Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Faith-Based Service-Learning: Back to the Future

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Faith-Based Service-Learning: Back to the Future

Article excerpt

Commitment and Connection: Service-Learning and Christian Higher Education Gail Gunst Heffner and Claudia DeVries Beversluis (Eds.) Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003

In the fall of 1959, my Old Testament professor, Roger Carstenson, looked at a group of social activists at faith-based Phillips University in Oklahoma and said, "You talk a lot about walking the second mile, but don't really understand much about walking the 'first mile.'" In 2003, he might have told us to "go get a clue" to understand what service and privilege were really all about. He arranged for us to shave and tend to basic needs of the elderly poor who were "warehoused" at the County Home. As if that were not enough of a challenge, he insisted that we gather each Thursday morning for Bible study and reflect on just what it means to be a servant, or to walk the second mile as Jesus insisted.

In that same year, at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, John Eby and his peers were challenged to spend summers through the Council of Mennonite Colleges supporting "grass roots" organizations in Appalachia and the South.

Also in 1959, James Lawson, a Methodist pastor, doing graduate work in theology at Vanderbilt met throughout the year with a growing group of students from American Baptist College, as well as a few from Fisk and Tennessee A&I. Lawson equipped this new generation of students, most from faith-based colleges and universities, to initiate the sit-in movement informed by the nonviolent teachings of Jesus and Ghandi. Similarly, from different places in the early 1960s, Kathleen Weigert and a young Notre Dame student, Don McNeil, heard a clear call from Vatican II that linked "action in behalf of justice" and a "preferential option for the poor." In each example, students at faith-based colleges and universities were being challenged and supported to become servant-leaders whose actions were informed to some degree by ongoing reflection and learning.

Commitment and Connection: Service-Learning and Christian Higher Education focuses on service-learning at faith-based Calvin College. However, Calvin's story has many lessons for those who teach at public K-16 institutions as well. All of us engaged in service-learning need to think long and hard about the values underlying what we do, especially how they challenge and sustain us for the "long haul," to use Myles Horton's (1998) Highlander metaphor. In addition, with so much talk these days about "faith-based initiatives," this book provides all of us, whether we are in faith-based institutions or not, with some very thoughtful and challenging examples of service delivered from a faith-based orientation. Even if you are affiliated with a public/secular institution, you will find this collection of essays to be a rich resource. They offer very concrete examples across the curriculum, punctuated by deep philosophical reflection and critique. In addition, the book goes the "second mile" and provides self-critical reflection by faculty committed to service-learning, but often uneasy, even troubled, by their own practice and that of others.

Calvin College and the Reformed Tradition: Particularity and Uniqueness

Building upon the definitions and work of such service-learning forerunners as Sigmon, Stanton, Kendall, Giles, etc., our Calvin colleagues offer tangible and innovative evidence "that service-learning ... works as the connecting link between the mission of a college to equip students 'for lives of Christian service' and the actual skills, virtues, knowledge, and passion needed for those lives" (p. x). Heffner, Beversluis and their colleagues offer us solid evidence of how service-learning can assist faculty in connecting scholarship and service, "leading the college [and individual faculty] into a renewed holistic relationship with its various communities" (p. x) while revitalizing teachers and the quality of their teaching.

Underscoring the diversity of Christian (and faith-based) colleges and universities on the one hand, the editors also emphasize that

   most Christian [and Jewish] colleges have a
   legacy of service and see education for service
   in the world as central to their educational mission . … 
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