Young People Get a Sneak Peek at Seminary Life

August 9, 2010

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Ura Yoana Sanchez, Luis Valentin, Monica Cerna and Damaris Perez pray before they lead the group in morning worship.

Normally, when people come to Chicago for something called Taste, it's a Taste of Chicago, and a chance to try a lot of food. But recently, some young people got a sampling of something very different – life in a seminary.

Sunday morning is often called the most segregated part of the most segregated day. It's when many people of different ethnicities and races worship with other people who look like them.

McGINLEY: A lot of these communities of colors have been isolated from one another.

Emily McGinley heads an effort to try and change that called Taste of Seminary, part of the multi-denominational Common Ground Project.

McGINLEY: This is an opportunity to kind of break down some of the places of estrangement or suspicion or just difference that people assume or know about one another.

The project hopes to encourage young people of color to become ministers and theologians. The Association of Theological Schools says Asian, African-American and Hispanic students still make up just 1 in 5 students.

And McGinley says they can have a hard time finding jobs when they graduate. She found that out firsthand when looking for a church to minister at.

McGINLEY: And I thought, oh, well, it's just because I'm seeking my first call and it's really hard and everyone experiences this. And I was talking about this with someone and he said, "No, it's because you're a woman and it's because you're not white."

McGinley says mainline congregations are still mostly Anglo. But the U.S. is growing more diverse, and she says it's essential to recruit pastors and theologians who reflect that.

This year, Taste of Seminary was expanded to bring not just Asian-Americans, but Latinos and African-Americans together.

YAMADA: This is really an age where people are finding their identity.  This is also the age where they have this image of the world where they feel like they can still change it.

Frank Yamada's a professor at McCormick Theological Seminary, where the workshop took place. He says none of these young people experienced the Civil Rights movement of the '60s.

YAMADA: There's these historical wars of race that they don't always understand, and so they can get together and talk about those things, and they build different kinds of understandings than I think maybe even their parents could have.

They start by learning about each other's customs and foods -- like Korean BBQ. Several Latinos gather around a guitar to figure out which song to share during worship.

That bond grows stronger during downtime. They play volleyball and argue about whether a ball that lands in some dandelions is in or out.

ambi: Jesus would say out. Jesus would say nice try, but it's out. Nice try.

This seminar was Rashad Moore's first deep experience with Latino and Asian-American Christians.

MOORE: My work now would be to see how can we get the African-American community to realize that, that it's so much bigger than ourselves? We're all dealing with the issues of unemployment, all dealing with the issues of health care. We have so much more in common than we think.

As part of the program, Moore visited a church led by a pastor who's offered sanctuary to illegal immigrants. Moore says meeting undocumented people there made the immigration issue more real to him.

MOORE:  It's no different than slavery. So the fact a church would house two Mexican immigrants for a year, it sounds a lot like the Underground Railroad to me.
 
The experience made Logan Square resident Monica Cerna see her church's role differently.

CERNA: It's funny because I actually always separated church and politics,and it wasn't something I really thought that could be blended together or even was supposed to be.

Cerna's rethinking that position. She was surprised, too, to find out how many values she shared with the other young people.

CERNA: We forget about the bigger picture. We get so caught up in denominations, cultural differences, and we don't realize if we could come together and truly work as the body of Christ we could make a huge impact in this world we live in.

The workshop ends with poetry and hymns.

Cerna raises her hands and sways in her seat in time with the people all around her.