by Reynolds Chapman When I graduated from college I don’t think I fully grasped how much power had been given to me. In fact, since power was a negative concept in my mind, I probably played down my social, professional, political, and spiritual capacities out of some false humility. And although I had gained knowledge and tools to dive head-first into the “real world,” I lacked a robust framework for engaging with it as Christ would have me. As I reflect on the past year spent in the Trinity Fellows Program, I see how it helped me recognize the power I have been given, and how God is forming me to steward it for His Kingdom.
In his book Power and Passion, Samuel Wells says “…those in power do no good by failing to realize the power they have. Power is not wrong or bad or inherently corrupt; it is given for a purpose – to reflect the truth, to set people free – and only becomes sinister when it is not used for the purpose for which it has been given.” Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of the Church in America is our unwillingness to be honest about the influence and agency we have. We can understand why - a denial of power allows for a denial of responsibility. What the Fellows Program seeks to do is catch Christians at that fork in the road where they can either treat their gifts as inadequate, irrelevant, or even non-existent, or they can use them to engage God’s world.
This vision is built on a theological foundation established in the seminary classes we take. In our Biblical studies courses, the recurring theme of humiliation before exultation was implanted in our hearts and minds. Centered on Christ, who “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant…becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” we saw how our lives in the Church, our communities, our families, and at our jobs should take the form of service and humility. We saw that our power and privileges are not for our own personal peace and affluence, but are to be channeled as a blessing to the world in the name of Jesus Christ. In our cultural engagement courses we dug deeper into what the world looks like and the specifics about how theology translates into society. These classes challenged our assumptions, and helped transform us to view the world in a Christ-like manner.
Our discussions of theology and cultural engagement became practical in our workplace internships. One of the chief aims of the fellows program is bridging the divide between the sacred and secular – affirming that worship not only occurs when we gather together at the end of Fontaine Avenue, but also when we’ve been sitting at an office in front of a computer for three hours and we still have five hours to go. We saw that in God’s Kingdom, the value of someone who works in financial consulting, or someone who cleans houses for a living, is equal to a pastor or missionary. We were also able to engage our community by tutoring low-income students at Abundant Life, which allowed us a brief departure from our privileged lifestyle and granted us a snapshot into a community neglected and overlooked by most of Charlottesville.
As we affirmed the importance of engaging the world, it was indispensable to see that without the Church, any of our pursuits in this world are meaningless. In America, where we worship the gods of status, wealth, and security, the Church becomes an afterthought. We operate under the rule that when we’re working sixty hours a week, there’s just not time to go to a church prayer meeting or to pursue accountability with our brothers or sisters in Christ. But being plugged into the Church was invaluable this year, especially for many of us who are going into the marketplace. We were welcomed with open doors and open arms by our host families, who were willing to take a stranger into their home for a whole year. We had the opportunity to serve the youth in the Church, while being served in many ways by our mentors and the host of Church members and those on staff who spoke with us and prayed for us.
Before doing the Fellows Program, I would have asked “Wouldn’t a weekend-long conference on faith and work be sufficient and effective?” After doing the Fellows Program, I would answer no to this. This year has not taught me ideas, but has rather given me a community and experiences that have transformed me to see the purpose of the gifts God has given me. On behalf of the 2007-2008 class, thanks to Trinity Presbyterian Church, and may God bless the incoming fellows as they embark on this journey together.