Reports from the field: PLT summer interns to share theological reflections on service

On Wednesday, October 21, the PLT summer interns will share reflections on their summers of service and learning. The event will begin at 7 p.m. at Common Grounds located at Rugby Rd. and Gordon Ave. in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Caitlin MontgomeryCaitlin Montgomery is a fourth-year religious studies and speech-language pathology student with a passion for helping children with special needs. This summer, Caitlin interned at the Virginia Institute of Autism here in Charlottesville. Throughout the summer, her reading, writing, conversation, and reflection centered on questions of theological anthropology: what does it mean to be human, to bear the image of God? In her blog, Caitlin explored the consequences of ableism, the responsibilities of churches to people with disabilities, and the concept of limitation–others’ and her own.

Rachel PrestipinoRachel Prestipino is a fourth-year student majoring in religious studies and global development studies.  She spent her summer serving women in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco who have experienced violence and exploitation. Rachel reflected and wrote on notions of human dignity and the extent to which various theological traditions affirm or threaten dignity, especially the dignity of women and transgender persons. Rachel also worked hard at self-examination, asking, “If someone read my autobiography 100 years from now, which of my opinions would seem incredibly shortsighted and ignorant to her?”

Melina RapazziniMelina Rapazzini is a fourth-year student majoring in religious studies and nursing. Melina spent the summer in Oakland, California, working with New Hope Covenant Church to develop a reading, art, and gardening program for inner city refugee children. Melina had the great privilege of learning from the children she worked with, and her blog posts often reflected these lessons: our responsibility to work for the flourishing of creation, the gift of hospitality, the art of listening, and how difficult it can be, sometimes, to accept love.

Join us on October 21 to hear more from the interns as they share stories and answer questions. Light refreshments will be provided, the public is invited, and admission is free. Please contact us with any questions.

Learn more about the internship program here. Read the intern blog here. Visit the Facebook event to RSVP here.

For more event details and up-to-date event listings please click here to visit the PLT Events page. We also post updates online using #PLTevents. To get these updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology.


Upcoming Project Event — “Theology and California: A Conversation with Jason Sexton” on September 24th at 3:30pm

jason.sextonOn Thursday, September 24, Jason Sexton will be holding a seminar on his new book, Theology and California: Theological Refractions on California’s Culture. The event will begin at 3:30 pm at Common Grounds, located at the intersection of Rugby Road and Gordon Avenue. Admission is free and the public is invited to attend. Light refreshments will be served.

From the publisher:

Exploring California as a theological place, this book renders critical engagement with significant Californian religious and theological phenomena and the inherent theological impulses within major Californian cultural icons. Harnessing conceptual tools inherent to theology, through theological reflection, assessment, and critique, the chapters in this volume begin to ascertain the significance of various empirical data and that no other qualitative methodological Californian study has done. Many universities are picking up on California literature as a theme that highlights a place of hope, wonder, and cultural innovation, but have neglected the significance of theological instincts flowing through the Californian dynamic. Californians Fred Sanders and Jason Sexton assemble leading voices and specialists both from within and without California for engagement with California’s influential culture: including leading theologians and cultural critics such as Richard J. Mouw, Paul Louis Metzger, and Fred Sanders, alongside leading specialists in Film studies and cultural critique, theological anthropology, missiology, sociology, and history.

Jason S. Sexton is currently a research associate at USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, a lecturer in the honors department at California State University, Fullerton, and the administrative convener of the TECC Project. He is also editor of the “Mission and Culture” reviews section of Themelios and is a contributing editor at Marginalia Review of Books, a Los Angeles review of books channel.

For more detailed information on the book and its editors, visit the publishers’ website here. To respond to the event on Facebook, click here.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For information on other Project fall events, click here.

Check out these exciting public lectures hosted by St. Paul’s Memorial Church over the next two weeks!

Becca StevensOn Sunday, September 20, Project Alum Rev. Becca Stevens, Episcopal priest, and founder of Thistle Farms-Magdalene, will preach the 10:00 am sermon at St. Paul’s Memorial Church followed by an adult forum. She will give a public lecture, entitled “Hope and heartbreak of trafficking, violence, and addiction,” later that evening at 7:30 pm at St. Paul’s. Admission is free, however, consider supporting the Magdalene community through purchasing Thistle Farms products that will be sold at the event.
Rev. Harold T. LewisOn Sunday, September 27, Rev. Harold T. Lewis, Episcopal priest, author, and internationally renowned speaker and theologian, will preach at the 10:00 am and 5:30 pm services at St. Paul’s and lead the adult forum at 11:30 am. He will also deliver a public lecture, entitled “The Church in a racist society: agent of change or chaplain to the status quo?” Admission to all events are free and the public is invited to attend.


Rev. Becca Stevens is one of the premiere speakers in the United States proclaiming love as the most powerful force for social change. She is an author, Episcopal priest and founder of Thistle Farms-Magdalene, a community of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. She is a prolific writer and has been featured in the New York Times, on ABC World News, NPR, PBS, CNN, and Huffington Post and named by the White House as one of 15 Champions of Change for violence against women in 2011. She was named 2014 Humanitarian of the Year by the Small Business Council of America, has been inducted into the Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame, and was conferred an honorary doctorate by Sewanee: The University of the South. Her newest book is, “The Way of Tea & Justice: Rescuing the World’s Favorite Beverage from its Violent History.”

The Rev. Dr. Harold T. Lewis is an Episcopal priest, author, and internationally renowned speaker and theologian. As Director of the Office of Black Ministries at the Episcopal Church Center in New York, he served as consultant to the Church of England and its Archbishop’s Commission on Urban Priority Areas. He retired in 2012 as fifteenth rector of Calvary Church, Pittsburgh. Among his books is “Yet with a Steady Beat: the African American Struggle for Recognition in The Episcopal Church.” He also authored “The Recent Unpleasantness” about his leadership in the successful legal challenge against the bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh who sought to remove assets from the diocese to form a breakaway church. In 2009, Dr. Lewis was the recipient of the first “Dean’s Cross for Servant Leadership in Church and Society” at Virginia Theological Seminary. 

For more information about Rev. Stevens’s event, please click here.
For more information about Rev. Lewis’s event, please click here.

For more event details and up-to-date event listings please click here to visit the PLT Events page. We also post updates online using #PLTevents. To get these updates, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @LivedTheology.

Project Alum Willis Jenkins wins 2015 National Theological Conference essay competition

Willis JenkinsTrinity Institute has named U.Va.’s Willis Jenkins as the grand prize winner for the Trinity Institute’s 44th National Theological Conference, “Creating Common Good: A Practical Conference on Economic Equality,” for his essay “Is Plutocracy Sinful?” Presented by Trinity Wall Street, Trinity Institute is an annual conference designed for theological scholars and pastors of all faith denominations to discuss and reflect on theological and social perspectives while cultivating dynamic leadership.

From the Trinity Institute press release:

Winners were asked to examine the post-2008 economic context and offer solutions on how best to pursue God’s promise of abundant life against the backdrop of the global financial crisis. The three essays presented alternatives to the status quo that are consistent with scripture, theological traditions, and contemporary understandings of human flourishing.

The first-place prize is a $10,000 award; the runners-up will each receive prizes of $2,500. All three essays will be published in the Anglican Theological Review in February 2016 and the three winners will participate in a panel discussion at Trinity Church on November 8, 2015. The discussion will be webcast at

Willis Jenkins is the director of the religious studies graduate program at the University of Virginia and an associate professor of religion, ethics, and environment. He received a bachelor of arts degree in theology from Wheaton College, and moved on to get his M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Virginia. Professor Jenkins worked as an associate professor at Yale Divinity School and has authored two award-winning books, The Future of Ethics: Sustainability, Social Justice (2013), and Ecologies of Grace: Environmental Ethics and Christian Theology (2008). He has also written a number of papers including “Atmospheric Powers, Moral Incompetence, and Global Injustice,” “Sustainability and Religion,” “After Lynn White: Religious Ethics and Environmental Problems,” and many more. He is currently working on three projects: a monograph entitled “The Moral Ecology of Food,” a textbook introducing religion, ethics, and environment, and a handbook to religion and ecology.

For more information on Trinity Wall Street or Trinity Conference, click here. To find various resources by Jenkins, click here.

For more of featured writings of our PLT Contributors, click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyWrites.

A place for you

Cutout-People“All of God’s children were created by Him and are precious to Him! All of God’s children need the opportunity to learn about and experience His love and grace!” -Belief statement of Spring Hill Baptist Church’s Special Needs ministry

After hearing great things about Spring Hill Baptist Church’s inclusion of people with disabilities from VIA’s social worker last week, I decided to check it out for myself. I set out last Sunday morning to Ruckersville to their 9:00 family service. I pulled up to an old white chapel, surprisingly without getting lost. I remember registering a little surprise at the apparent lack of wheelchair accessibility; the old building seemed an unlikely candidate for a church conducive to special needs ministry. Brushing this aside for the moment, I walked in. A smiling greeter handed me a bulletin as I walked up the stairs and through the door.

According to their website, Spring Hill usually has three services: a family service and contemporary service at 9:00, and a traditional service at 11:00, with Sunday School in between. While trying to locate the family service, I heard the announcer say this was the last Sunday that the family and contemporary service would be held together in that sanctuary. Phew, I’m in the right place. After a momentary flashback to accidentally showing up to my first statistics class in the English department, I looked down the aisles of pews for an empty seat. The entire sanctuary was almost full! I spotted an empty seat about halfway down next to a kind woman who offered me a wave as I slid into the pew.

Although the crowd was fairly racially homogenous, I saw a couple of people who appeared to have physical disabilities, dancing and singing and hugging those around them. The sheer joy on their faces was striking. When we sat down for the children’s sermon, a woman brought an ironing board up to the stage. This would have been puzzling to me had I not grown up as a Southern Baptist myself, where I learned there is no limit to the props used during children’s sermons. I smiled as she explained the Transfiguration to the eager group of children, pointing to pictures of mountains on the overhead screen and using her iron to reveal a secret message on a piece of paper. Although I wasn’t sure about the European Jesus up on the screen, the children responded well to the multi-media message, clearly remaining engaged. Even some adults participated as the children’s minister called them out by name in the audience!

Finally, it was time for the regular sermon. The pastor built upon the themes of the children’s sermon, drawing on themes in Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration to encourage the church to get off the proverbial mountain and back into the world. Just as Peter, James, and John had an encounter with Jesus and then returned to ministry, so must we: “the Kingdom of God cannot be confined to things that are comfortable.”

The most touching part of the sermon came at the end. During the invitation the pastor gave, he invited anyone to come up for prayer. I noticed a young boy who appeared to have Down syndrome nudge his way excitedly through the aisle and grab his mother’s hand, leading her toward the pastor. Soon, the whole family was up at the front praying together. A huge smile spread across the pastor’s face as he laid hands on the boy and prayed with him. It was reminiscent of a conversion prayer, although I’m not sure the actual context. What was more important was the fact that the boy felt welcome–and was welcome–to come to the altar.

As the service ended, I looked at my bulletin and realized that there was a Sunday School class specifically for people with special needs. Unsure how to get there, my eyes scanned the room for people headed towards another building. After a few minutes of pretending to look over the bulletin, I eventually asked someone where to find the Sunday School classes. After a slight look of confusion when I told her I was looking for the special needs class, she led me to the correct room. Apparently there were two classes; I was taken to the adults’ room, but there was one for children as well.

There were seven adults in that room, two of whom appeared to have special needs. Riley* sat on one side of the table in a wheelchair, and Gerald, who appeared to be on the autism spectrum, sat on the other side. Each had a few helpers who would assist them if needed. I received a warm welcome from all, and soon the lesson began. We discussed the story of Jonah. The lesson was ample with opportunities to engage—a matching game, opportunities to read Scripture, even a time for singing at the end which was particularly popular!

The entire class appeared to be very well thought-out and tailored to the particular needs of each participant. Riley, who had an intellectual disability, was unable to read straight from the paper, but loved to echo the sentence-by-sentence reading of his nearest helper. Gerald lit up at the opportunity to use a tambourine to praise God in the singing. This is true hospitality.

Talking to the teachers after the class allowed me to learn more about the ministry. In addition to its regular inclusion of people with disabilities, Spring Hill hosts monthly game nights to which its attendance has steadily increased. I think I saw one teacher tear up as she described one mom’s reaction to the ministry: “Now my child has people to invite to his birthday party.” Families have driven from as far away as West Virginia to attend Spring Hill. I can see why.


In Places of Redemption, author Mary McClintock Fulkerson uses postmodern place theory to explore the theological meaning behind “place.” She uses the example of a “hometown” to frame place as meaningful, not because of its geographical location, but its “constellation of resonances.” Particular places usher us into particular emotional states. Seeing that old library you always used to go to as a kid might have any number of effects on you at that moment–disappointed because it’s not what it used to be, proud to see it still brings joy to children, even inspired to read more. Understanding the impact of the meaning of place for worshipping communities is the first step in making a church more inclusive.

This is a particularly powerful idea when we consider our own embodiment. We must not forget that our bodies are actual places, and the shape of these places carry societally given connotations which affect how we encounter the world. What our bodies look like—black or white, male or female, thick or thin, able-bodied or disabled—quite literally change our place in the world.

Under this mentality, going to church is most fundamentally about going to a certain place. It’s less about hearing a sermon than being in a space with other people. This is not a trivial distinction but one that claims there is actual content to be learned through embodiment in a different place. Most of our impressions of a church rest more on the environment it creates and less on the content of the preacher’s sermon. Because if we’re being honest, many churchgoers don’t even remember last week’s sermon!

Whether this is for better or worse, what it reveals is the fact that humans are fundamentally relational creatures. All of us. Our most central quality is not our rationality but our relationality. And a space which allows us to express that in all its diverse forms is one that can truly be called an inclusive community. I think Spring Hill is leading the way.

*Names of people have been changed to protect privacy.

Fulkerson, Mary McClintock. Places of Redemption: Theology for a Worldy Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.