Attentiveness: Face to Face - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Face to Face

“Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.” (2 John 1:12)

Two-weeks ago, our full-time faculty and another nine adjunct professors were together for about thirty-one hours. We sat around tables and looked at each other face-to-face. We took walks together, ate meals together, and had snacks together (too many, but very good!). We worshipped, prayed, and sang together. And we laughed and cried together.

It was nothing like a Zoom meeting at all.

We breathed the same air, saw what others took to eat (or refused to eat), and we read reactions in others’ faces, hands, and body movements.

In God’s providential guidance Gordon-Conwell is making a pivot, moving to the city and to a smaller footprint. At the same time, we continue to process lessons from a pandemic. They are related.

We have the opportunity, even the obligation, to re-imagine theological education as hybrid, using technology, in a closer community, while being aware of ongoing issues of depression, isolation, and racism. Thus, the pivot to the city must come with a robust theology of community, embracing what it means to be the Body of Christ in each place.

There should be no “independent studies” in seminary training.[1]

At our faculty retreat, the faculty experienced, albeit briefly, something of Christian community. The picture of our little community of faculty coming together, we believe, must be a foretaste of what we hope the students will experience. And so, the theme for our retreat was simply to reflect on the biblical command, “Beloved, love one another” (1 John 4:7). If we make it a priority to love one another, we will be creating a community where students see and experience something of what it means to be a Christian.

It is clear in both 1 and 2 John that the truth must be defended, and that defense of the truth includes—or even is manifest in—loving one another. In fact, our love for one another is proof that we believe the Truth, and the Truth is that God has come in the flesh as Jesus Christ.

It became very clear to me at our retreat that we must make this a priority in the coming years. Even amid the current disruption of our moving from one place to another, we must navigate this in the context of our being a community: a “Life Together.”[2] So I will be praying that we will grow in our love for one another—face-to-face—even as we grow in our wisdom in defending the truth of God’s incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension.

The latter makes the former possible.

We must keep them together in all we do: truth and love.[3]

[1] There are times students take independent study courses with a professor, but even these are done with a community of two or more studying together.
[2] Guided, very broadly, by the book by this title written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1939 in German and 1954 in English).
[3] Special thanks go to Dr. Ed Keazirian. This was the theme of his words to the community upon his retirement.

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.


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