UMC elder, Neighborhood Seminary founder to give Augsburger Lecture

The Rev. Dr. Elaine Heath – author, educator, United Methodist Church elder and co-founder of the Neighborhood Seminary – will visit Eastern Mennonite University Nov. 20-21 as part of the annual Augsburger Lecture Series, in collaboration with Virginia Mennonite Conference, Park View Mennonite Church and Virginia Mennonite Missions.

Heath’s main lecture at EMU, open to the public on Wed. evening at 7 p.m. in the seminary’s Martin Chapel, is titled “Is There Good News for a World in Trauma?” Heath will address what it means to be a “missional church” ministering to individuals and neighborhoods dealing with trauma.

Other public events include:

  •  Wednesday, Nov. 20, 10:10 a.m. – Convocation, Lehman Auditorium, on “Reclaiming Apostolic Soul.”
  • Thursday, Nov. 21, 11 a.m. – Seminary service, Martin Chapel, on “Wilderness Credentials.”

Heath will also convene a workshop for local pastors called “Forming and Leading Micro-Communities of Hope,” offering guidance for those starting “new forms of faith communities in post-Christendom contexts.” She will visit with students, faculty, and visiting pastors while on campus – including a breakfast with area pastors.

The pastors’ breakfast is an ongoing corollary to the Augsburger series, which Park View Mennonite Church Pastor Phil Kniss says aims “to open up mutually beneficial dialogue between area Anabaptist-Mennonite pastors, and missional practitioners and theologians from outside the Anabaptist stream.”

“We are excited to have Dr. Heath, with her scholarship and practice in new approaches to evangelism and Christian community, with us for this year’s Augsburger lecture,” said Andrew Suderman, assistant professor of Bible, religion and theology.  “Her background in the field of trauma and ministry will help our community grapple with what it means to participate in the ‘Good News’ and how to embody it with, among, and as people who have experienced trauma.  She will help us reflect on how following Jesus in our broken and violent world challenges us to meet people where they are – physically, spiritually and socially – and what it looks like to offer hope and healing.”

Heath writes that her life’s work is “interdisciplinary, weaving together the study of Scripture, theology, and Christian spirituality in ways that help the church to reach beyond its walls and into the community.” This approach of taking “church to the people,” as Heath says, characterizes the aims of the Neighborhood Seminary, where Heath is president and co-founder.

The Neighborhood Seminary offers a two-year, non-degree program which provides theological and spiritual education to lay people using the cohort model. Currently, four cohorts are active in North Carolina and Virginia. The seminary’s goal is to teach students “how to neighbor well, how to help their neighborhoods flourish, and how to foster life-giving community,” according to its website.

Her newest book, Celebration (Abingdon Press, 2020) delves into the “spiritual discipline of celebration when facing grief, trauma, failure, or a dark night of the soul.” It is part of the eight-volume Holy Living Series, of which Heath is also an editor. 

As an educator, Heath served as dean of the Divinity School at Duke University, and as a professor at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and the Ashland Theological Seminary.

Heath now lives at an intentional Christian community and farm in North Carolina, Spring Forest, where she serves as the community abbess.

The series was founded in 1984 by Myron S. and Esther Augsburger to address “topics in the area of Christian evangelism and mission for the stimulation and development of a vision for evangelism and missions for the EMU community.”

Previous Augsburger lecturers include: 

  • 2018: N.T. Wright, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland. Wright presented on “Promised Glory: Thinking Straight about God and the World.” Article podcast
  • 2017: James Krabill ‘71, senior mission advocate with Mennonite Mission Network, who convened a panel with Leonard Dow ’87 and Esther Augsburger ’72, all alumni who have served in Christian evangelism and missions. Article podcast
  • 2016: The Reverend Canon Dr. Scot McKnight, New Testament scholar, theologian, historian, and author. Article podcast
  • 2015: Nelson Okanya MDiv ’03, president of Eastern Mennonite Missions, who spoke on the changes in global missions over the last half-century. Article podcast

The Augsburger Committee includes Professor Andrew Suderman (co-chair), Professor David Evans (co-chair), Technical Services Librarian Jennifer Ulrich, Campus Pastor Brian Martin Burkholder, and Emily North, administrative assistant to the Dean of the School of Theology, Humanities, and the Performing Arts.