"Community" is a popular word in today's society, often bandied about with ill-defined meaning. Earlham School of Religion has given serious thought to its use of the term, recognizing that "community" is essential to its educational process. At ESR, there are several dimensions to "community."
ESR further defines itself as a "community of learning," where individuals who have responded to God's call in their lives gather to embark on an educational journey that will radically transform them as they prepare for faithful service in ministry. ESR believes that learning in community is a superior approach to education, as the insights and questions of our peers deepen the learning experience.
At the School of Religion, a definition for community includes "diversity." ESR intends to be diverse, knowing that we are strengthened by the collection of unique individuals who contribute their particular perspectives and insights into the learning process. Diversity at ESR is multi-faceted. From the perspective of religious background, programmed and unprogrammed Friends alike are attracted to the school. Many students and faculty are Quakers, but nearly one-third come from other religious traditions. Expressions and confessions of faith range from evangelical to more inclusive, universal tendencies. ESR strives to be an intersection for a wide range of individuals who seek to prepare for ministry.
The community is diverse from a demographic perspective as well. Most students are from the United States, though a small number of international students are present. Within the United States, students come to ESR from all across the nation. Some in the community are married; others are single. Students immediately graduated from college encounter older adults who have chosen this path after several years away from formal education. Some students put down strong roots in Richmond while others commute to campus. Others participate in a distributed learning program called ESR Access. ESR's partnership with Bethany Theological Seminary, affiliated with the Church of the Brethren, further contributes to the diverse learning environment, while widening the circle of those with whom a common bond is shared.
This community of faith, learning and diversity also seeks to be a community of hospitality characterized by Christian love. The ESR experience is one that draws out and nurtures students' gifts for ministry. In this hospitable setting, individuals are expected to listen carefully to others, speak the truth in all occasions, and learn to cultivate relationships grounded in respect and integrity.
This intentional definition of community creates the setting where students gather for education at Earlham School of Religion. Here, at the center of this intersection for theological education and ministry preparation, community members encounter the fresh movements of God working within the process. From this common ground there emerges an uncommon grounding.
Certain activities at ESR are intentionally designed to facilitate and deepen the experience of learning in community. One such event is Common Meal, held at lunch on Tuesdays. The purpose of Common Meal is to deepen and enrich the fellowship of the ESR community on social, spiritual, and intellectual levels as faculty, staff, and students dine together. Following Common Meal, faculty and students often share in a common program.
Common Meal also provides a regular opportunity to invite visiting leaders and scholars from the larger Christian community to engage students and faculty in serious dialogues and cross-fertilization of thought. This helps to overcome fragmentation of theological education by departments and gives opportunity to share and critique the most creative thought of colleagues and visiting lecturers.
As a faith community, it is difficult to over-emphasize the importance of worship in the life of ESR. It is in experiencing God together that we discover our strongest, most intimate common bond. These opportunities reflect the diversity of the ESR community, and the School's effort to provide a hospitable place for students from different traditions.
On the Richmond campus, worship occurs regularly throughout the semester. On Wednesdays, worship is held in a programmed format that allows pastoral Friends and others to plan and lead worship that draws upon their traditions. Unprogrammed worship, offered on Thursdays, provides opportunities for the community to experience the power of encountering God in Silence. Joint ESR-Bethany Worship is held on Friday, with formats alternating between Quaker and Church of the Brethren styles of worship. These occasions are under the direction of the Worship Committee. Worship opportunities are an important component of community life at ESR's regional locations as well.
Members of the ESR community are welcome to attend the programmed College Meeting for Worship held each Sunday at Stout Meetinghouse, sponsored and coordinated by Earlham College. On occasion, members of the ESR and Bethany communities plan other opportunities for worship.
Across the street from ESR, one finds a constant place for silence and worship at Ichthys House, located at 215 College Avenue. Ichthys, the Greek word for fish, is an acronym of the initial letters of the Greek words for "Jesus Christ, God's Son, Savior." Ichthys House is a place of Christian welcome and hospitality. Though not formally a part of ESR, a long history of cordial relationship exists, and members of the seminary community are always welcomed there. Open worship occurs nightly, beginning at 9:30 p.m. every night of the year. On occasion, the House hosts other special events including days of silence and solitude. A large library of books, records, and tapes may also be found there. Drop-in visitors are welcome and the House has been a home-away-from-home for many students.
Off-campus worship opportunities abound in the Richmond area, as many faith traditions are represented in the Wayne County and nearby Ohio areas.
Students are assigned faculty advisors who can help them with academic and scheduling problems. The faculty is concerned for the educational progress and spiritual development of all students. Within the limits of their expertise, the advisors make themselves available for consultation on any problem the student may be facing. When students feel the need to discuss spiritual, vocational, or personal concerns they may also contact the Director of Student Services for occasional conversations. For those seeking more formal counseling, ESR can suggest professionally qualified persons in the Richmond area.
Advices and Requests
It is a common Quaker practice to offer well-considered advices on matters of personal morality rather than to set down disciplinary rules. At ESR, students are strongly counseled to maintain healthy personal habits as a part of offering oneself for Christian service. Regular sleeping hours, temperate eating, abstinence from the use of tobacco, drugs and alcoholic drinks, and the exercise of cleanliness and orderliness in personal hygiene and living habits are advised. Each of these enhances one's general performance and bears a simple testimony to the sacredness of the whole person.
Those who administer the school feel a responsibility for the spirit, witness, and image of the ESR community. In faithfulness to the respected counsels of the Religious Society of Friends, and for other practical reasons, smoking on the grounds and in the halls and classrooms is prohibited. The use of alcoholic beverages and drugs is prohibited anywhere on the campus. Those who by training, background, or personal preference do not share these practices are asked to conduct themselves with respect for others in the community and to live within the spirit of the standards established by the school.
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