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Aug  2015 18
Phillips Seminary Alum Inspires General Assembly Luncheon Attendees

Friends and alums of Phillips Theological Seminary were inspired at the General Assembly by comments made during the seminary luncheon by the Rev. Kelley Becker, MDiv, 2014.

Becker told the crowd of more than 150 people that at Phillips she learned to become a vision-casting leader. 

“People follow a leader because the leader casts a vision of a place they want to go to and they are able to imagine what it would mean for them personally, and for the world, to be there,” she said.

She uses the leadership skills she developed in seminary to help members of the middle to upper-middle class, predominately Euro American congregation she serves to develop relationships with the primarily low socioeconomic, African American neighborhood where the church is located.

“Because of my seminary education, I am able to recognize privilege at work and call it out in ways that people are able to hear, allowing them to engage with people who were previously ‘other.’”

Becker’s full remarks are included below.

Greetings Phillips Seminary Community.  We are gathered here today to share memories of what has been, to look forward to what could be, and to celebrate our common connection---Phillips. For some Phillips alums, today’s seminary education looks much different than what you experienced. We have all heard stories of the Enid campus, Fred Craddock and Eugene Boring. An interesting name for a seminary professor, don’t you think? Recent Phillips graduates, many like me, have spent more time in virtual classrooms and on discussion boards than face to face with professors and peers. The really important things remain the same though. Phillips continues to graduate women and men who are extremely well-equipped for ministerial leadership. I am grateful every single day that I chose Phillips.

In writing my comments for today, I found myself saying “I” a lot which makes me very uncomfortable. I was asked to share about my experience at Phillips and it is my privilege to do so. While I do not pretend that my experience was the same as anyone else’s, I do know that many of my peers would tell similar stories. I hope my story resonates with you.

 At Phillips, I learned how to responsibly interpret the Bible.  I have seen and understand the ways scripture has been, and continues to be, misinterpreted, leaving groups of people outside of God’s grace. The education I received at Phillips has given me the confidence to challenge these exclusive interpretations in the pulpit and through public engagement.

And it takes courage. I learned about that at Phillips too…prophetic courage. Prophetic courage speaks when it is safer to remain silent and acts when it is easier to do nothing. I was listening when Dr. Davison taught about the importance that God places on hospitality and welcome.  I was listening to the discussions we had about just language for both God and human beings. I was listening when Dr. McGarrah Sharp happened to mention that God created a world without borders and fences. I was listening when Brandon Scott presented a picture of a Jesus who was angry…angry about the same things that make me angry.

Yes, I learned all of this and so much more…but I also learned that people won’t necessarily follow a leader just because she knows things. People follow a leader because the leader casts a vision of a place they want to go to and they are able to imagine what it would mean for them personally, and for the world, to be there.  At Phillips I learned how to cast the vision of what could be.  Everyone could have a place in our communities…everyone could belong, could be safe, could have enough. Shalom could be more than something we dream about.  It is certainly what God desires for all of creation. We could grab on to what Walter Brueggemann describes as a narrative of abundance.  Mercy could be balanced with justice and love really could win. This is a vision that people want to be led toward…and I learned that at Phillips.

A couple weeks ago, I responded to a Phillips Facebook post by saying that I reflect back on my seminary education every day. It’s true. I would like to tell you a little bit about the context in which I serve and some of the things that prompt me to reflect often on what I have learned in seminary. First Christian Church in Bloomington IL is a 178 year old congregation located on the west side of town. The west side is home to people with low socio economic status, many of whom are African American. The church membership, on the other hand, is composed of primarily people of middle to upper middle socio economic status most of whom are Euro Americans, none live in the neighborhood in which the church is located. 25 years ago, the church made the decision not to move to the eastside like several other churches did, preferring to stay present in this neighborhood that so badly needs an infusion of hope.

The church was happy they could help and they really felt they were making a difference. They were doing a great job financially supporting many organizations that do good work in the neighborhood. As is common with so many of our congregations, our predominantly white congregation had become really good at identifying what our neighbors needed (without asking them of course). What was missing were relationships with our neighbors. When I realized what was happening, I began to talk to people about white privilege and how it affects the way we see the world, the way we see other people and how we interact with one another. We began to engage the neighborhood face to face…we started talking to our neighbors and some really wonderful things are happening. Because of my seminary education, I am able to recognize privilege at work and call it out in ways that people are able to hear, allowing them to engage with people who were previously the “other”.

I mentioned that our church financially supports a number of local organizations doing work in the neighborhood. Down the street from our church is a non-profit organization that is led by a person who considers herself a pastor. Her social media presence, which is tied to this organization, reflects her fear of any belief system that differs from her own. She has posted anti Muslim, anti Hindu, anti LGBTQ rhetoric over and over. When I see that, I am reminded that I am the product of my experience at Phillips and I am filled with gratitude that I learned how to lead in an environment where diversity of thought was embraced and valued, where I was taught not to fear people who do not share my beliefs, rather I was taught that there is something to learn from everyone. And, side note…we no longer support that organization financially.

I am very involved in the community I live and work in, I am often asked to speak to social justice issues and lead interfaith community events. I enjoy the opportunity to engage in public theology.  For me, it’s not about promoting myself or even promoting the church. It’s about opportunities to model inclusivity. It’s a chance to reveal a different God to people. I am called to present God in ways that reach out way beyond the walls of the church. And that God blesses all marriages, welcomes immigrants, proclaims that black lives matter, seeks justice and reconciliation and loves, loves, loves.

That is the God I encountered at Phillips.

Last, I cannot talk about my seminary experience without saying that while many of us as students didn’t spend as much time in traditional classrooms as students did previously, the relationships we have built are some of the most important relationships in my life. When something goes wrong at the church, they are just a phone call, email or Facebook message away. You see, at Phillips we learned that God created us for community… Community with each other and with God. We learned to show up.

I am thankful for this community that includes so many people who are, as Sharon Watkins put it yesterday, “giving their lives” to share God’s love and hope with this world. I am so proud to be part of this. Thank you.


Browse more posts by: Seminary Relations Staff, Phillips Admin/Staff
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