The Ministry of Accompanying

The lectionary texts from the Hebrew Bible are featuring the Book of Ruth.  This text of scrappy survival is usually reduced to isolated texts that we employ for wedding ceremonies. The complicated narrative actually fits into a much larger story of God’s inclusion of the outsider in the expansive vision of redemption. The transgressing of religious and ethnic boundaries startles the reader and interrogates our own practices of welcome.

 

Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Ruth and Naomi, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

 

Ruth’s decision to accompany Naomi from Moab back to her kinfolk in Bethlehem, located in Judah, is the centerpiece of the story.  With unshakable resolve, she pledges her future to her mother-in-law: “Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:6b).  When Naomi realized she could not dissuade her, she said no more to her.

 

Heemskerk, Martin van, 1498-1574. Ruth and Naomi in Boaz’ fields, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

 

This kind of accompanying is life giving and keeps one on course.  Women have the capacity to strengthen one another as they make their long journey together.  Over the past decade, I have gathered twice a year with five other women who are senior leaders in theological education.  We “hear one another into speech,” as Nelle Morton put it.  We bring concerns from our schools, our own professional development, and larger issues related to the intersection of church and formation for ministry.

 

 

Our training is varied: law; theology; sociology of religion; psychology of religion; and Scripture.  Variety in our ecclesial traditions—Methodist; Presbyterian; Church of the Brethren; Episcopal; and Baptist—creates rich conversation, and our unique spiritual pathways are mutually instructive.  With transparency and ever growing self-awareness, we walk into the future together.

 

 

Our meeting over the past weekend transpired at Conception Abbey, a Benedictine monastery with close ties to Central.  Over the past 23 years, I have been learning of the rhythms of prayer in this hospitable community.  Genuine in their welcome, the Abbot and monks extended to us their distinctive charism. It was a joy for me to share this spiritual homeplace with these treasured sisters.  The monks have much to teach about how to live in stability, which means a life time of accompaniment.

 

 

On Sunday afternoon each returned to her respective community, refreshed for the intense labor of engaging accrediting teams, personnel matters, board meetings, and funding challenges.  Gathering with these seasoned and imaginative leaders is a gift of grace in my life, and I give thanks for the ways we accompany one another as we give ourselves to this specialized ministry of theological education. I am a better president because of their graceful imprint, with its well-honed wisdom.

Molly T. Marshall

Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity and all creation.

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