Nineteen seminary students with diverse backgrounds are at the farm, formerly owned by “Roots” author Alex Haley, for four days of training and networking.
“This year is a special year for the conference for seminarians of color,” said Jewel McRae, Associate for Women’s Leadership Development and Young Women’s Ministries. “It marks the 40th anniversary. This conference has been very close to my heart for many, many years — I would say for at least 20 years. It gives seminarians an opportunity to come together to network, to hear from church leaders so they can experience the wonderful things that the Presbyterian Church has to offer them.”
McRae says that it always warms her heart that although people gather as strangers, “When they leave, they are leaving as siblings in Christ,” she said. “They are networking, they are forming and building relationships that will sustain them through seminary and also as they embark on ministry.”
The Haley Farm, she said, “is a wonderful place to gather siblings in Christ to learn about ministry, to engage in ministry and to lift up their spirits.”
Since the late 1970s, more than 1,000 seminarians of color have participated in the conference.
“One of the purposes of the conference is to connect seminarians of color with church leaders to help them engage in ministries and to deepen and enhance their skills and experience so they can serve effectively for Christ’s ministry,” said McRae. “It is extremely important for the church to hold this conference. It develops great leaders. The conference has produced moderators, mid council leaders, General Assembly staff and leaders who serve in nontraditional ministries.”
The conference has participants from a range of institutions including the Yale Divinity School, Auburn Seminary, Lancaster Theological Seminary and Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico.
Ryan Atkinson is a first-year student at Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Charlotte campus. Atkinson says he was not sure what to expect from the conference. “This is my first conference,” he said. “I still have my secular job, which is a challenge balancing that along with family and seminary and also church activities.” Atkinson is a member of Statesville Avenue Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He says he was encouraged by one of his professors to attend the conference. “She told me I would definitely like it and get a lot out of it,” he said.
A senior at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Ralph Burton Lowe, Jr. serves at Cross Roads Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania and is director of Justice Ministries for Pittsburgh Persbytery. He says he’s attending the conference to make connections. “Our church lacks diversity and there’s not much diversity in our presbytery,” said Lowe. “I’m looking to make connections across the country.”
Leslie Giboyeaux is a student at Princeton Theological Seminary and a member of Iglesia Presbiteriana Nuevas Fronteras in Plainfield, New Jersey, where the Rev. Dr. Victor Aloy, Jr. is the pastor.
“Victor gets everyone involved. He’s a connector and that’s how I got involved with this conference,“ said Giboyeaux. “I’m really excited to be here because I think a lot of the time you get resources and hear lectures about serving multicultural communities, but they’re not really designed with a multicultural person serving multicultural communities in mind.”
“I’m interested in that and in making connections because we are very few in seminaries and in Presbyterian circles as well,” said Giboyeaux. “I just want to — just need to — network.”
Another conference participant, Ruth Mangual is a second-year student at Princeton Seminary. She also attends Iglesia Presbiteriana Nuevas Fronteras.
“I just want to be able to learn more because one of my focuses is on social advocacy,” Mangual said. “I’m excited to be here and learn as much as possible.”
Latarshia Robinson is a Master of Divinity student attending Union Presbyterian Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina. She already holds a Masters in Christian Education from Union Presbyterian Seminary.
Robinson and her husband own a tutoring company. She is the youth director at Allison Creek Presbyterian Churchin York, South Carolina. Robinson says after participating in this conference she hopes she will be better able to discern where God is calling her into ministry. “The workshop on the ordination exams is of interest to me,” said Robinson. “I would like to know more information about that and to be better prepared for those exams. I’m just open to learning whatever we can learn and to work with people.”
McRae said that the conference “provides an opportunity for seminarians to join in community with other church leaders in a spiritual and nurturing environment.”
“This event allows participants to learn about senior ordination exams, the realities of ministry as a person of color, self-care, learn about serving in a new worshipping community, mentors and peer groups, building and sustaining relationships during and after seminary, and much more,” she said. “I’m so glad the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries offers this training.”
by Gail Strange, Presbyterian News Service