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Mission Begins at Home for Andover Newton Students
By Eric Nelson

Beloved Community banner flies, marks 200th anniversary celebration.
Students and faculty serve on a farm that grows produce for a soup kitchen.
Dr. Daniel Jeyaraj, Judson-DeFreitas Professor of World Christianity

Andover Newton Theological School is an academic institution that is committed to more than “head knowledge.” The school sees its mission as reaching beyond the campus in Newton Centre, Mass. In the words of its 200th anniversary slogan, to be celebrated in 2007, the school’s mission is “Building the Beloved Community.” As President Nick Carter says, “The slogan is in the active tense. It refers not only to the fact that our students leave Andover Newton to put their faith into action, but also that as an institution, we are committed to enabling that work and learning from those in the field who are doing it every day.”

Andover Newton has had a mission focus since its founding in 1808. Some of its first students, Samuel J. Mills, James Richards and Gordon Hall, were among those at the now-famous “Haystack Prayer Meeting” when they were students at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. On an August afternoon in 1806, the five outdoor intercessors sought refuge behind a haystack when a thunderstorm struck the area, and their prayer that day launched the modern foreign missions movement.

When they entered Andover Theological Seminary, they enlisted the help of fellow seminarians Adoniram Judson, Samuel Newall and Samuel Nott to think seriously about mission at home and overseas. Their efforts resulted in the formation of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in 1810 and their example of mission zeal influenced successive generations of Andover seminarians to keep the flame alive. For example, a group of students became passionate about the abolitionist movement and traveled to Kansas to keep that state free in the 1850s. Known as The Kansas Band, they started about 120 churches along the way and in Kansas.

The school continues its involvement in mission today. With the coming of President Carter, Andover Newton has gone through a re-envisioning of its role in today’s world. There has been a growing realization that the United States is a mission field, along with other countries. The result has been a new emphasis on encouraging students to see their studies and ministries as helping them do mission in this country.

Rev. Dr. Daniel Jeyaraj has been at the forefront in bringing about this new emphasis. Originally from India and having been influenced by mission in that country, he believes that mission should take place everywhere. As Judson-DeFreitas Professor of World Christianity, he points out that the United States and Europe have a declining number of practicing Christians in institutional churches, as the center of gravity for Christianity has shifted south to Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin America. Therefore, he challenges his students to do mission first in the United States and to live out the Great Commission in this country. Research papers in his course must not be purely academic, but must answer the question: “How does this research help you in your ministerial context?” Academic research, he believes, must lead to more effective mission involvement on the part of the student.

As a way of involving the students in mission, the school has “Community Days” in the fall and spring. Joined by faculty and staff, students go on a mission to their community and serve at an after-school program, a mission to the homeless and a farm that grows produce for soup kitchens, and they help maintain community parks.

The school has taken a mission focus in its new LEARN on-line seminars (www.ants.edu/learn) for both laity and clergy. As Jeff Jones, director of Distance Learning, describes it: “The school, as is evidenced by LEARN, is broadening its vision to include equipping of laity, as well as clergy, in order to more fully support the congregation in mission.”

The school also has had a mission to teenagers through its summer Faith Youth Institute. Last summer, 30 high school youth lived on campus for nine days and explored the theme “Blessed Are You” from Matthew 5:1-16. “Pilgrimages” into Boston to serve at mission sites took place, as did participation in worship, discussions and interaction with Andover Newton faculty, staff and students. Through it all, including having fun, the youth were encouraged to discern and respond to God’s call to mission for them.

As the school approaches its 200th anniversary in 2007, its move away from isolation “on the hill” is clearly apparent. However, where this will lead is not certain. Jeyaraj says, “Someone said that it is much easier to love a stranger in a far away place than someone in our own immediate neighborhood. Doing mission elsewhere is okay, but doing it in our “homes” and in front of our doorstep, as it were, is challenging.” Andover Newton is up to the challenge as it seeks through its academics and programs to do its part in building the Beloved Community.

Ten colleges and universities and 16 seminaries and theological schools across the United States and Puerto Rico are related to American Baptist Churches USA through National Ministries, which awarded $315,000 in scholarships and financial aid to American Baptist undergraduate, graduate and seminary students last year.

Eric Nelson is pastor of the Washington Street Baptist Church, Lynn, Mass. He is also editor of The Vine, the regional newsletter of The American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts. He comes from an American Baptist missionary family and has had a lifelong interest in national and international missions.

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