Separated at Birth

There are two men named Simmons on the staff of Moravian Theological Seminary this year, and they’re brothers under the skin. On top of the skin, they’re probably not. One is Presbyterian, the other Church of God in Christ.

Stephen Simmons, director of continuing education at the Seminary, is the Presbyterian. Gerald Simmons, a pastor from Lancaster and a visiting scholar at the Seminary for the year, is the other. Together, they team-teach an important new venture at the Seminary called the Urban Ministry program.

Under the terms of an $80,000 grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the Seminary has developed a curriculum for independent ministers and pastors to formalize their educations and open their spiritual horizons.

Both Simmonses are delighted with the initial response to the program. Using their own contacts and the names of independent congregational leaders supplied by Seminary student Debra Hepburn, they sent invitations to some 65 area ministers of small, unaffiliated churches.

More than 30 responded, and after a dinner hosted by President Rokke, are taking classes in a streamlined program to turn a call to preach into a more professional ministry. They’re learning about Bible scholarship, pastoral work, and church administration, among other subjects. In the spring semester, they meet on Thursday evenings for a class in building cross-cultural teams for ministry.

At the same time, the Seminary is offering a different version of urban ministry to its full-time divinity students. Each week the Simmonses meet with a group of nine seminarians. The text for their course is Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith, by Eric O. Jacobsen, a book about the increased needs of diverse communities with which the church must come to terms if it is to remain vital to their lives.

The students go on field trips to church outreach programs, soup kitchens, social-service agencies, and political activists, and then discuss what they’ve seen and heard, evaluate the usefulness of the programs, and come to terms with the growing pressure on faith organizations to take up the slack for reduced government services.

Stephen Simmons likes to ask his students a simple question: “What is the most segregated hour of the week in America?” The answer: “11’ o’clock on Sunday morning.” It’s the aim of the Urban Ministry initiative to break up the black and Latino congregations in the inner city and the white congregations in the suburbs, and create a community of faith, whatever the denomination, that speaks to all God’s children.

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Gerald Simmons and Stephen Simmons, team teachers in the Seminary's Urban Ministry program, discuss the problem of segregated chruches.

Photo: Michael P. Wilson