Editor’s Note: The following article about the Vineyard Seminarian Summit held at YDS in mid-June was written by Matt Croasmun ’06 M.A.R., a 2001 graduate of Yale College currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program at Yale. He was the Summit organizer.
Strong YDS representation at Vineyard Seminarian Summit
By Matt Croasmun ’06 M.A.R.
From June 13-17, the Society of Vineyard Scholars and the Elm City Vineyard co-sponsored a weeklong gathering for seminary and divinity school students in the Vineyard movement at the Yale Divinity School. The conference, the Vineyard Seminarian Summit (VSS), was the first of its kind.
The Vineyard is a charismatic denomination with about 1500 churches around the world. The Society of Vineyard Scholars (SVS) is a three-year-old initiative of VineyardUSA. Led by Caleb Maskell ’04 M.Div., currently a graduate student in the Princeton University Department of Religion, and a committed group of Vineyard pastor-scholars, SVS exists to foster a community of theological discourse in the Vineyard movement.
This gathering had been a personal dream of mine ever since we launched SVS a few years ago, and, I suppose, even before that, since I was myself a Vineyard seminarian at YDS in 2003-06. While I learned a great deal from and grew through engagement with the diversity of voices at YDS, I have to admit I always had a twinge of jealousy for the Berkeley students’ community at YDS or even Lutheran students’ prospect of adding on a “Lutheran year” at the end of their time at YDS. Lacking a denominational seminary, Vineyard seminarians attend a wide variety of theological schools, and our movement benefits greatly from this diversity of experience, but there are few contexts for reflection with fellow Vineyard students. The hope was that VSS would provide a context for theological reflection, spiritual formation, and community-building.
Gathered on Sterling Divinity Quadrangle for a week of lectures, worship, prayer, and spiritual formation were 24 students from nine states representing a diverse group of theological institutions, including Drew Theological School, Fuller Theological Seminary, Talbot Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, Regent College (Vancouver), Asbury Theological Seminary, and, of course, Yale Divinity School, YDS participants in the summit included current students Kyle Brooks ’12 M.Div., Conan Yin ’12 M.A.R., and Luke Grote ’12 S.T.M., along with recent alumni Michael Anderson ’09 M.A.R. and Joshua Williams ’11 M.Div. and incoming student Michelle Bauman ’14 M.Div.
This diverse group of students found unity in shared practices of worship and prayer. Each morning in the lecture hall began with Ignatian spiritual exercises facilitated by spiritual director Fran Love. Each evening in the chapel began with hymns and contemporary worship choruses led by David Ruis as we heard from various Vineyard pastors and leaders, including the national director, Bert Waggoner.
Lecturers included YDS’s own Miroslav Volf, who, reflecting on his theological inheritance from his father, spoke about the interrelationship of intellectual and spiritual challenges in the life of the theologian. Volf challenged the students to reflect on the theological resources in the tradition they’ve received, especially as embedded in community practices, noting that “practices are often smarter than ideas.” This became something of a theme for the week; afternoon sessions were devoted to mining typical Vineyard practices like “prayer ministry” for their implicit theological content.
Wednesday morning’s lecture time was shared by theologian Cherith Nordling and her father, bible scholar Gordon Fee. The theme of familial theological inheritance was again highlighted as Nordling and Fee reflected together about vocation as scholar in service of the church. Nordling encouraged students to transgress the barriers between academic disciplines as well as the barrier separating scholar and pastor. Thursday’s lecturer, David Ruis, accepted Nordling’s invitation and delivered an address on courage as a theological virtue that concluded not with Q&A but with prayer. Room SG58 became a worship space. As conference organizer, I began to wonder if I had asked David to speak in the wrong venue. But it quickly became clear that this transgression of the boundaries of the lecture hall and the chapel, the secular and the sacred, was perhaps the essence of what we were after, what the Vineyard has always been about: the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, the in-breaking of God’s gracious activity in history.
The summit was by all measures a success, as students were encouraged and equipped for ministry, for scholarship, and for whatever it is that lies in the middle there. As an aspiring scholar-pastor myself, the presence of that third way, that “radical middle” suspended in the dialectic between rigorous scholarship and compassionate ministry, was perhaps the greatest fruit of the week.
Many thanks to Dean Attridge and all his staff, who provided facilities and support that made the Vineyard Seminarian Summit possible.