and about seven percent each from Lutheran, United Church of Christ and United Methodist faith traditions. The largest ethnic minority group represented is African American, about six percent of the class.
New students joined current students, faculty and staff in Marquand Chapel for the Opening Convocation worship service, where Townes, the newly appointed Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology, spoke on “Everydayness,” challenging worshippers to “see the world not only as it is but also as it can be, to move us to new places and turn us into a new people.”
“Live your faith deeply,” said Townes. “Now, I'm not talking about perfection... I'm talking about what we call in Christian ethics the ‘everydayness' of moral acts. It's what we do every day that shapes us and says more about us than those grand moments of righteous indignation and action.”
“The everydayness of listening closely when folk talk or don't talk to hear what they are saying... taking some time, however short or long to refresh ourselves through prayer or meditation... being a presence in peoples' lives... facing heartache and disappointment... facing people who expect us to lead them somewhere or at least point them in the right direction and then walk with them... the everydayness of blending head and heart... getting up and trying one more time to get our living right.”
“It is in this everydayness that we the people are formed.” Townes suggested. “And we the people of faith must live and witness to a justice wrapped in a love that will not let us go and a peace that is simply too ornery to give up on us.
Townes, who came to YDS from Union Theological Seminary, called on worshippers to “yoke challenge and hope in our lives so that justice and peace mean something and are more than rhetorical ruffles and flourishes.”
Such a yoking will not be easy, though, she cautioned: “When we truly live in this deep walking hope, then we must order and shape our lives in ways that are not always predictable, not always safe, rarely conventional, and protest with prophetic fury the sins of a world, and sometimes theological world views, that encourage us to separate our bodies from our spirits, our minds from our hearts, our beliefs from our actions.”
New students tell their stories, in their own words: Excerpts from samplings of brief biographies submitted to YDS by members of the incoming class:
“I am a poet who performs poetry as a ministry... I've backpacked across Europe, living in Central London for a semester and was a missionary to YWAM (Youth with a Mission) in Jamaica. I am a preacher, a teacher, a prophet and a poet. But above all, I love the Lord with all of my heart.”
B.A. Biola University, 1998
“I am from Korea. I want to study social ethics and human rights. Especially, I will concentrate on bioethics and related issues such as euthanasia, human embryo cloning that have been raised by high technology. I want to analyze problems and to find possible solutions with Christian ethical perspective.”
Kyong Jin Ahn
B.A. Korea Baptist Theological University 2002
M.A. Ewha Woman's University 2003
“I am from a Mennonite community in Kansas, but I've most recently been living in West Africa where I worked with Liberian refugee widows. I plan to combine my theological study with a degree in law.”
B.A. Stanford 2002
M.A. Stanford 2003
“I was born in the former Soviet Union. For eight years I lived in the Holy Land. While there, I became interested in early Christianity and had the privilege of conducting research at the Dominican Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française and the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem.”
B.A. Assumption College 2003
“I love art, architecture, old buildings, new places, new ideas, tents, figure skating (let's skate!), photography, and illustrated books. I've written several books, one of them, Churches, changed my life.”
B.A. Brown University 1978
“I was a playwright and playwriting professor when I had a melt-down-plus-calling experience. When I told friends about this they thought I was nuts. I agreed with them. I live with my beloved husband and son and have fallen in love with early/mid-20 th century theologians who struggled with the problem of evil.”
B.A. University of Utah 1982
“Last year I took two courses each semester at YDS—quite an adjustment for my brain after 30+ years out of academe!—and loved it. Previously my husband and I lived in London (where he was U.S. ambassador 1997-2001) and prior to that in South Carolina, Australia and Washington, D.C. where we both worked in the first Clinton administration. Together in 1981 we founded and continue to host Renaissance Weekends—five-day retreats for families of leaders in a wide variety of disciplines. For most of my life I have been involved in various Christian ministries either part-time or full-time.
B.A. Ohio Wesleyan 1971
“I'm trying to keep my day job (forensic psychiatrist) while completing my divinity studies; I'll soon be eligible for both student and senior discounts.”
B.A. Johns Hopkins 1979
M.D. SUNY 1983
“Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia where I worked as a film and television actor, I have come to New Haven with my husband to study Christian symbolism and theology in cinema. I am pursuing a career as a writer (essayist, novelist, screenwriter, and poet) as well as artist, actor and filmmaker.”
B.A. University of British Columbia 2005
“I am an Indian, living in Hong Kong for the last 4 years serving as an executive for ecumenical formation, gender justice and youth empowerment at the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA)... In my spiritual and theological development, I have been influenced by Albert Schweitzer's ‘reverence for life', among others.... After studies, I look forward to academic ministry, with specializations in Ancient Christianity, religions in society, and ecumenical theology.”
Rakesh Peter Dass
B.Comm. Nagpur University 1999
M.Comm. Nagpur University 2001
M.B.A. Indian Institute of Modern Management 2003
Ph.D. American University of London 2004
“I am leaving my associate professor position in the Dance Program at CUNY Hunter College, a position held since 1994, to pursue an M.Div. degree in the Institute of Sacred Music... As a member of the Greater Allen Cathedral of New York, I have been the director of The Allen Liturgical Dance Ministry, a 200-member ministry, for the past 25 years... My desire is to expose liturgical dance to interested people who are called to utilize this creative tool within Christian liturgy and to pastors who are uncertain of its value within the Christian corporate worship experience.”
Kathleen Turner (ISM)
B.F.A. SUNY, Purchase
M.F.A. Sarah Lawrence College