Despite my being an enrolled student at McCormick Theological Seminary for four years, it was only after I graduated that I attended all of McCormick Days. And, really, I was only able to attend the entirety of the event this year because I work for the seminary as the social media manager, and had to be at every session and activity so that I could document and share it through the magic of the Internet. Had I been employed elsewhere, I doubt that I would have been able to justify to myself that I could take a whole two days off to participate, which would have been a tragedy because I would have missed out on something amazing.
This year, the theme for McCormick Days was, “The Prophetic: That Which Keeps us Alive.” The workshops, keynotes, and worship services tapped into that characteristic Spirit of McCormick—the deep-seated passion for justice and the creative energy that inspires us to new and needed ministries. Professor Cláudo Carvalhaes channeled the spirit of enslaved woman Cora Davis, who narrated the work of the Fire through history. Adjunct professor Julian DeShazier (aka J.Kwest) performed his own art of faith-led, Gospel-inspired, Hip Hop. An interfaith panel led discussion on how the Prophetic bridges religious borders and creates opportunities for collaborative action. Alumni Vanessa Monroe, Isaias Mercado, and Marilyn Pagán-Banks re-ignited hope for ministry in different spheres. David Barnhart and T. Christian Heyne screened a documentary on gun violence, and facilitated discussion on how people of faith can work to end it. Idy Ciss and the Kolaam Ensemble to provide dancing and drumming to lead us to the benediction.
I cannot sum up the experience of McCormick Days in one quote, one image, or one story. There are moments and conversations that will stay with me though. Please bear with me as I attempt to convey the spirit (and the Spirit) that we all felt so keenly over those two days at the end of October.
“Keep this fire blazing. It will burn injustice down.”
If you’ve never heard Cláudio preach the Word, then you should rectify that immediately (the man is everywhere, I’m sure there’s a workshop or conference that you can attend in the near future). His keynote speech, “Fire, Ashes, Bread, Water, and Spirit,” managed to push us all into that creative space where the Holy dwells. Dressed in a black robe, wrapped in Christmas lights, bundled up in a scarf, and topped with a fedora, Cláudio gave words to an enslaved woman, Cora Davis, who has long been with the saints. When he first walked out so attired, I was taken aback and a little apprehensive about how he was going to pull the whole thing off. And when he opened with “I was going to do something completely different, but I changed everything after my dream last night,” I was REALLY worried. But then Cláudio launched into his talk/sermon, guiding us through the arc of history that bends—wrenched by our hands and hearts afire with the Spirit—towards justice. While the content of the message itself was powerful enough, it was the way the Cláudio delivered it—channeling not just the Spirit, but the spirit of another human being, switching on his Christmas lights at different intervals—that pushed the boundaries of what we might traditionally define as “Prophetic preaching.” In a place that is not unfamiliar with calls to social justice, he managed to make that call fresh and new.
“You know what? Millennials are kind of awesome.”
It’s not often that someone comes to the defense of my generation; we are far more likely to be criticized for our short attention spans, our apparent apathy for face-to-face interaction, and our disinvestment in traditional American ideals. At the Interfaith panel on modern prophetic work, Hind Makki reminded the audience (the vast majority of them Boomers), that we young adults are enthusiastically taking up the mantel of social justice. “So much of organizing and relationship building centers on the idea of making people see themselves in each other,” said Hind. “Millennials don’t need that. They will fight for people they’ve never met.” To hear a leader say that the older generation had values to learn from us was powerful and affirming. It also gave me hope that there are other leaders advocating on our behalf and working to bridge the divide between generations, something that must happen if we are to keep the fire burning.
The Kolaam Ensemble
By Friday afternoon, a lot of us—attendees, staff, and presenters—were beginning to feel a bit tuckered. As great as the sessions were, and as much fun as I was having meeting some really awesome alumni, I was also ready for a nap. And then Idy Ciss and the Kolaam Ensemble began their session, which injected all of us with the spiritual equivalent of caffeine and whatever else is in a Red Bull. We danced, we clapped, and at the end we marched jubilantly to closing worship. I was reminded of that fundamental truth, that words aren’t enough to convey and receive the Prophetic; it is the fire in our bones that awakens to drumbeats, it is the smiles and laughter of shared joy, it is the heartbeat of God that beats in time with our own.
The mix of attendees at McCormick days represented an array of contexts and backgrounds, coming from different faith traditions, cities, ministry experiences, and ages. Yet all came away with a sense of feeling fed, rejuvenated, and reenergized. Presenters and audiences fed off each other, conversations and connections yielded new and re-newed friendships, and more than once we all cut a rug on the dance floor. It was special; it was inspiring; it was challenging; it was everything we love about McCormick.
Sarah Lyn Jones graduated from McCormick’s Dual Degree program in May, 2015. She currently serves as McCormick’s social media manager. You can re-live McCormick Days 2015 by searching for #McDays2015 on social media.