Posted by: smstrouse | January 11, 2014

Teaching Pluralism for Pastors: My Week at Seminary


One of my dreams came true this past week. I had been invited to co-teach a January term class on collaborative leadership at the Lutheran seminary in Berkeley. The class, entitled The Alchemy of Power & Grace, has been taught for a number of years by my dear friend Kathleen Hurty, one of the women behind the Occupy Your Sacred Self event this past fall. She very graciously offered me a whole day within the week-long class to present my schtick on pastoral leadership from an interfaith perspective.

I was nervous,  even though I’m convinced that helping leaders of congregations work through issues that arise from our religiously diverse context is essential – and that seminaries should be providing this guidance.


I was thrilled when Kathleen received an email from Wesley Ariarajah in response to our query about one of his books. Dr. Ariarajah, a Methodist minister from Sri Lanka, former staff member for the World Council of Churches, and now a professor at Drew University said:

I think a course like this is perhaps the most needed in our seminaries.  The kind of leadership and how it is exercised has become such a crucial issue in our day both in the churches and in the community at large. We need to train “Leaders for the Community” who would also be ministers of the church, mainly because of the issues raised by religious pluralism and the secular impact.


Then a quote from one of Kathleen’s assignments by Katherine Rhodes Henderson (God’s Troublemakers: How Women of Faith Are Changing the World):

How our religions relate to each other is the most important issue for the future.  It is essential that we support religious leaders of all kinds – emerging ones and those long in practice – in developing an awareness of other traditions. A single comparative religious survey course will not suffice.

Again: yes!!!

Still I was nervous. How would a group of theology students receive what I had to say?

I didn’t have to worry long. The students were amazingly receptive, with stimulating insights and astute questions that fueled a lively discussion. The only problem: a day was not enough. Whether it was P.T. Barnum or Walt Disney who said, “Always leave them wanting more,” it’s a good bit of advice.

Feedback from the class was very positive and included hopes that I would consider offering a full-semester course.  I responded with the hope that they’d include that on their evaluation for the seminary (actually I said, “From your lips to the seminary’s ears”). Because I would love to do just that!

So I’m putting my hopes out there as a prayer, an intention, a vision. I do so feeling wonderfully affirmed, both by a respected colleague and teacher and by newly emerging church leaders that I’m on the right track and have something of value to offer.

Maybe someday I’ll even get that book written.


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