“We witnessed interfaith dialogue as it should be; … deeply engaged with one another, seeking understanding. How we defend our faiths is equally important. Will we respectfully convey the beauty, poetry and promise in our faiths? … I walked away with a new appreciation for what they held sacred.”
Lorie Flynn Jacobs, M.Div.
Norton Healthcare Chaplain
If any student is on the fence about whether or not to attend the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) class in Chicago, perhaps I may be of assistance. I recommend taking SCUPE classes early and often as your busy seminary schedules permit. I only had a tiny window of opportunity to take a SCUPE class because of my full schedule, but I wish I had made room for more. If you take just one class you may find that the SCUPE experience is one like no other.
Chicago is a wonderful host city for SCUPE. One might take the opportunity to stay at the Cenacle Conference and Retreat Center like I and my friends did. It is in a beautiful part of the city. We enjoyed walking to the different stores and restaurants to get necessities, window shop and eat dinner. We had quite the variety of food during our stay and all was within walking distance of our accommodations. The bus stop for our ride in to town was just a block away. The bus ride was a little long, but it gave us time to debrief after our full days at SCUPE. If you like, take the L train instead. You walk further, but I hear it’s quicker!
I cannot say enough about the staff at SCUPE. Everyone in the office offered us hospitality like one would receive nowhere else. They welcomed us to everything. If we had questions, they had suggestions. If we were dragging after heavy conversation, we were offered coffee or tea. They provided lunch, a celebration on the last day of our time together. And the smiles! Everyone was so friendly! Our instructors took excellent care of us. Many of the experiences were new to me. I had never been to Chicago and had no idea where to find anything while downtown. They provided great maps and gave us lots of tips for places we might go for lunch or to find what we needed.
Being new to Chicago, I was concerned about safety while moving about the city, but I found it easy to trust the President of SCUPE, Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana with my personal safety. Shanta is very well-connected in the city and takes great care in preparing his classes about what to expect in new situations. It helped me feel at ease, especially when visiting the bustling downtown mosque. I also trusted the leaders with my mind. Because my seminary experience came about unexpectedly, I felt like I was behind most of my peers and had many doubts about whether or not I really belonged at SCUPE. I even wrote my dean at Louisville Seminary and expressed my bewilderment over all that I was learning. Much of the information was such that I was processing it for the very first time. My mind was blown every five minutes, and that is not an overstatement! We were given the chance to calm our minds and meditate at Shambhala Meditation Center of Chicago, a lovely respite for students who desired to experience Buddhist mindfulness. Even though I felt unprepared, seeds were planted. A love for people of various faiths and desire for ecumenical relationships have taken hold, and now I look for opportunities beginning with my hometown to learn even more. I thank the leaders at SCUPE, especially Shanta, for being compassionate and patient teachers.
Our particular classes were centered on interfaith dialogue and for these sessions we had world class leaders. Our group had the pleasure of being under the tutelage of Rev. Dr. Charles Amjad-Ali (Ecumenical Theologian and former Academic Dean at SCUPE, among many other accomplishments, Dr. Paul Knitter (Paul Tillich Professor Emeritus of Theology, World Religions and Culture at Union Theological Seminary and prolific writer, his most recent book is Without Buddha I Could Not Be A Christian) as well as Rev. Dr. Premawardhana. Shanta was also most recently the director for the program, Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches (WCC). These men have traveled all over the world, challenging congregations, students and world councils to prepare us better for interfaith dialogue. What I loved about this particular group of men (aside from their boundless energy) is that even though their backgrounds and experiences were very different, they were able to talk about their differences in passionate, yet respectful ways. We witnessed interfaith dialogue as it should be; each person was strongly grounded in one’s own belief, but remained at the table deeply engaged with one another, seeking understanding. This was meaningful; it is imperative for each of us to know why we hold on to our faiths so strongly. How we defend our faiths is equally important. Will we respectfully convey the beauty, poetry and promise in our faiths? After listening to Drs. Premawardhana, Amjad-Ali and Knitter, I walked away with a new appreciation for what they held sacred.
Of course, none of this would be possible without support from Louisville Seminary. I appreciate the Seminary for seeking partnerships with other institutions and entities that provide enriching learning experiences outside of local campus activities. My prayer is that Louisville Seminary will continue to have an enduring and rewarding relationship with SCUPE, equipping students to find ways to work for peace and justice in our world.
Bio: Lorie Flynn Jacobs, M.Div., is a graduate (2015) of Louisville Seminary. She is from the Louisville area and will be serving Norton Healthcare in her hometown as a chaplain resident beginning in late August, 2015.