This Week: September 23 – 27

Reflecting on  “A Sense of Place” 

This summer, construction workers completed several significant building projects on Wake Forest University’s Reynolda campus. Two new residence halls now grace the skyline between Wait Chapel and Polo Road, and a new Schools of Business dwelling place – Farrell Hall – has also opened its doors just across the street from Wait Chapel. The School of Divinity is still in its same physical location in Wingate Hall, but as I have been driving onto campus this fall and parking in the newly configured spaces at our school’s entranceway, I have had the distinct sense that the School of Divinity is no longer in the same place. When classes ended last spring, the School of Divinity was on the northwest edge of the main Reynolda campus. As Dean O’Day commented to me earlier this week, now, because of the new buildings, the School of Divinity is located more at the center of the Reynolda campus. Undergraduates from the two new residence halls regularly pass by and through our doors as they make their way to classes and other campus activities.  Faculty colleagues in Farrell Hall now park next to School of Divinity faculty each morning. The School of Divinity’s place has changed.

The term “sense of place” has attracted varied definitions in recent years.  Some scholars emphasize “sense” when using the term; a sense of place has to do with a feeling or perception people have of a certain location. Others use the term to refer to characteristics that uniquely mark or identify places or to indicate how places shape the lives, stories, and memories of persons who pass through or dwell in them. Recently, some educators have adopted the term in relation to place-based educational practices that emphasize students’ local communities as central to learning.  What seems common to many of these definitions of “sense of place” is the idea that places both have identities and shape the identities of people and communities.  Wake Forest University’s Reynolda campus is, I think, such an identity-shaping place. So, too, is the School of Divinity. I wonder—how, if at all, the School of Divinity’s changing “place” on our campus will change its identity or the identities of the new people who pass by or through or work and study in its “hallowed halls”?

Questions like this are important not only for our school but also for faith communities whose “place” in society seems to change with each passing year. On Monday, September 23, the School of Divinity, along with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, is hosting a conference entitled “Sense of Place: Elevating Preaching 2013.” Three well-known preachers – Anna Carter Florence, Thomas G. Long, and Luke A. Powery – will offer sermons during the conference and lead conversations about preaching and “sense of place.” Perhaps this theme, “sense of place,” has to do with other dimensions of religious leadership as well.

I have been thinking lately about the extent to which ministers are leaders “in place” and in particular places. (I credit a summer grant-writing team composed of School of Divinity colleagues for igniting many of these thoughts.) A question has emerged for me:

How can theological education more expansively and intentionally invite students to explore theology, ministry, and their leadership identities and practices by becoming engaged with the people, daily life patterns, hopes, and desires of particular places, specifically of this particular place that is Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina?

Students in the Master of Divinity program encounter a form of place-based education through their two-semester required internships. Students also engage local places through our “food and faith” and “faith and health of the public” concentrations. Reflecting on the phrase, “sense of place” has caused me to imagine how place-based approaches to the worship courses I teach – or to other curricular offerings – might also equip students to be agents of justice, reconciliation, and compassion in congregations and other local and global ministry places.

The School of Divinity has a significant place at Wake Forest University. The School is also strategically “placed” in North Carolina. People who dwell in Winston-Salem and in other towns and cities along the Interstate 40 corridor face challenges ranging from food insecurity to homelessness to unemployment. They also have access to an amazing variety of music and art, to a range of excellent educational institutions, and to coast to mountains natural beauty.

  • What is the place of faith communities in these towns and cities?
  • How can ministry leaders and the people with whom they minister be agents of justice, reconciliation and compassion in these places? 
  • What is the School of Divinity’s “sense of place” as an educational institution located in this particular place and how does education here prepare leaders to make connections between diverse local contexts and global challenges and possibilities? 

Exciting and imaginative responses are fashioned daily, I think, as undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff traverse the Wake Forest University campus and find their way to and through this place that is the School of Divinity.

Poet Maxine Kumin writes:

“In a poem, one can use the sense of place as an anchor for larger concerns, as a link between narrow details and global realities. Location is where we start from.”

Perhaps similar possibilities of “place” reside in theological education.  I am considering the idea this semester:  What if place – both its incarnational and resurrection dimensions – is where theological education begins and to where it returns?

Note:  see the online journal Windfall: A Journal of Poetry of Place for the Kumin quote as well as for readings on poetry and “sense of place.”


Academic News

Incomplete Work from Spring 2013 Due September 25
Last Day to Drop Classes October 1
Fall Break October 10 – 11


>> View the full edition of This Week online. (available Sunday after 5:00pm)


Blessings on the week ahead,

  Jill Crainshaw
  Associate Dean for Academic Affairs