Tomorrow's Clergy Leaders; Conference Addresses Role of Religion in Social Justice

Article excerpt

Byline: Geraldine Washington, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

On opposite sides of the room, they sat. She a young, single black woman. He a young, married white man. Yet, there Charlene Brown and Tim Baer were, in the same place with the same purpose and on the same path.

The Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria this week hosted this diverse pair and about 140 other college divinity and seminary students from across the country and Canada at a religious leadership conference, Becoming Rich Toward God: Pastoral Leadership and Economic Justice. It was sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education, a nonprofit ecumenical organization that provides scholarship support to intellectually gifted and socially engaged young people from underrepresented ethnic backgrounds who are pursuing degrees in theology and religion.

These members of Gen Y are interested in the ministry as a way to affect social change and channel their passion for economic and social justice, group leaders said.

Melissa Wiginton, vice president of ministry, programs and planning, said many of the fellows are purpose-driven and motivated to tackle such issues as homelessness, poverty and economic depression.

In keeping with the conference theme of economic activism, the students volunteered at regional social-service agencies, including Bread for the World, Jubliee Housing and Sojourners.

Miss Brown, 22, of Woodbridge, Va., said she received her call to the ministry on a visit a couple of years ago to South Africa while she was a student at the University of Virginia.

Before that trip, Miss Brown admits, she never attended church and had no personal relationship with God. The unforgettable experience of seeing hungry schoolchildren forced to sit inside hot classrooms while their teachers ate lunch on grassy knolls inspired her to fight world poverty and social injustice through ministry.

The next day, a group of us [students] made bunches of peanut-butter-and jelly sandwiches for the children and watched in disbelief as they broke the sandwiches in pieces to feed their starving brothers and sisters, she said.

Miss Brown then joined a Baptist church and headed a campus religious group at UVa. Upon graduation, she enrolled in Duke University's School of Divinity. …