Willa Lengyel ’10 M.A.R.
B.A. Saint Olaf College 2008
I came to Yale Divinity School to learn as much as I could of religious ethics as a masters student and intended this to be a fruitful ‘stepping stone’ to doctoral work in the field. And, I am happy to say that these expectations came to fruition—my studies here were rigorous and thorough, and I will begin doctoral work at the University of Chicago this September. However, what I did not foresee from my time at Yale, and what turned out to be the most substantive aspects of my theological education, are three things; the ongoing and multivalent conversations that make up the life of YDS; the faculty’s investment in the development of my own constructive thought; and the faith community present here and the spiritual growth encouraged and supported by this place.
The conversations that took place within the YDS community—from Yale Earth Care Committee discussions to my systematic theology dinner group to late night chats with my fellow divinity student roommate—developed my thought in new and surprising ways, opened up different worlds to me, and forced me to examine, and at times change, my perspective on an entire host of issues, theological and otherwise. Rather than being a school that focuses inward—in on the classroom, in on the academic discipline—the students, faculty, and staff of YDS showed me how theological study is expansive—it expands into lunchtime conversation, home, and church life.
Moreover, what I found in the ethics faculty here was not simply a focus on imparting their knowledge and wisdom but a surprising and wonderful interest in their students’ own theological thought. My conversations and work with Gene Outka, Fred Simmons, and Emilie Townes has been some of the most productive and imaginative work I’ve ever engaged in. I truly believe that this faculty helped me discover my own voice and come to the realization that to do ethics one must think constructively, not simply historically or deconstructively.
Lastly, the community of faith and spiritual support I found at YDS was phenomenal. My worship experience at Marquand Chapel was a faith journey in itself, stretching me to see God in ways and in places I never thought possible. It was a theological education and a spiritual awakening. But even beyond Marquand, the spiritual support among my peers through two hard years showed me in many ways what it means to be the church.
All considered, I believe that Yale Divinity School utterly changed my opinion of what I am doing in the academy. It is no longer ‘academic work’ to be split off from ‘church work’ and ‘social/political work.’ Rather, my work as an ethicist will be tied to the life of the church and the world. Through the conversations, constructive ethical work, and faithful spiritual community found at YDS, I have come to see my call as a call of the Spirit. Tom Troeger’s call to us at commencement worship best expresses what I now see my job as, and what YDS has shown and taught me: Follow the Spirit.