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Director of supervised ministries leaves YDS for UCC national office

Barbara Blodgett, director of supervised ministries at Yale Divinity School, has resigned her position to take up new responsibilities as minister for vocation and formation at the United Church of Christ’s national headquarters in Cleveland, OH.  At YDS, Blodgett oversaw programs that afford divinity students an opportunity to gain experience in the field, working at the intersection of the academic study and practices of ministry.

During her tenure, Blodgett pioneered a vibrant Leadership in Public Ministry program designed to engage students in creating change in communities, working with community organizations in an exploration of how justice and power can be used in ways that are biblically based and theologically grounded.

“We are all enormously grateful to Barbara for the years of dedicated service she has given to the students of Yale Divinity School and for the leadership she has shown in crafting new forms of supervised ministry experience,” said Dean Harold Attridge in a Dec. 2 message announcing Blodgett’s decision to accept the UCC position.   “We will miss her but fully understand her desire to serve in the leadership of the United Church of Christ in this important post.”

Barbara Blodgett and Dean Harold Attridge at farewell gatheringUnder Blodgett’s guidance, YDS students have undertaken internships in a wide range of institutions, ranging from churches to social service/social change agencies, to schools.  Under the Leadership in Public Ministry program, students have spearheaded activities such as organizing a march in support of undocumented workers threatened with deportation, convening an advocacy group of poor and working class women to fight for legislation to ensure adequate health care, and assisting a group of clergy to lobby their town to buy 20 percent of its energy from “green” sources.

Describing the Leadership in Public Ministry program in the Winter 2006 issue of the YDS alumni magazine, Spectrum, Blodgett said she decided to assess the validity of the frequent assertion that today’s divinity students lack the sense of passion for social justice that characterized previous generations.

“What I found was a commitment to justice no less keen than in my day, remarkable skills of analysis and inquiry, and a strong desire to find a place among the movements and organizations working toward social change,” said Blodgett.  “Students simply needed structure, mentoring, and effective models that they could emulate.”

The Yale Divinity community gathered in the Common Room on Feb. 4 to wish Blodgett farewell.  One of the speakers at the get-together, Noelle Damico of the University of the Poor, who has been a site supervisor in the Supervised Ministries Program, said Blodgett “listens closely and carefully, rendering judgments slowly, always respectful, always looking for new openings” and “serves as a resource for thinking about many different pedagogical approaches, easily shifting from liberationist to post-colonial paradigms, suggesting this or that article or new approach.”

Describing Blodgett’s support for the University of the Poor, a school without walls that brings together the poor and religious institutions for shared action and reflection to end poverty, Damico said, “Barbara quickly became acquainted with our work, but she didn’t assume she understood everything about it.  Instead she did the slow and critical work of getting to know us, over time, through relationship.”

Another speaker, Patrick Speer, a co-instructor with Blodgett in the Leadership in Public Ministry program, said Blodgett aimed the program at “the difficult agitation work of getting people to think about power . . . to have students be involved in the work of social change.”

Blodgett set the bar high for supervisors in the course, as they are required to be able “to reflect with the students theologically” about their work, noted Speer, who is lead organizer of Elm City Congregations Organized, Connecticut’s principal faith-based community organizing coalition.

Blodgett holds a doctorate in ethics and is the author of the recently published book Lives Entrusted: An Ethic of Trust for Ministry (2008) and Constructing the Erotic: Sexual Ethics and Adolescent Girls (2002). Her research interests include ministry ethics, feminist ethics and critical pedagogy. Prior to joining the Divinity School Administration in 1998, she taught in the Religion Department at Oberlin College. Ordained to the United Church of Christ, she formerly served as associate pastor of First Congregational Church (UCC) in Amherst, MA.

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