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Convocation address cheers for denominationalism

by Louisville Seminary | Feb 17, 2011
By Toya Richards

A bright, crisp February day ushered in a new semester and the next season in the life of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

The spring semester of the 158th academic year at Louisville Seminary was celebrated February 10 with an opening convocation inside the Frank H. and Fannie W. Caldwell Chapel on campus. Students, faculty, staff, alums, neighbors, and friends gathered to bear witness to the Seminary’s continued commitment to nurturing and training men and women as Christian leaders for a variety of ministries in a diverse world.

The Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins, entering his first spring semester as President of Louisville Seminary, welcomed those gathered and stressed that faith formation “does not happen by accident.” It happens when the church puts faith and creativity together, he said.

A seminary of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville Seminary has been diligently weaving together faith and creativity to create a quilt of quality theological education since 1853. The current spring semester will continue that strong tradition and help build even greater capacity for the global church.

Dr. Amy Plantinga Pauw, the Henry P. Mobley Jr. Professor of Doctrinal Theology at Louisville Seminary, spoke specifically to the issue of denominationalism in her convocation address – Two Cheers for Denominationalism!

She emphasized that denominations “can be a living example of Christ’s power made perfect in weakness, a model of what it means for the followers of Jesus Christ to be a humble sign of God’s saving love for the whole world.”

“Denominations are facing financial crises and sharply declining membership, alienation of ordinary members from denominational leadership, growing parochialism in spending, unrelenting conflict over hot button issues,” said Pauw, who joined the Seminary faculty in 1990.

Yet the reality of religious pluralism; the importance of reflecting theologically on the church as it is, rather than on idealized images of what we think the church should be; and an emphasis on what can be received and learned from other Christians all can work to make denominations relevant for their current call, she said.

“Despite their manifest imperfections, the earthen vessels of denomination have been used to conserve precious theological ointment,” Pauw said.

“Now that these church structures have fallen on harder times, denominational Protestants have the opportunity to really live into their self-relativizing understanding of church, their realism about their own imperfections, and their acknowledgement of the need to receive wisdom from others, both inside and outside the church,” she continued.

Louisville Seminary’s spring convocation also was the occasion to recognize new students and employees. Seven new students and three new employees were recognized.

Also honored was the recipient of the Allen T. and Wilma L. Christy Award, given to a student who demonstrates academic excellence in his or her studies while also demonstrating commitment and perseverance in preparation for pastoral ministry. Tyler Gibson, a second-year Master of Divinity Degree student from Bluffton, Ind., received the award.

Dr. Pauw’s address, Two Cheers for Denominationalism!, is available for audio download.

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