Integration and reimagination

Beverly Lapp, Ed.D. (Credit: Peter Ringenberg)

Seeking to serve and thrive in a changed world

By Beverly Lapp, Ed.D., vice president and academic dean

A week after Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) made the transition to physical distancing, I attended a webinar for theological school leaders titled Mustering Spirituality and Imagination in these Extraordinary Times. We were encouraged by the three presenters to name the fear we all have at some level as we face COVID-19. Willie Jennings, Ph.D., of Yale Divinity School urged us not to sequester this fear but to use the classroom space to bring our content along as we help students hold together what this crisis is calling forth in us. Nancy Lynne Westfield, Ph.D., of the Wabash Center noted that in Western academia, many of us were de-formed in separating the mind from the spirit. Amy Oden, Ph.D., of Saint Paul School of Theology proposed that the pandemic is hastening the shift away from over-rationalization to more integration of content, skills and formation in theological education.

At AMBS we have been working at this integration by centering our degree programs around three modes of learning: knowing, being and doing. With knowing, we invite students to immerse themselves in theological thinking and deep study of the Bible. With being, students nurture their spiritual and intercultural formation with practices that enable continuing encounters with Jesus and our fellow humans. With doing, students apply their learning to work for God’s reconciling mission in the experiential components of the curriculum.

As we move through the crises facing the world today, we feel the urgency of integrating knowing, being and doing in new ways. How can we use the strengths of the AMBS curriculum in our degree programs and Lifelong Learning offerings to reimagine how to thrive and serve in a world that will never be the same after this pandemic? This reimagining is taking shape in our learning community; students and faculty are adapting, making theological connections between a world in upheaval and our knowing, being and doing.

We each have the opportunity to revisit our commitments and assumptions as we plan for an uncertain future. At AMBS we value personal interactions and embodied experience, and we know there are emotional, mental and physical costs to extended separation. We’ve also learned — through our 20+ years of experience in offering distance learning — that students can achieve academic success and have profound learning experiences when studying online. We hope and plan to gather safely again on campus in August, but we will give ourselves fully to the educational and relational opportunities of our online course formats if the need for physical separation continues past the summer.

This text on AMBS’s website reinforced for me the relevance of what we study at AMBS to new and ongoing local, national and global realities: “As followers of Jesus Christ, we grow as leaders prepared to respond to needs in the world today and tomorrow from a firm grounding in Anabaptist theology that is attuned to global perspectives and contexts — as leaders prepared to share the peace of Jesus Christ, witness to the reconciling power of the Spirit, restore our degraded environment, resolve conflicts, welcome displaced immigrants, nurture relationships of integrity and form communities of shalom.”

My prayer is that we would embrace this calling during this extraordinary time with more assurance than anxiety, more gratitude than despair, and more love than fear.