After a three-year service term through Mennonite Mission Network, Valerie Showalter began taking one online class at Eastern Mennonite Seminary to help discern her calling. Now aided by a half-tuition scholarship, she plans to earn a Master of Divinity degree. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

An EMS scholarship beneficiary envisions the future church

Valerie Showalter, a graduate student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, shared the following words at the Oct. 13 Donor Appreciation Banquet.

She is pastor of youth and children’s ministries at Shalom Mennonite Congregation in Harrisonburg. She and partner Justin Shenk, both 2006 graduates of EMU, were community hosts in a United Reformed Church through Mennonite Mission Network in London, England, for three years. Valerie‘s work in London and following has focused on community organizing and faith formation through facilitating theology roundtable discussions, craftivism (craft + activism), and countless cups of tea.

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Two years ago, my partner and I were anticipating the end of an international service assignment with Mennonite Mission Network. We were returning to the U.S. with no set plans, no jobs, and having spent three years not really earning money.

As we were packing and discerning next steps, I decided to try my hand and my brain at a course, offered online by Eastern Mennonite Seminary. That course was “New Testament: Text in Context” with Dorothy Jean Weaver.

Maybe enrolling in that class was a strategy for distraction as we left behind the community we had known, or the nervous anticipation of reverse culture shock, but my eager engagement in that class set me on a trajectory that made evident that seminary was where I was being called.

And that’s where you enter my story.

I was fortunate to be offered one of the Ministry Leadership Awards, an award that covers half of my tuition. I am personally grateful for the investment made in me, and it’s the same generosity that inevitably is investing in the future of the church. Which may lead you to ask, “Well, what does the church’s future hold? What are we investing in when we give to EMU or EMS?

From where I am as a student in the seminary, this is what I envision: The future church is a beacon of the kind of hope that transforms, a hope that invites our participation in the in-breaking of God’s kin-dom on earth.

Through the lens of David Evans’ course on churches and social transformation, I envision a church that strives to dismantle racism and white supremacy, because the church has deconstructed its own complicity in structural violence and acted to change. It is a church of deep equity and broad diversity.

Through the lens of Dorothy Jean Weaver and Kevin Clark’s course “Women and Men in Scripture and Church,” I envision a church that is free from the oppressive structures of sexism and patriarchy, a church that proclaims that all, regardless of gender identity, are beloved children of God, called by God to full participation in the body of Christ.

Because of the team-taught courses that focus on the holistic formation of each seminary student, I envision a church with well-equipped and wise leaders, drawing the church into a deeper faith that kindles our passion for justice and inspires unreserved acts of mercy.

This vision of the future church – surely augmented by many other facets of discipleship and study – does not come without cost. There are many ways to pay this cost, but tonight, I thank you for your financial contributions. My hope and my prayer is that – here, in the community united by Eastern Mennonite – we each find a way to share our gifts with one another, equally beloved participants in the kin-dom of God.

To learn more about EMS, contact Les Horning, director of seminary admissions.

As an Anabaptist seminary, EMS has special emphasis in peacebuilding, biblical studies, spiritual formation and theology, training leaders for Mennonite Church USA, and The United Methodist Church, as well as other denominations.

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