Community engagement and building a seminary student voice

by Christopher T. Copeland, Assistant Director of Leadership Development 

Over 50 theology students arrived on the campus of Wake Forest University School of Divinity on March 22, 2013 to participate in the inaugural gathering of Community Engagement Fellows. These Fellows – graduate students from ten seminaries and divinity schools – have expressed a deep commitment to the work of social justice in their schools and communities. They gathered for a weekend conference to share their experiences of community engagement, to engage more deeply in social issues, and to reflect on how to ignite a larger movement of social justice among seminarians.

The conference began with an invitation from Gail R. O’Day, Dean of the School of Divinity, for students to consider how their theological education uniquely prepares them to work for justice rooted in a faith tradition that is marked by radical hospitality. Students from each of the schools shared presentations in the style of TED Talks about their work of engaging the community in their contexts: starting a community garden, providing health resources for sex workers, engaging conversations about race and class, and more.

On Saturday, Chris Hoke, a pastor to gangs and prisoners in the Pacific Northwest, spoke of the need to do justice by engaging people one on one and building relationships across traditional boundaries. Wayne Meisel, the visionary and founder of the Community Engagement Fellows program, led the participants to develop concrete strategies and plans to launch a movement of seminary students to build on this work of justice and community engagement.

Read more from Wayne Meisel in his article featured in The Huffington Post (March 22, 2013).


Throughout the weekend, students gathered for prayer and worship to ground their work in the spiritual tradition and practices of their Christian faith. Seeking to embody their commitments to care for the earth and food justice, participants cooked meals together from foods that were locally sourced and organically grown.

The Conference was created and hosted by the Fellows from Wake Forest – Molly Bolton, Chris Coates, Jessica Place, Chris Rinker, and Jamie Sims – and the director of the program, Christopher T. Copeland.

The Community Engagement Fellows Program is funded by Leadership Renewal Ministries and includes graduate students from Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, Princeton, Emory, Columbia Seminary, McAfee School of Theology, University of Chicago, Luther Seminary, Wesley Seminary, and Johnson C. Smith Seminary.


Media Contact: Mark Batten  |  Picture Source: Asher Kolieboi



Categories: Community Engagement, News