Category: Ecumenical Institute News

Preaching the Empty Tomb to an Empty Room

Dean Laytham’s Introduction:  

Every week a preacher asks her- or himself, “How do I proclaim the Good News for this people, gathered in this place, at this time? What is the Good News here and now for us?”

That perennial question is peculiarly focused this Holy Week, as the now has been exponentially magnified by corona-crisis, as the us has been radically diminished—even dismembered—by social distancing, and the here has been displaced and destabilized by migration to virtual platforms.

This Holy Week, preachers bent on proclaiming Good News face a particular version of the perennial question: “How do you proclaim the empty tomb … to an empty room?” 

Three EI faculty shared their answer, each focusing on one phase of the Easter Triduum:

Dr. Janyce Jorgensen, pastor at Zion Lutheran in York, PA, addressed Maundy Thursday, asking how can we “get real” with a service that is so tactile and sensory.  In a year when we will not gather together to take, bless, break and give bread, Jorgensen reminded us (quoting Henri Nouwen), that this year Jesus is taking us, blessing us, breaking us, giving us. Here is the full text of her talk, with the Nouwen references:  Jorgensen on Maundy Thursday

Dr. C. Anthony Hunt, pastor of Epworth United Methodist Chapel, spoke of the “existential texture” of Good Friday in the Black Church, which finds hope in surprising places–even a condemned man’s cross. He then referenced the ‘glad surprise’ of Easter, as illuminated in this quote from Thurman:

“… if stumbling in the darkness, having lost his or her way, one finds the spot at which they fell is the foot of a stairway that leads from darkness into light.  Such is the glad surprise.  This is what Easter means in the experience of the race.  This is the resurrection!  It is the announcement that life cannot ultimately be conquered by death, that there is no road that is at last swallowed up in an ultimate darkness, that there is strength added when the labors increase, that multiplied, peace matches multiplied trials, that life is bottomed by the glad surprise.” (Howard Thurman – “Resurrection: The Glad Surprise” in Meditations of the Heart)


Dr. Dave Greiser, pastor of North Baltimore Mennonite Church, reflected on preaching bodily resurrection this Easter, focusing on 1 Corinthians 15. He ended with three tips for how virtual preachers might handle the ’empty room.’ Full text: Greiser – preaching Easter – EI Town Hall 

View full Town Hall
(forward to about the 3:25 mark for the formal beginning)


Stress and Trauma in a Time of Crisis

Following are notes from Dr. Pat Fosarelli’s presentation, as well as a poem shared by Dr. John Hayes, for the virtual #TheologyTownHall held Wednesday, April 1, 2020. [Join us at noon on Wednesdays for Theology Town Halls led out by different members of the EI community.]

What is stress?
  • Stress is anything that moves us off our equilibrium
  • A stress can be positive if it makes us feel joyful (e.g., getting married) or competent (getting a promotion)
  • A stress is negative when it causes us to feel out of control or unable to cope or the stress is never-ending
  • The current COVID situation fits the description of a major negative stress
What is the body’s response to negative stress?
  • A negative stress is associated with the fight-or-flight “response,” one of the oldest protective mechanisms in the human body
  • Fight-or-flight is supposed to be short-lived, but in chronic stress, it goes on and on
  • That is important because the chemical processes in the body associated with fight-or-flight are harmful if they last too long; these include effects on the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, the immune system, and the way we use glucose in our body
  • Raised heartrate and respiratory rates help to get us away from an immediate danger, as does a higher blood pressure and higher glucose in the bloodstream, but if these effects last too long, they damage the very body they were trying to protect
  • Structures in the brain contribute to this cascade of events, as memories of similar dangers make us more anxious; in addition, the center in our brain that alerts us to dangers (amygdala) often gets “stuck” in the on-position (just like a smoke detector that’s not working well)
  • The result is our bodies and minds are impacted sometimes in a major way
  • Physical responses: the aforementioned reactions, an improperly functioning immune response, worsening of chronic conditions, alterations in sleep and diet, etc.
  • Emotional responses: Fear, irritability, sadness, panic, crying, re-visitation of memories that are negative, etc.
  • Spiritual responses: Greater intimacy with God OR anger at God, doubting of God’s existence or care, inability to pray, etc.
  • Resilience is what is needed
  • Resilience can be learned
  • Steps in building a resilient attitude:
    • know yourself (what are your strengths/weaknesses; what makes you more stressed or worried; what obstacles have you overcome in the past);
    • pay attention to the positives/spend much less time on the negatives (e.g., watch less TV);
    • lean in to the situation, accurately noting your reactions and if they are helpful; 
    • change your reactions to responses (the difference is that a reaction is usually automatic while a response is usually measured and considered);
    • realize that you can’t know or fix everything…and that’s OK;
    • do what you can as positively as you can (don’t dwell on what you can’t do);
    • find something to laugh or smile about…EVERYDAY;
    • connect in positive ways with others;
    • do something that gives you joy or meaning EVERYDAY (such activities evoke the production of endorphins in our bodies, neurotransmitters that counteract many of the effects of fight-or-flight noted above); 
    • lean in to God, lean on God, connecting to God in the way that seems most meaningful and natural to you

As members of the Body of Christ, each one of us is important in the overall health of the Body.

Fear is the Cheapest Room in the House
by Khwaja Hafez Shirazi (q.s.) (1326-1389 CE)

Fear is the cheapest room in the house
I would like to see you living
In better conditions,

for your mother and my mother
Were friends.

I know the Innkeeper
In this part of the universe.
Get some rest tonight,
Come to my verse tomorrow.
We’ll go speak to the Friend together.

I should not make any promises right now,
But I know if you
Somewhere in this world-
Something good will happen.

God wants to see
More love and playfulness in your eyes
For that is your greatest witness to Him.



Theology Town Hall: The Coronavirus and the Book of Revelation

The following is taken from Dr. Michael Gorman’s presentation for the virtual #TheologyTownHall held Wednesday, March 25, 2020. [Join us at noon on Wednesdays for Theology Town Halls led out by different members of the EI community.]

For hundreds of years, people who have experienced pestilences have wondered, “Is this or that plague predicted in the book of Revelation?” Once again, some people are understandably asking the same question. One well-known religious group believes that the pale horse of Revelation 6 has been “riding the Earth” since the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, “sow[ing] death through plagues and other ills” (The Washington Post, March 20, 2020).

So is this pandemic the fulfillment of Revelation’s prophecies? I will answer that question with an emphatic “no.”

I do so, not because the current pandemic is insignificant, but because that sort of question  is the wrong question to ask of the book of Revelation. The right sort of question might be one that appears in Revelation itself: “How long?” (Rev 6:10), a phrase we find also in the psalms of lament (e.g., Psalm 6:3).

But Revelation’s images of plagues, other disasters, and beasts are symbols, not depictions or predictions. They are symbols of humanity’s evils, especially the evils that result from the marriage of political and religious powers, and of cosmic evil forces—and, yes, of God’s judgment on those evils. But there is no one-to-one correspondence between, say, one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse or one of the bowls of judgment and the current pandemic, or (for that matter) any other pandemic, past, present, or future.

As I and others have argued in many places and ways, in times like this the church’s mission—even according to the book of Revelation–is not to look for biblical predictions and make connections that instill fear. Neither is it to say things like, “If this is the beginning of the end, true Christians will be safe because they will be raptured—whisked away.” (Remember, there is no rapture in the book of Revelation!)

Rather, as always, the church’s mission is to bear faithful witness to Christ the Faithful Witness (Revelation 1:5) and to the eternal gospel (Revelation 14:6); to share in the suffering of the world; to call ourselves and everyone else to turn away from evil and toward Jesus Christ; and to offer faith, love, and hope to all by practicing those three theological virtues.

The situation we are facing is clearly unique and requires unique ways of expressing that faith, love, and hope—but the essential call has not changed one iota. What might the book of Revelation have to say about these three theological virtues?

Faith: In Revelation, faith means faithfulness and endurance and obedience. Since today is, for many Christians, the feast of the Annunciation, we may need to heed the example of Mary (who appears in Revelation 12), who said to the angel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). We certainly need that sort of faith right now.

Love: Revelation tells us that the church in Ephesus “abandoned the love” it had at first (Revelation 2:4). That is certainly a danger today, as we are in various states of isolation. So what does love look like now? It means social distancing, but also more. It means praying for our EI students and their families who are uniquely affected by this situation, for the sick and vulnerable, for the health providers, for those in leadership—from the EI to the UN. It means making contact with people to be sure they are OK. And it may mean expending financial resources in unexpected ways to assist a family member, friend, or neighbor.

Hope: I especially stress the word hope, because no matter what happens, the book of Revelation is a book of hope: it invites us to anticipate the beautiful new heavens and new earth, the dwelling of God among us in the fullest sense and most complete way. And it invites us also, now, to “come” and to “take” or “receive.” As the book of Revelation comes to a close, it reiterates one of its themes—salvation as the satisfaction of our deepest thirsts—by beckoning us: “Let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take [or, better translated, “receive”] the water of life as a gift” (Revelation 22:17). Hope is a divine gift, and a divine gift to pass on to others.

Today the book of Revelation, its author (John), its main character (Jesus), the Spirit, and the bride (the church) offer that invitation to life—abundant life in Christ, abundant life in the company of God’s people. This is a life of faith, love, and hope.

All of which brings us back to Romans 8, Paul’s great chapter about God’s love and faithfulness, and thus our hope. I again stress the word hope.

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? Is it God who justifies?! 34Who will condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?! Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” No,


Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson to give 2019 Dunning Lecture

This year’s Dunning Lecture, “Interpreting the Gospel of John: Writing a Commentary in Good Company” will be given by Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson on Thursday, November 14, 7:30 pm in Laubacher Hall. 

Dr. Marianne Meye Thompson  is the George Eldon Ladd Professor of New Testament and former School of Theology dean at Fuller Theological Seminary. Thompson has been instrumental in developing advanced-level interdisciplinary courses that integrate biblical interpretation with other disciplines of the theological curriculum. She is author of John: A Commentary (New Testament Library, 2015), 1–3 John (IVP New Testament Commentary, 2011), A Commentary on Colossians and Philemon (The Two Horizons Commentary, 2005), The God of the Gospel of John (2001), and The Promise of the Father (2000), and coauthor of Introducing the New Testament (2001). She has also published numerous articles and reviews in scholarly journals.

A member of the Studiorum Novi Testamenti Societas, Thomspon has participated in various projects at the Center of Theological Inquiry, including “The Scripture Project” and “The Identity of Jesus,” as well as consultations on “Children in the Scriptures,” sponsored by Valparaiso Project on Childhood Studies, Theology, and Ethics, and “Teaching the Bible in the 21st Century,” at the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning. Adept at communicating Christian biblical scholarship to a popular audience, she was featured on the PBS series, Genesis. Thomspon has served on various editorial boards, including Theology Today and New Testament Studies

Thomspon is an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

This event is free and open to the public. Registration is requested.

Download a flyer for the event here, or contact Rebecca Hancock (410.864.4202) for more information. 


“Reclaiming Broken Bodies: Thinking Theologically about the Opioid Crisis”

Join us Thursday, September 19, 7 pm for a lecture by Dr. Joel Shuman, “Reclaiming Broken Bodies: Thinking Theologically about the Opioid Crisis.” The lecture is free and open to the public. Registration is requested. 

The opioid crisis is on multiple levels about the brokenness of human bodies, only some of which fall under the purview of medicine; for all the real good it does, medicine alone cannot offer healing. “Healing,” says the poet, essayist, and social critic Wendell Berry, “is impossible in loneliness. It is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing.” Berry’s claim is altogether consistent with one of the fundamental tenets of Christianity, which is that God’s redemptive work, mediated by the gathered community of God’s people is to make of alienated, lonely individuals a community of mutual love and support. God’s work is to reclaim persons from isolation and re-member them into a community where “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” ( 1 Cor 12:26). None of this happens magically, but rather through the hard work of friendship; one way of imagining the Christian community is as a gathered society of friends, all of whom are broken in one way or another, each of whom is devoted to caring in concrete ways for the others. This work of reclamation allows us to serve one another in our weaknesses and truthfully lament the brokenness of our bodies as we await their promised redemption.

Joel Shuman, PhD, PT, is Professor of Theology at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania who works at the intersection of theology and medicine. Dr. Shuman also teaches in the CONNECT: Faith, Health, and Medicine certificate program of St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute. After practicing physical therapy for several years, he pursued theology, studying New Testament with Richard Hays and Christian Ethics with Stanley Hauerwas at Duke University. Joel spent the 2018-19 academic year as the Scholar in Residence with the Theology, Medicine, and Culture Initiative at Duke Divinity School, where he researched the opioid epidemic. He is currently co-authoring a book on congregational responses to the opioid crisis. His previous books include The Body of Compassion: Ethics, Medicine and the ChurchHeal Thyself: Spirituality, Medicine and the Distortion of Christianity (with Keith Meador, M.D.), Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine (with Brian Volck, M.D.), and To Live is to Worship: Bioethics and the Body of Christ (2007). He co-edited (with L. Roger Owens) and contributed to the volume of essays, Wendell Berry and Religion: Heaven’s Earthly Home.

Download a printable PDF flyer HERE. 


St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute Launches Doctor of Ministry

A new Doctor of Ministry degree, to be offered in the Ecumenical Institute, was approved last week by the Maryland Higher Education Commission. Earlier in the month, the degree was accredited by the Association of Theological Schools (the premier accreditor among seminaries).

The program, directed by the Rev. Dr. Jason Poling, is now receiving applications for admission. The inaugural course is Reading Scripture, taught in DMin intensives this fall by Dr. Mike Gorman, world-renowned biblical theologian and Raymond E. Brown Professor of Biblical Studies and Theology.

Learn more in our DMin press release, dedicated web page, or by contacting Director of Recruitment Kaye Guidugli.


2019 Holocaust Memorial

Since 1985, St. Mary’s Seminary & University has held a yearly Yom HaShoah service. This year’s Holocaust service focused on justice and accountability, which has been an important theme at St. Mary’s throughout this academic year. Students from both the Ecumenical Institute and the School of Theology—including Mark DeCelles, Marton Lonart, James Holman, Evan Ponton, and Patty Ruppert—planned the event.

The service was patterned around the lighting of the St. Mary’s Yom HaShoah menorah candles. The prayer service included a reading from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, several psalms of lament, prayers, and memoirs shared by seminarian Marton Lonart from an interview with his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. As the service concluded, participants were invited to light their own candles from the menorah as a sign of their commitment to never forgot and to advocate for the vulnerable among us.


Celebrating the Life of Sister Rose Mary Dougherty, SSND

Former EI instructor Sister Rose Mary Dougherty, SSND entered eternal life on February 28, 2019. Sister Rose Mary taught on 23 different occasions at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute from 1994 to 2011 in the area of spirituality. Many, many students were the recipients of her knowledge and wisdom. Her courses included Group Spiritual Direction; Theology & Practice of Prayer; Spiritual Disciplines; Introduction to Spiritual Direction; God, Creation & the Spiritual Life (with Dr. George Fisher); Science, Creation, and Theology (with Dr. George Fisher); and Conversion (with Dr. Michael Gorman). Her evaluations were always glowing, with comments such as “I consider it a real honor to be in Sister Rose Mary’s class.” “Sister Rose Mary is a magnificent model of prayer.” “She [teaches] with wisdom and gentle humor.”  “Her honesty and openness were soothing.”  In the 2006-07 academic year, she was selected as a Dunning Distinguished Lecturer at the EI.

A Memorial Mass will be offered on Monday, March 18, 2019 at 10:30 AM at the Chapel of Villa Assumpta. Contributions in memory of Sister Rose Mary may be made to the School Sisters of Notre Dame, 6401 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21212.


EI Staff New Staff Hires & Updates

Dean Laytham is pleased to welcome new colleagues to St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute, as well as announce one change in title.

Kaye Guidugli will succeed Patty Rath (who is retiring) as Director of Recruitment and Advancement. Kaye is an EI alum (MAT 2010) who has worked for many years in higher education (University of Maryland system). Kaye’s work there focused especially on providing access and promoting success for all students. Kaye begins work January 11.

Rev. Jason Poling, DMin, will be our Director of the Doctor of Ministry program. This part-time (5 hrs/week) position has already commenced, so that Dr. Poling can help lead us through the DMin accreditation process. Dr. Poling is an EI alum (MAT 2007) and long-serving board member. He is currently Priest-in-Charge, St. Andrew’s (Pasadena) and All Saints’ (Reisterstown).

Marcia Hancock is our new part-time Billing Specialist (succeeding Teresa Guion in a modified position). She has bookkeeping skill, computer expertise, and patience. The latter has been especially handy as Marcia is learning the new position at our busiest time of the year.

Dr. Rebecca Hancock’s title has been changed to Assistant Dean of Student Services, reflecting more accurately the full scope of her administrative work with faculty, students, and directing the MDiv partnership. Doubtless all who have worked with Dr. Hancock will want to congratulate her on this accomplishment.


Patty Rath to Retire in January 2019

With deep appreciation for her extraordinary service, Dean Laytham announces the impending retirement of Patty Rath on January 25, 2019. For fifteen years, Patty (MAT, 1999) has been the welcoming face of St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute, assisting hundreds of prospective students with their entrance into theological education. Patty has been an able advocate for St. Mary’s, an hospitable recruiter with prospects, and an indefatigable and generous colleague. In retirement she plans to spend more time with her grandchildren, while continuing to support and participate in the public and alumni activities of St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute. We thank her for her service, and wish her all God’s blessings.