Hospitality as leadership: a different kind of grad program

I have the privilege of directing a unique graduate program in missional leadership. In addition to our great faculty, we have four features that make our program unique:

1. We insist that all of our students have ministry contexts in which they can do projects for each course. We encourage them to see as their primary classroom the contexts in which they minister. So, we bring content to them through a combination of intensive and online courses.

2. We create dynamic learning communities through cohorts. Students take the same 12 courses in the same sequence with the same students. It is hard to overstate the importance of cohorts to developing both an enriched learning environment. Our students not only become friends, often very close friends, but they press each other to deeper learning because of the quality of the ongoing ministry conversation they have together. They learn as much from each other as they do their profs.

3. We emphasize spiritual formation through a cohort rule of life. Randy Harris helps each of our cohorts develop a shared set of spiritual practices that then we coach throughout the program. Natalie Magnusson does a great job providing spiritual direction to each of our cohorts. As a result, our students experience grad school as an environment in which they grow in their “God-centered identity,” and avoid the cynicism that too often is the result of graduate theological education.

4. I already mentioned that our courses are either intensives or online. Our intensives are a special part of our program. We don’t just meet at Rochester College, but we go to places like Portland, Dallas, and Durham, NC where we can learn from other missional leaders by looking over their shoulders. These are great weeks and are essential to the success of our other courses held online.

In relation to #4, I want to post the comments made by one of our students, Graham McMahon (Chilliwack, BC), on his experience in the intensive we had in Durham this past September.

The intensive in Durham, North Carolina proved to be a formative and rich experience for me. Richard Beck’s teaching on purity psychology was excellent, especially in relationship to our understandings of hospitality. We learned all of the ways we can psychologically exclude those different than us so that we can then learn to include them. Richard taught us about “The Little Way” of Saint Therese of Lisieux which provided us with a set of practices to help us learn how to welcome the other, the person or stranger who is different than us. In this way, not only did we think critically about the psychology that often unconsciously keeps us from welcoming the other, but we also learned how to overcome this by adopting simple practices that help us welcome the other.

Our time with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove was also a transformative experience. Jonathan
challenged us to see hospitality from a place of justice, reconciliation, and the overcoming of oppression and racism. He also taught us the importance of intentional community, a rule of life, a communal approach, and the significance of place when it comes to the practice of hospitality. Jonathan teaches from a place of abundant and varied experience; he is a true practitioner. He walked us through his neighbourhood, welcomed us to his African American church’s worship service, and invited us to join his monastic community in morning prayers, all of which were highlights of our time with him.

In our final two days together, Mark Love provided us with a deep theological foundation for the practice of hospitality. He challenged us to imagine our liturgical practices and worship gatherings as experiences of hospitality and to find new ways of making room for the other outside of our Sunday gatherings. As with all of our intensives with the MREML program, there was ample time to discuss as a cohort all that we were learning and to begin to envision together how what we were learning would translate into our immediate ministry back home.

As I stepped back into life with our church in Chilliwack, I was immediately able to begin
implementing what we had gleaned together through the Durham intensive, and we are already seeing the fruit of transformation as a result.

The intensive in Durham has proven to be one of the most practical and transformative
intensives to date and I am grateful for the opportunity to learn at the feet of wise experienced people together with my fellow ministry partners from my cohort. This is truly one of the most effective ways to learn and grow as leaders and has proven to be a catalyst for healthy growth and change in our local church community.

About Mark Love

I am the Dean for the School of Theology and Ministry and Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who is a practicing new monastic in Abilene, TX. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and two amazing granddaughters.
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