“You’re lucky to be at Mercer, because you’re not given a ceiling on questions you can ask,” author, speaker, and activist Brian McLaren said to a group of current Mercer seminary students at this year’s Mercer Preaching Consultation in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The consultation was a reunion of ministers from 75-year-olds to 22-year-old seminary students in their first year. In the conference room you could see, as the graduating classes got younger, they got more diverse. The six current students attending included three African Americans, three Caucasian, and of the six, there were four women and two men. McAfee School of Theology shows that ministerial teaching is advancing with passion.
These bears love.
“At the preaching consultation, you are surrounded by people passionate about their vocation,” second-year student Harrison Litzell said. “This passion is contagious and injects new life into the work of the preacher as they strive to construct an inspiring message each week for the people of the congregation. Spending these few days around preachers and pastors, I have once again felt community with these people and a desire to join them in this work,” Litzell said.
Pastors were not only eager to ask McLaren questions and scratching out notes during his sessions, but also to be surrounded in fellowship with each other. At meals and before services, you hear genuine conversations of the pastors. “What have you been doing since graduation?” and “How is your congregation doing?”
These bears love.
McLaren made it clear that theological education has to be built from love. “What Christian faith originally was is a way of life by which people become life-long learners and practitioners of the way of Love of Jesus,” McLaren said.
“You must actually encounter God in the experience of love for others. Then if you talk about theology, then if you look at Bible stories, it looks very different than context. Love is the way of life. What would it mean if our systems were designed around love? What would it mean for higher education? For seminary? That might sound idealistic, I just think nothing else makes sense,” McLaren said.
McAfee is growing in diversity. “McAfee is in the city of Atlanta, which is one of the most culturally significant cities in North America, particularly for our African American community, for our LGTBQ community, and for our Hispanic community,” admissions director Nathan Cost said. The diversity on today’s campus is showing encountering God in loving others; a system that is being built around love.
Alumni Rev. Greta Fowler encouraged pastors to pay attention to the brand of Jesus they preach about. “What did Jesus stand for?” Fowler asked. “How did Jesus live? And are we preaching and teaching that? If we’re not, we may need to revisit what we’re doing, because our answers to those questions will be seen in our pulpits and in our churches.” According to Fowler, the brand of Jesus that we should be preaching about is one of giving and selflessness. She quotes Matthew 25:35, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.”
“What drew me to McAfee was the love,” Fowler said. “The love I received from the application process is what drew me to McAfee, because I had applied to other places, but it was the love I saw at McAfee.”
McLaren made it clear that progress won’t be seen behind the pulpit without the realization for necessary change. “For us to sow the seeds of a different future it has not been done and it is still out there,” McLaren said. “When we talk about preaching, I know it takes courage, I know it’s difficult. You have to be as wise as a serpent, meaning you can get through the tiniest little openings, and as innocent as a dove because you have to have a completely pure heart in doing this and a willingness to suffer. But brothers and sisters, we’re in this together.”
We are in this together; pastors, Christians and Mercer bears. Together we learn, together we preach, and together these bears love.