A Reflection from Alyssa Bennett Smith, Central MA(TS) Alum
When I began the MDiv program at Central in 2011, I had ideas. Really big ideas. My husband (who was a year ahead of me in the same program) and I wanted to start an intentional community. We wanted to think creatively about ministry and come up with fresh, new ways of “being the church.” But two years into the program, I had a decision to make. For a great many reasons, I was starting to feel called to switch from the MDiv program to the MA(TS) program. The weight of the decision felt unbearable. I asked for a meeting with Dr. Heather Entrekin, who graciously agreed and listened to me while I poured out my concerns, cried, and worried over whether or not to make the switch. Dr. Entrekin very kindly, calmly, and lovingly looked me in the eye with a smile and said that it probably didn’t matter. She told me that God can use my work no matter which letters come after my name. She gently reminded me that my reason for being there was to be formed and to learn, not to tick a box on my way to a certain career path—that not all ministers are pastors. Her words lifted the weight from my chest and helped give me the clarity I needed to make my decision.
Ultimately, I did switch programs. About a year later, my Central journey took me to Kenya, where I studied with Dan and Sharon Buttry to become a trained Conflict Transformation Trainer. I began reading about and practicing Nonviolent Communication and conflict transformation and mediation. I sought out counseling to get help for my long-untreated anxiety disorder. I began to feel confident in my training, and thanks to my formation at Central I was able to see how it fit into the broader mission of the church.
This January, five years after graduating, I launched . My work has given me opportunities to lead conflict transformation workshops and to teach those around me about the ways that communication intersects with self-awareness, compassion, nonviolence, and grace—both in person and online. In a time when division, fear, anxiety, and anger are increasingly becoming our cultural default, I hope to plant seeds of patience and compassion that will grow into healthier dialogue and stronger relationships. Central is the place where that seed was planted in me, and I am forever grateful to have had a safe space to ask questions, cry, and grow.