[an error occurred while processing this directive] This article is from the EMU News Archive. The approximate date of publication was in September 2005. Current EMU news is available at www.emu.edu/news

Spiritual Life Week at EMS

by Joe Miller

Spiritual Life Week 2005 Speaker Jennifer Davis Sensenig
Spiritual Life Week 2005 Speaker Jennifer Davis Sensenig

The decision to begin seminary studies is an exercise in change. It means leaving home, family, church and friends and relocating to a new environment. It is a new place, new people, new ways of doing things and new challenges.

For those who have been out of school for a period of time, it is a re-emersion into the rigors of academia. There are books upon books and classes and papers to write and hours spent in the library.

It’s an exciting time and everybody eventually adjusts in varying ways and at varying speeds. But there is no question that the entire process initially often leaves the head in the clouds and the spirit, often times, lagging behind in the dust. Strangely, these same people who come to Seminary to follow the Call of God can find their spiritual life disconnected and in shambles.

"Students come to seminary with a deep sense of piety," says Wendy Miller, Eastern Mennonite Seminary assistant professor of spiritual formation and former seminary campus pastor. "For many years, their spiritual life was assumed." But EMS, besides having a strong pastoral orientation, soon recognized that a strong, integrated spirituality was essential to success in ministry.

So each year, at the very time when most students are just getting a handle on things--or feeling the crest of the wave over their heads--they are given the opportunity to pause, stand back and assess their own spiritual needs. This is called "Spiritual Life Week."

Each year, the faculty chooses a speaker who will lead seminary worship, speak to classes and be available to the students. "The speakers are chosen," says Miller, "because they embody within their own being and doing a formative spirituality." In short, she says, these are people who have successfully integrated a deep and practical spirituality into their lives and work.

This year’s speaker, Jennifer Davis Sensenig, is an associate pastor at Pasadena Mennonite Church in Pasadena, California. According to EMS professor Brenda Martin Hurst, Jennifer was the perfect candidate for the Spiritual Life Week speaker.

The two met when they both served on a reference council for the Office of Ministerial Leadership, Hurst as a seminary representative, Sensenig as a pastoral rep. "One weekend she led worship and I was very impressed," says Hurst. "She is dynamic, has a deep spirituality, and is a good preacher."

What really made her the perfect match for seminary students who are on their way to pastoral and other church assignments was the way she brought together both the intellectual and the spiritual in an engaging, pastoral presence.

Session one of Spiritual Life Week begins Tuesday, September 27 at 9:30 a.m. in the Seminary’s Martin Chapel. Utilizing Matthew 6:1-8 and 6-21, Sensenig plans to present "The Good Life—Practices" and discuss the spiritual disciplines. "I’ll quote Matthew 1:17 at some point," she says. "Maybe we’ll use a real or artistic tree as a visual focus for the service." Following the service, there will be a time of fellowship followed by regular classes.

After a few morning classes on Wednesday, the Seminary will begin a retreat with an 11:00 AM worship service with Sensenig preaching on "The Good Life – Sabbath." Focusing on Matthew 12:1-14, she’ll look at the two short Sabbath stories, using the image of the outstreched hand.

Lunch will be served and the Seminary will regroup for a 1:00 PM afternoon session based on Daniel 3:1-30 called "The Good Stories."

Thursday, classes resume with a special chapel service at 9:30. Here, Sensenig once again returns to Matthew, looking at chapter 10, verses 1-15. The Good Life is examined this time with the Scriptural theme, "Missions."

While Spiritual Life week is an important focusing "pause" in the life of the Seminary, it’s only part of the attention Eastern Mennonite Seminary pays to the spiritual life of the students. Today, Spiritual Formation classes are a requirement for all degree programs.

Says Dean Ervin Stutzman, "It's all part of how Eastern Mennonite Seminary ‘equips men and women to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, prepared to lead the church in mission with passion and integrity.'"

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