Dean's Letter to the Community - August 24, 2021

 

Dean’s Letter to the Community – 8/24/21

August 24, 2021

 

Dear Alumni and Friends of the Theological School,

In times of change and challenge, there is something assuring about the turning of the seasons. As another fall semester begins here in the Forest, there are many things to celebrate and anticipate. Seminary Hall is cautiously coming to life again. The search for the Theological School’s next Dean is actively underway. And many new students and faculty are joining Drew’s learning community.  

Once again, we are welcoming a large incoming class. In July, the first of fifty incoming Doctor of Ministry students filled Seminary Hall with lively collegiality. Nearly seventy Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Theology and Ministry students will begin their courses of study this fall, in physical and virtual classrooms. And six PhD students will engage a revised curriculum that integrates Drew’s signature emphases in Africana, women’s and gender, ecological, and decolonial studies. In the midst of the loss and crisis of the past year, all of these new students embody courage and vision as they pursue their vocations for the transformation of the church and academy in such a time as this.

Hybrid DMin class, summer 2020

Thanks to the dedicated work of the faculty, online learning during the pandemic expanded Drew’s open doors. The incoming class includes students from eleven African and seven Asian countries. Many of last year’s new international students have made their way to Madison, New Jersey. Some new students in the U.S. will complete their degrees remotely, remaining in their contexts for online study and local practical training. Yet this learning network is not born of crisis; it is also what the faculty and staff have been working toward for the past five years. Our new student-centered, integrative, and multimodal curriculum served us well to meet the time and space challenges of the pandemic.  

As the Theological School continues to thrive and pursue its mission to advance justice, peace and love of God, neighbor and the earth, we are looking to the future. In conversation with the Drew community, the national search firm, Isaacson, Miller, has developed a profile to facilitate the search for the Theological School’s next leader. This process will unfold this fall guided by a search committee, chaired by Professor Mark A. Miller, and including representatives from Drew faculty, staff, students, Board of Trustees, and alumni. 

The Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt

I am honored to serve as interim until a permanent dean is named. I am also excited to share that the Rev. Dr. Sofía Betancourt has recently joined the Theological School as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs as I conclude my six years of service in that role. Dr. Betancourt has a PhD from Yale University in Religious Ethics and African American Studies, and is ordained in the Unitarian Universalist Association. Her scholarship and teaching in womanist, Latina feminist and mujerista, and environmental theoethics resonates deeply with Drew’s mission and shared values. A trained and experienced interim, Dr. Betancourt brings a wealth of wisdom to Drew for times of transition. She will serve as associate dean for two years, and we are grateful that she will be at Drew for this season in her career.

Thanks to our longstanding partnership with the Louisville Institute to support the formation of theological educators, we will again have two postdoctoral fellows appointed at Drew this year. We are delighted to welcome Dr. Minjung Noh, who earned her PhD at Temple University. Dr. Noh’s work on Korean American protestant women missionaries in Haiti exemplifies the vibrant transnational conversation now characteristic of Drew classrooms. She will join the faculty as assistant professor of transnational Christianity and gender studies. Dr. Hyemin Na, whose research focuses on the use of digital media in megachurches in the U.S. and Korea, continues as assistant professor of religion, media and culture. She is ordained in the United Methodist Church. Along with Professor Kate Ott, Dr. Na was recently awarded a $15,000 Science for Seminaries seed grant to lead critical discussions on race and technology at Drew in the coming year. 

The transnational profile of the Theological School faculty continues to expand in the spring of 2022 as the Rev. Francisco Peláez-Diaz joins the faculty as an assistant teaching professor in Latinx ministries. Rev. Pelaez-Diaz is completing his PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he is examining the Central American migrant experience in light of a theology of the cross. He has an impressive history in teaching and administration in Mexico, and in ministry and community organizing in the Midwest and in New Jersey. He is ordained in the Presbyterian church of Mexico and the PC/USA. This fall, Rev. Peláez-Diaz will be working with a group of incoming MDiv students as they begin the integrative mentored eportfolio process now characteristic of a Drew ministry degree.

It is hard to believe that when the Theological School faculty, staff, and students gathered themselves and their laptops for the Covid-19 evacuation that it would be eighteen months before many of us returned to working, learning, and worshipping in the Forest. As we do so–with careful attention to the protocols around the Delta variant–we are also connecting with the faith communities we serve. Thanks to a $50,000 grant from the Lilly Foundation, teams of staff and faculty are meeting this month with pastoral and lay leaders of twenty-five churches in the region for a listening project. We want to understand how congregations were impacted by the pandemic, hear their experiences and adaptations, and learn about the new or emerging needs for their ministries and communities. Professor Kenneth Ngwa also continues his vital leadership of the Religion and Global Health Forum, building a network of churches to promote positive health outcomes in marginalized communities.

As the fall unfolds for you, please take time to consider your health and to care for yourself. Pause to pray for the Theological School. Join us for a virtual chapel service on Tuesdays or Thursdays at noon. Make a gift to support a scholarship for a student. Take a moment to send an update about your work, your family, your ministry. 

This fall, like every fall, we return. We are not the same as when we left, but we are grateful for this faithful learning community and hopeful for all that lies ahead.

Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre
Interim Dean for the Theological School
Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity