I will be taking Study Leave for 5 weeks in July of this year. For a taste of what it’s about, here are extracts from my Study Leave proposal:
I wish to purse my interest in the church’s engagement with social and political matters. My own congregation (Old High St Stephen’s, Inverness) includes the ‘Town Church’ of the Capital City of the Highlands: we host an annual Kirking of the Council and have involvement in various ways with the civic life of the City of Inverness. I am also interested in the United States, having earned my ThM in Preaching and Worship at Princeton Theological Seminary (partly funded by a Fulbright grant).
I intend to travel in the United States visiting congregations, denominational and ecumenical bodies to study how they interact with politics, the media and the wider public on matters of justice, peace, and world development. This would include: visiting congregations which campaign on issues such as immigrant rights and low pay; visiting the Presbyterian United Nations Office in New York: visits to the Washington DC offices of denominational and interchurch bodies such as Sojourners. I also hope to take a course on Community Organizing from a Faith-Based Perspective. I also hope to take some time to write and reflect on my experience, perhaps staying at Princeton Seminary.
I have some friends and colleagues in the US from my student days when I did a ThM course at Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey, who are involved in this kind of work and who are willing and able to guide me to useful people and places. Dr Troy T Jackson is Senior Pastor of University Christian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio, and author of Becoming King: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Making of a National Leader His congregation campaigns, for example, on rights for immigrant workers. Troy has put me in touch with the Sojourners social justice ministry and Faith in Public Life in Washington DC, ‘a strategy center advancing faith in the public square as a positive and unifying force for justice, compassion and the common good’. The Rev Noelle Damico is the National Co-ordinator of the Campaign for Fair Food in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Both have an extensive network of contacts and knowledge of the area I wish to study. I also hope to take a week-long course for Community Organising from a Faith Perspective with the Ohio Organising Collaborative, again through Dr Jackson.
The programme will include formal training and learning, visits and meetings, and time for reflection and writing.
a) Learn about the ways in which American churches interact with the political system in order to highlight issues of justice and peace.
b) Study how local congregations campaign on such issues, and see what lessons can be learned for my own and other Scottish congregations
c) Reflect and contrast the American churches’ experience with that of churches in Scotland and the UK, and on issues of theology and practice in politics
Since writing that proposal, I have also been given the opportunity to attend the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Pittsburgh. I will also take a course there about that denomination’s social concerns.
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