The seminary’s 11th president is the guest Friday on ‘Leading Theologically’
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — “You may not know it,” the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty of the Presbyterian Foundation told “Leading Theologically” viewers during his Friday interview with the Rev. Dr. Victor Aloyo, the 11th president of Columbia Theological Seminary, “but you’re just received a mini seminar on what it means to be a seminary president.”
Aloyo’s mini seminar came in response to Hinson-Hasty’s standard inquiry courtesy of Dr. Howard Thurman: “What is making you come alive?”
“It’s opportunities of seeing God at work creating something new every day — acknowledging that God is not static, but constantly demonstrating God’s goodness and grace and abundant love for the church and for the world,” Aloyo said. Students arrive at the seminary with “phenomenal faith stories that are guiding them to pursue further theological preparation in service to their communities and the life of the church.” It’s also the chance “to walk with the faculty and to create learning environments and platforms that will continue to give our students opportunities to further flourish, because their cutting-edge research and their commitment to Christ and the church is inspiring.”
“I’m also asked, ‘What wakes you up in the morning?’ It’s seeing the possibilities that can exist, that I have been given the honor to be part of this teaching, learning and serving enterprise which is so critical to me, my family and friends.”
With multiple pandemics including Covid, bitter political partisanship and the racial reckoning, “agency has been given to the rhetoric of hatred and the rhetoric of suspicion, which have infiltrated the life of the church,” Aloyo said. Longtime congregations and companies are closing, and clergy and lay leaders continue to face challenges including their own mental health and that of parishioners. As he and others at Columbia Seminary travel the country, “we hear challenges like the fear of scarcity is dominating. We’re not going to be moving forward in our curriculum development and in our trajectory as an institution of the church under the perspective of scarcity and fear, but of abundance and grace.”
Columbia Seminary is proceeding with a blueprint rather than a strategic plan. That more flexible approach is “more adaptive to changing circumstances,” Aloyo told Hinson-Hasty.
“Right now, we are living in an endemic time, and this endemic time is teaching us there’s constant change,” Aloyo said. He called the blueprint “flexible and nimble, but direct.”
The blueprint “highlights the importance of access and the flourishing of students,” focuses on “reconnecting with the local church” in that “we are an institution in service to the church,” and builds partnerships with alumni, congregants, philanthropical organizations, donors and individuals “who desire to be part of something positive,” Aloyo said.
Along with those elements is the increasing importance of mental health. “We will be focusing on fortifying our coping mechanisms in order for proper healing to occur,” Aloyo said. “You and I,” he told Hinson-Hasty, “were raised with a theological paradigm to look at and observe the needs of others. The fact is, we need to shift that to acknowledge it’s OK to tap into our humanity. It’s OK to understand we can get angry and frustrated and anxious about our circumstances. It is not weakness, but it is strength.”
“Let’s be a community that values and honors core values like gratitude and dignity,” Aloyo said. “Let’s celebrate what we offer — that our ministries are one of active learning, active listening and active formation.”
It’s been “wonderful,” Aloyo said, to be able to hear about the challenges being faced by alumni and others. “That’s why a blueprint is adaptive, because it charges us to have these conversations and incorporate their experiences within our own curriculum development and campus culture.”
Aloyo credited his parents, both of whom “are in the church triumphant,” for instilling “in me the values of perseverance, persistence and a learned faith.” Both parents emigrated from Puerto Rico to the New York City area in the early 1950s. Aloyo’s mother taught Sunday school for 58 consecutive years. “She loved it,” he said, “and that’s why I am such a strong advocate for lay leadership and being an instrument for making sure people who have been marginalized have an opportunity to contribute to ministry in the Lord’s vineyard.”
Asked by Hinson-Hasty which recent books to look out for, Aloyo mentioned “Sacred Self Care: Daily Practices to Nurturing our Whole Selves,” written by a Columbia Seminary faculty member, Dr. Chanequa Walker-Barnes. Walker-Barnes facilitated a recent faculty retreat “based on this phenomenal book,” Aloyo said. “She is a scholar and psychologist and faithful servant of the church.”
When it came time to deliver a blessing and a benediction, Aloyo prayed for the work of the Theological Education Fund “and its significant and impactful ministry within the life of the church and all our theological institutions. … Thank you, O Lord, for this opportunity you have granted us to share the good news, to be able to move forward with conviction and with celebration. And now, O Lord, may the gifts that you provide — the power of the Holy Spirit, the grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ — be upon us today and always. Amen.”
You may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.