Christian Education and Ecumenism
When I first encountered early Christian texts in my undergraduate program, I found a twofold purpose for studying these texts: passing on the learning to ecclesial communities and participating in larger ecumenical conversations.
Adult's Christian Education
So much of the texts, objects, and lives that I study sit within a history of Christianity that is unfamiliar to local Christian communities. During my seminary education and beyond, I have sought to connect my academic work with ecclesial communities through teaching in churches. I have been able to teach large lecture-based studies alongside others as well as small group discussion classes. I have generally focused on biblical women in these studies, attempting to draw out how the Old and New Testament describes these women and their lives as well as how some early Christian readers interpreted them in liberating ways. I have also participated in adult forum classes at the Congregation at Duke Chapel in Durham, where I have been able to share on topics such as hymnography and apophatic theology. In doing so, I desire that lay people may gain resources for their own religious journeys and may grow in understanding of other Christian traditions as well.
Children's Christian Education
An advisor once told me, "if you can teach it to children, then you are well-equipped to teach it to adults." It is an idea that has stuck with me, and I have been privileged to teach children in ecclesial settings over many years. More often than not, children force you to answer big questions in concrete and simple terms, which is generally a challenge. During my time working at a church in Princeton, NJ, in particular, I took fourth graders through a two-year cycle of catachetical education. We discussed the Trinity, the sacraments, various parts of Christian history, and other world religions. In our off-weeks, we would learn about one book of the Bible per week. While each of these topics could be the study of one's lifetime, teaching it to children through discussion and activities helped me make connections of what the major points were of each topic and why it mattered. This experience, as well as my other times with children, has helped me grow as a teacher.
Ecumenism and Community Involvement
Many sectors of the field of early Christianity have rightly developed themselves as outward-facing scholarship toward the communities for which the texts, artifacts, and material belong. For example, conferences of Syriac Christianity invite clergy, leaders, and community members to learn alongside scholars of various religious affliations. My time as a fellow and then affliate at Beth Mardutho, an institute that seeks to preserve the Syriac heritage and language and make it accessible globally, gave me a glimpse into this work. It includes both a large vision and labor in the minutia. Beth Mardutho in particular does its work mainly through digital humanities for the sake of scholars but mainly for diaspora communities that are spread out around the globe. As a fellow, I worked on Sedra, which is an online lexicon for the Syriac language, as well as a research project about the accuracy and efficiency of Google's Optical Character Recognition (OCR) for Syriac. Both were tedious but contribute to the larger vision of Beth Mardutho in perserving the Syriac language (and therefore also the Syriac culture and heritage).
Duke Div Dinners: Relating Church and School
Each month, at my current church, I host and lead a gathering of those who participate in theological education. Desks and pews can feel like entirely different worlds. Along with food, fellowship, hymns, and prayer, we create space to ask hard questions about our place within the Church. Recent conversations have included: what does theological education mean in the Congo? why should we care for kids in ministry? and, how do we participate well as members of a church?