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The new academic year: A time of magic, cultural re-enchantment, promise and challenges

By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications

In her address at the 2007-08 Opening Convocation worship service, Professor of Liturgical Studies Teresa Berger described the beginning of the new academic year as a “magical” moment, a time of “cultural re-enchantment” filled with both promise and profound challenges.

Speaking Sept. 4 in Marquand Chapel—equipped over the summer with a new Baroque organ made by Taylor & Booty, one of few such organs in the world—Berger made reference to the magic of Dietrich Bonhoeffers's phrase a “beyond in the midst of life” that she said “lures us into other worlds than those of narrowly defined scientific rationality.”

BTFO students listen to a presntation on the QuadThe longing for a “beyond in the midst of life”—especially strong at a time when the purely secular seems to have lost its explanatory power—can lead to “the magic of real presence, the Divine Presence,” according to Berger, recently arrived at YDS from Duke Divinity School. “What deeper or more potent magic can there be than a vision of redemption and flourishing for the whole cosmos? Than a God who dares to become human, and that on the outermost margins of Empire? What deeper magic than a human life that dares to become bread and wine, for all—than the unfathomable magic of a Holy Spirit Who breathes freely?”

As leitmotif, the magical theme might also have been felt—albeit on a decidedly earthier level—during the four-day Before the Fall Orientation session held for new students Aug. 28-31. There, the magic was that so many presentations, so much information, so many conversations, so many meetings, so many levels of entertainment—on top of two or three worship opportunities daily—were squeezed into so few days.

There was the trip to the New Haven County Cutters baseball game, the campus tours, the Elm Shakespeare Company's presentation of As You Like It at Edgerton Park, the panel on faith formation at YDS, the breakout denominational discussion sessions, the hymn sing, the session on “How to Live at YDS with Young Children,” the panel on being a New Haven citizen, the open houses hosted by YDS research centers, the talk about community and diversity at YDS, the discussion session for second-career students., and much more . . .

Patrick Ward '08 M.Div., one of the two student organizers of BTFO, said, “We try to accomplish a few things during the four days of BTFO. But the most important is helping new students begin to belong here at YDS. It's a chance for a new person to identify some potential mooring posts here before the fall term sends everyone into overdrive.

“Some incoming students say BTFO is overwhelming, but a ‘good overwhelming,'” said Ward, who reported that over 90 percent of the new class attended BTFO.

Nichole Flores '09 M.Div., the other student organizer, said she and Ward “identified various aspects of past BTFO programs where we could try a new and innovative approach while maintaining some of the vibrant BTFO traditions that our community has grown to know and love.”

As for the entering class, there are162 new students, including 18 in the Institute of Sacred Music. They come from near and far, including Canada, Germany, India, Kenya, Korea, Mexico, Poland and the UK. There are five exchange students in the class, three from Westcott House in Cambridge and two from Germany and one undergraduate exploring seminary education as part of a vocational exploration program funded by the Lilly Endowment. There are 69 women and 93 men in the class. Sixty-three are pursuing the M.A.R. degree, 73 the M.Div., 14 the S.T.M., and 12 are enrolled in a non-degree program.

Among the members of the class, in addition to those entering soon after their undergraduate education: the former coordinator of the Democratic National Committee's Faith in Action initiative; a former Silicon Valley IT executive; a retired UN humanitarian emergencies and peacekeeping worker; the founder of the World Youth Alliance, which works with young people and international institutions; a former ballet dancer/TV personality/opera singer/jewelry designer/psychologist; the retired president of a Fortune 100 insurance company; an award-winning documentary film maker. Click here to read three entering student profiles.

Continuing a YDS tradition of familial relationships, entering student Linda Hite is the mother of current student Devan Hite; and first-year student Megan Holding is the daughter-in-law of current student Judith Holding.

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