WINSTON-SALEM, NC – After noting the rise of food-related challenges such as hunger, obesity, food access, and ecological damage from agriculture, the Wake Forest University School of Divinity has established the Food, Faith and Religious Leadership Initiative.
“Food – food access, food quality, food production – is one of the defining issues of this generation,” said Gail R. O’Day, Dean of the School of Divinity. “The rapid growth of local food and farm-to-table movements has sparked a creative and essential conversation that links the revitalization of rural economies, food access for urban neighborhoods, and the health and well-being of all our communities.”
One of the primary goals of the initiative will be to equip future and existing religious leaders with the knowledge, skills, and pastoral habits necessary to lead their congregations and religious communities around food issues. While churches have often focused on food in terms of food aid, the Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative will train religious leaders to look beyond emergency-based responses and begin to address the root causes of hunger, obesity, food injustice, and damaged ecosystems. “We need to be educating religious leaders who understand that caring for creation is an essential pastoral practice in working for the kingdom of God,” O’Day said.
Fred Bahnson, co-founder of Anathoth Community Garden in Cedar Grove, North Carolina and writer-theologian, has been appointed as Director. His experience and connections with national food leaders will be invaluable as the School launches the initiative. “Over the past seven years, I’ve witnessed the rise of a new faith-based movement,” Bahnson reflected, “and I believe this renewed interest in food, justice, and sustainability is driven by an even deeper hunger to see embodied what the biblical writers call shalom, that graced state of being that results from a right relationship between God, people, and the land.”
The Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative will work with current students at the School of Divinity, but will also create a continuing education program for religious leaders and congregations. Two cities in North Carolina, Asheville and Winston-Salem, will be the twin focal areas for continuing education events.
The Initiative’s first event, a seminar on “The Spirituality of Eating,” will take place October 12 and 13 in Asheville. On Friday evening there will be a free public lecture at Malaprops Bookstore with Norman Wirzba, eco-theologican and research professor at Duke Divinity School. In partnership with First Baptist Church of Asheville, Wirzba and Bahnson will lead a workshop on Saturday to explore a Christian vision of caring for the earth through the way food is grown and shared.
A second Fall event will feature Dr. Matthew Sleeth, author of 24/6 and founder of Blessed Earth, for a “Sabbath and Food Day” event at Wake Forest University on October 25.
Details about these events and more information on the Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative can be found on the initiative’s website.
In connection to establishing the initiative, the School of Divinity was invited to be founding partner of the Seminary Stewardship Alliance (SSA), a consortium of schools dedicated to reconnecting Christians with the biblical call to care for creation and establish good stewardship practices. The alliance was announced in April 2012 at the Washington National Cathedral and is part of the larger creation care movement among churches and seminaries. The eleven other founding schools include Asbury Theological Seminary, Duke Divinity School, and Fuller Theological Seminary. The SSA will be a catalyst in helping seminaries establish sustainable practices, advancing scholarship on creation care, and promoting respectful dialogue with scientific, governmental, and academic institutions.
The first meeting of the SSA will be September 27 – 29 at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. Bahnson and School of Divinity professor, Mark Jensen, will be attending.
The School of Divinity is a graduate, professional school that is Christian by tradition, Baptist in heritage, and ecumenical in outlook. Consistent with Wake Forest’s commitment to academic excellence and in the spirit of the University, Pro Humanitate, the School of Divinity prepares leaders informed by a theological understanding of vocation. Through imaginative courses and diverse programs of community engagement, students are equipped to be agents of justice, reconciliation, and compassion in Christian churches and other ministries.
The Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree stands at the center of the School of Divinity’s degree offerings. It prepares students from diverse church experiences and theological perspectives for religious leadership. Students study the rich histories and traditions of Christianity, to understand the changing social and religious landscape and to gain practical ministry experience in local and global contexts. The School of Divinity also has three joint degree offerings in law, bioethics, and counseling with other schools of the University.
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