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Growing Community Chaplaincy in East Harlem

Chris Lawrence T’27 is earning his DMin to establish a meaningful community presence

March 2024 – Drew Theological School student Chris Lawrence T’27 was seeking a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) program that would help him nurture his community chaplaincy—and provide a path to teaching in the future.

Working in East Harlem, Lawrence is a street pastor where he spends his time community organizing and supporting seniors living in low income housing.

Drew’s Courageous Leadership in a Changing Culture DMin cohort is designed for the engaged and curious leader committed to speaking and leading in the public square in relevant and courageous ways. The program brings together religious leaders and Drew faculty to develop courageous, gospel-inspired responses that are rooted in the Bible, theology, and visions of the community.

“Courageous Leadership is the theme I’m trying to pursue,” said Lawrence. “Exploring what is a meaningful presence in the neighborhood.”

Read on to learn more about Lawrence’s path to Drew and his vision for the future.

Why Drew Theological School?
I’ve had a close friendship with Chris Boesel [Associate Professor of Christian Theology] for many years. Drew was affordable and within my budget. It came together at the right time, I enrolled two weeks before the program started. Drew has proven to be a really good diverse community.

Why a DMin degree?
I was missing the academic world and I was also aware that if I didn’t get my DMin now, I would never get one. I’m keen to self explore particular things that are relevant and practical to my ministry—particularly around power, race, and whiteness in the context of community organizing in a city like New York.

I also want to take a deeper dive into the theology of presence and proximity—how you come alongside people who are not your natural network. In many Christian circles, community chaplaincy is not quite as reputable as being in a church. I’m trying to explore the slow and patient approach.

As someone who has been a pastor all my life, it’s almost like taking a step away from church planting to be more involved in a base community. I wanted to know that I was doing the work, theologically. I have to think it through, I can’t just do it.

I also want to be able to teach. I want to have a chance to engage with students. To do that, I have to get a doctorate.

What are your vocational goals?
I’d like to get into the classroom, perhaps as an adjunct role while continuing to do the community work in East Harlem that isn’t funded.

Tell us about your DMin project
I will explore how you do ministry outside of the walls of the church in a neighborhood like East Harlem, especially when the leadership is by people who have relocated to be here.

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