Keep Teaching, Keep Worshiping

By Kazimierz Bem ’10 M.Div., ’11 S.T.M.

I was cautioned about studying theology before I even applied to YDS. It was not the standard warning new seminarians get that boils down to: “You will lose your faith.” I already knew there might be more than one author hiding under the Book of Isaiah, and I had figured long before that it was highly unlikely that Moses wrote a detailed account of his death and burial himself. 

The caution I received was more subtle and unexpected, more profound than I could appreciate back then. “Don’t forget to practice your faith,” I was told. “Worship as often as possible.” 

An Unforeseen Gift

I have always looked back at my years at YDS with joy and gratitude. The financial aid allowed me to attend, I have made many good friends, and my YDS education prepared me very well for ministry. But to be honest with you, it was not just the education that did it—it was also the fact that we were offered daily worship at Marquand Chapel, and I attended it religiously (pun intended) throughout my four years there. As time goes by, I am more and more inclined to say that what YDS gave me was both a theological education and a faithful practice of worship and prayer.

The basic praxis of Christian faith came during weekday chapel—where we all prayed daily for the Holy Spirit to open not just our minds but also our hearts and souls. I feel strongly about Yale Divinity School’s tradition of holding daily morning chapel worship with no competing campus events or lectures scheduled.

We all know that theological education is facing change—though to be quite honest, I wonder, when was the time it was not in flux or hurtling into uncharted territory? With the waning of mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. and Europe there is a tendency for divinity schools and faculties to look elsewhere for students or forge other goals. At a conference I attended recently I heard the term “communities of accountability,” which sounded like a fancy, overblown neologism. But I thought about it on my train ride home, and I think the speaker may have been on to something. The Church with a capital “C” is any divinity school’s or theological faculty’s “community of accountability.”

The Only Place

The Church is the only place today where we can hear and talk about God, faith, and hope and they are not a caricature (as portrayed by the media) or a ruse (as performed by politicians). We are the last place in society where grace is not a name but a gift, the cross is not the sign of a scratched-out mistake on a written page but a symbol of a predestined act of love, communion is not a noun but a state of being, and where God is more than a feeling you get when you think of pink fluffy unicorns dancing on rainbows. The Church is the only place where we can talk about God, and more precisely, the God revealed to us in Christ Jesus Christ, his love shown for us, the life that he gave to us. It is the place where we realize our faith matters not just to us, but to all those around us whether we know them personally or not. The Church is the only place where words like truth, light, forgiveness, resurrection retain their true meaning.

But to be able to do that, theological education must continue to provide not just a learned clergy (that beloved term of the Puritans) but also a faithful Christian clergy. I am forever indebted to my professors for the amazing lectures on New Testament and the Hebrew Bible that offered the historical-critical method of reading them; but I am equally grateful for those moments of grace in and outside the classroom when I realized that the four-source hypothesis is not an answer to every biblical question; the Q-source hypothesis makes for a fun introduction to a lay Bible study on Mark but does not answer all questions my congregants have about who Jesus was and is now and why I still cry when I read from the pulpit the Beatitudes from the Gospel according to Matthew.

Giving Glory Daily

My YDS classes gave me an incredible theological education. But the basic praxis of Christian faith came in our weekday chapel—where faculty worshipped with us and preached on occasion; where I heard my peers preach and pray and bless us; where we all prayed daily for the Holy Spirit to open not just our minds but also our hearts and souls to her power, so that the words we read, studied, and preached would bring glory to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.

I feel strongly about Yale Divinity School’s tradition of holding daily morning chapel worship with no competing campus events or lectures scheduled. Rooting our knowledge and gifts in steadfast prayer is the basis for any successful ministry, certainly any ordained one. We all know of peers whose passion for social justice was worn down by the world’s overwhelming need and limited resources. We all know of pastors whose ministry began to decline when their daily routine was not anchored by unwavering systematic prayers. Worship at Marquand showed us the power of prayer and faithfulness. It is perhaps an overlooked gift but one of the most precious that YDS can give to its graduates.

A Providential Design

I think it is God’s good providential love to YDS and to us to have placed Marquand Chapel at the architectural and spiritual center of the Quad. Education of Christian clergy must account for both mind and soul so that we may have an open heart when we leave the Quad to serve where God calls us. Whatever the future holds for YDS and theological education, I hope that the nurture the Christian faith through daily worship remains its core value and gift to all who enter it. As for the rest? The God who brought us this far will continue to sustain us. After all, has not God predestined us for Godself in Christ Jesus? Alleluia, come Lord Jesus!

The Rev. Kazimierz Bem ’10 M.Div., ’11 S.T.M. has been pastor of First Church in Marlborough (Congregational) UCC, in Marlborough, MA., since 2011. He also holds a Ph.D. from Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, Netherlands, with a focus on international refugee law. He is the author of Calvinism in the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1548-1648: The Churches and the Faithful (Brill, 2020).