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Wednesday
Sep092015

THE IMPORTANCE OF PLACE

The new virtual, or digital, world provides us with opportunities for study in a variety of ways. We can be anywhere in the world and still connect into a classroom and participate in ways that would have only existed in our imagination just a few decades ago. NTS offers numerous innovate ways to study through the use of technology. We have purely online programs, video-conference and 1-week intensive courses at campuses around the country, making the NTS experience within reach of anyone. And yet, there is something significant about having a place to call “home.” No matter how many satellites we send off into space they still have to orbit their home – and no matter how many new forms of teaching we adopt, there is still something about the DNA of the “home” from which the teaching originates.

For many years, NTS shared a place in Kansas City with the denomination’s headquarters. Together, we literally filled a city block and provided a presence in Kansas City’s “Southtown” for nearly 60 years. While the denomination’s headquarters moved to Lenexa, Kansas, the Seminary wrestled with questions of location. After a period of fact-finding and soul-searching, in October of 2014, the NTS Board of Trustees voted unanimously to bring to conclusion the discussion of relocation and commit to the 1700 E. Meyer Blvd. location. With this decision came a settled feeling that NTS was in her place, in the community in which she had been nurtured throughout the years.

This brings us to the importance of understanding “place.” There is something about our “place” which helps to define who we are. Being raised as a Third Culture Kid (TCK), I can certainly relate to this desire to have a place to call home – a place to help explain who you are. It is in a real space that we are able to live out our faith, putting it in action in a social context. While we have not always practiced this well in the life of the church, the idea of parish ministry is again emerging. In the early years of the holiness movement, the Salvation Army in England practiced this type of ministry of presence. Their goal was to place a Salvationist on every city block. It was their responsibility to be the presence of Jesus, praying for the needs of the people, reaching out to meet physical needs and minister to social and emotional concerns.

The place of the main campus of Nazarene Theological Seminary is in the Southtown region of Kansas City, Missouri. This is a community with an interesting history and has often been defined by the surrounding culture. Two blocks west of NTS is Troost Avenue, a road which runs north to south and remains a barrier within our city. Years ago, the deeds of properties west of Troost included the clause that those homes were not to be sold to Jews or Blacks. Hence, the city became divided between those east of Troost and those on the west side. It became a very visible divide in the city; and while those clauses have long since been ignored, the scarring of our community remains. I am proud that NTS stands two blocks east of Troost and in a community where all people are free to live. However, we must also be honest with ourselves and recognize that we are a predominantly Anglo Seminary in a predominantly African American community.

With our renewed commitment to “place” we must then ask ourselves how a Seminary lives incarnationally within the community. I believe that now more than ever, NTS has the opportunity to live out the DNA which has been handed to us from our Wesleyan holiness heritage. It was the people of the holiness movement who fought for the abolition of slavery and for women’s suffrage. They spoke out against and ministered to those who had become trapped in “white slavery” (human trafficking of the early 20th century). Love of God and love of neighbor has always punctuated our holiness understanding and this challenges us to open our eyes to our neighbors and their needs. This cannot just be something that is taught, but it must be lived out within the lives of individuals and institutions. The Seminary is called to embrace her “place” within Kansas City and to be an agent of God’s grace and reconciliation.

In the last several years, intentional leadership has led to tearing down the old wrought-iron fence that used to surround the Seminary. Last fall nearly 30 students and faculty lived within walking distance of the Seminary and even more are looking for ways to move back into the community. Our prayer is that our commitment to “place” will become a part of the DNA of Nazarene Theological Seminary as we seek to live, educate and minister incarnationally in our Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth. What happens in Kansas City will have an impact on the ways in which we engage and minister in North America and around the globe.

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