Phillip W. Antilla | NTS Class of 2015
Master of Divinity Degree Program
“Sense of place is not just something that people know and feel, it is something people do.”
- Albert Camus
What kind of place is Nazarene Theological Seminary? An academic institution? A campus? A business? Surely all of these words can describe an aspect of this seminary. Yet to only describe NTS as a space where students come to take classes, like a repository of theological education, is to surely miss the mark for how one ought to understand this place.
The ancient Greeks used two words to describe “place”: topos and chora. Topos was a general, non-distinct place. A gas station, some Starbucks. However, if for example, a specific Starbucks happens to be the place were you went on a first date, it then transitions from some space to a place. The greeks called this chora - a storied place. A place with history and memories. A place where the physical environment has an energy that can guide your actions. Author Belden Lane writes, “participating in deliberate ritual activity is what invariably occasions the transition from experiencing place as topos to encountering the same place as chora.”
Just as Lane suggests, deliberate ritual activity transforms this seminary from any school to our school. The normal rhythms and disciplines we have held for more than sixty years have transformed this space into a storied place for us. These walls not only tell stories, but they guide our actions.
Although some methods of seminary education have changed in the last 60 years, many aspects remain the same. Students still meet regularly for lectures, discussions, worship, and prayer. They still walk the same halls, which are filled with pictures of each year’s graduating class - pastors and teachers, family members and friends, who once traveled through this same stage of life. As current students walk the halls, these former students are still very much with them every step of the way. Their tradition keeps us moving forward.
Or consider the many colonnades you find on this campus. Simple rows of white columns on the exterior of the library and the main breezeway. If those walking by would pause for one moment, they might be able to recall the image of an old monastic cloister, where committed Christians, most often students of scripture and theology, would slowly pass through columned walkways just like this. These cloistered hallways provided monks with a sacred place to pray and worship God. Is it not possible that these columns can still serve the same purpose for us now? As a storied place, the NTS campus reminds us that we are a part of longstanding tradition.
Even the grounds of Nazarene Theological Seminary are filled with story. When walking around campus, don’t overlook the Wynkoop Memorial Garden, which pays tribute to the late Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, a Nazarene theologian par excellence. Although the garden is small, her contribution to this seminary and the Church of the Nazarene was immense. Upon her death, her ashes were scattered in this very spot. As a storied place, the lives of saints from NTS, like Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, call us to follow in their footsteps.
One of the most fascinating aspects of a theology of place however, is that a place is both confined to and free from its physical location. Referring back to the difference between topos and chora, we don’t often switch one important, storied place for another place that is similar to it. However, we must remember that “storied place” is not just another synonym for “nostalgic.” Although places often have stories embedded in their very soil, such places are also generative - they create new stories.
As a community, we ought to remember where we have been and those who have come before us. We should learn from their example, and look to them for strength. However, we should also carry on their tradition. Recognizing that what makes a place like this important is not just that it has stories, but that it continues to create stories. This seminary has gone through many phases, and it will certainly continue to grow and change with each generation. However, as students, faculty, alumni, and community members, the task we have been given is to press forward and continue the deliberate ritual activity of this school, in all seasons of life. This is the liturgy of place.
May the walls and columns, gardens and windows, stories and memories, and hopes and dreams of this seminary guide us forward. And may we continue to be present to the faithful and steady work of God in our lives and in this place.
 Belden C. Lane, Landscapes of the Sacred: Geography and Narrative in American Spirituality, (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 39.