New Student Profile - Seth Terrell
Hometown: Albertville, Alabama
Degree Program at Vanderbilt: master of divinity
College Attended: Freed-Hardeman University
Undergraduate Major: history and Biblical studies
Inner-City Ministries in Mobile, Alabama
Youth Minister, Acton Church of Christ, Michie, Tennessee
Campus minister/community minister in Blacksburg, VA at Virginia Tech University
What led you to choose Vanderbilt Divinity School?
I grew up in rural North Alabama where the blend of southern foothill culture, ideology, and rural life created a structure for my theology. My father and mother are retired school teachers, and my father is a cattle farmer. Growing up in the Southern Appalachian foothill culture, I was surrounded by hard working men and women in a genuine and warm environment. I loved the old folk tales my grandparents had told me of old whiskey stills and ornery cattle. As I grew older, I began to notice other pieces of culture around me. Two things were in abundance in the area where I was reared: churches and poverty. I began to wonder how each was related to the other and if either was relevant to the other. My mother and father had always made it their personal mission to support and build community with those families living in poverty, though much of the religious community did not.
As I continued in my theological education as an undergraduate student, I realized the essentiality of theology is found in its practical use. I had hoped to open myself to a theology that had something of importance to speak to families in financial and socially difficult situations. After working in the inner city of Mobile, Alabama, with families in low-income and in at risk environments I took a job as campus and community minister in Blacksburg, Virginia. I worked with college students from Virginia Tech and Radford Universities. As we all sought to enhance our spiritual formation, we realized our own community was the best place to begin.
Shortly after my arrival in Blacksburg, my wife, Crystal, and I began a ministry and community center called Common Ground in a large impoverished area of southwest Virginia. Common Ground was a mobile home in the midst of hundreds of other mobile homes where the children and families we worked with lived. In conjunction with the Blacksburg Church of Christ we worked to address severe health and sustenance issues related to poverty with children and families as well as to address spiritual needs of the families. Theology began to take shape in the form of community. In my darkest time as a minister, when several of us had lost friends, colleagues and classmates in the shooting that took place at Virginia Tech on April 16. 2007, I was able to find healing and community with the families of Common Ground whom I loved and had befriended.
My journey to Vanderbilt had begun. I began to realize how important theology became when I was immersed in an environment where suffering was evident among the students who had experienced the devastation of April 16 and the families who suffered daily because of lack of food or safety. Suffering seemed to connect people in an unexplainable way. I felt I needed to continue my theological education so that I could use and share my experiences to continue to address the issues of suffering and poverty. As I learned more about Vanderbilt Divinity School, I was impressed by the emphasis placed on the practice of theology. Beyond the academic challenge so closely associated with the University, there was a call to take action in and among communities in need. I felt the theological resources available to me at Vanderbilt would enhance my own personal experiences and further equip me to minister to those communities as well as educate and train other people to get involved. A theological education at Vanderbilt is an intersection between academia and practice. This challenge is one I have been thankful for since I began my studies here in the fall of 2009.
Favorite course your first semester and why?
The Incarnational Art of Flannery O’Connor taught by Victor Judge has been my favorite class this semester. In Professor Judge’s class, we as students are invited to discover the beautiful, fascinating and sometimes comical writing of Flannery O’Connor. The text for the class has been the Collected Works of Flannery O’Connor but also our own experiences with faith and theology. As I have explored the theological implications of O’Connor’s work, her rural settings, engaging stories and realistic characters, I have developed a better understanding of my own theology. I am challenged to develop a theology that relates to the human condition.
Any advice for those considering theological education?
My search for theological education placed a high emphasis on practical theology. After having worked in several impoverished communities I realized my belief systems were not valid unless they were able to be experienced through and among those who are dealing with serious life circumstances. Among those living in poverty, I saw my faith and my theology become real. It was important to me that the theological education I received, and the institution where I pursued it, strongly emphasized the practicality of theology. When looking for a place to pursue theological education, choose a place that invites you to step outside your immediate realm of normalcy and invites you to build a deep theologically practical relationship with the community that surrounds you.
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