Northeastern Seminary Blog

Help us, Lord

Posted on Tue, Jun 23, 2015 @ 06:27 PM

originally posted June 19, 2015

I am heartbroken.

This week tragedy happened again. Lives were taken, hatred won, and we were left to make sense of another example of the racial tear in the fabric of our community. As I read through the stories of each of the nine victims of the AME shooting, my heart broke. These were our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, colleagues, neighbors, pastors and fellow believers. They were members of our community.

Earlier this week I attended a one-day seminar sponsored by Northeastern Seminary entitled Power, Inequity and Reconciliation in the Church, led by Dr. Christena Cleveland, who challenged us to listen… to listen to what is being said by ALL our brothers and sisters. As I have prayed and mourned the recent acts I have also been attempting to listen. At the risk of not articulating perfectly, I ask you to hear my heart as I try to make sense of what I am hearing in this challenging time.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. – Martin Luther King Jr.

We live in a fallen world, a world where hate and racism exist. The recent act in Charleston, South Carolina reminds us once again of our painful history as a divided nation. It is true that many around us love as Christ called us to love and are examples of living in community. But there remains a deep weed in the garden of our lives, an ugly weed that appears far too often. It divides our country around surface topics of personal defense and justification, and we slide into the posture of defending our position instead of listening to each other. I am guilty of this pattern even while trying to make sense of the senseless. Log into any social media today and you will hear debates brewing around our interpretation of what just happened in Charleston.

Injustice happened. Lives were taken. A community was impacted. A church was targeted. A people of a specific race were attacked. Wrong happened and we are left reminded we have not yet learned to live out our calling of loving our neighbor as ourselves. Dr. Cleveland also pointed us to Philippians 2 as a model for how we are encouraged to live within community.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil. 2:1-5, NRSV).

Read full article at President Porterfield's blog site

Dr. Deana Porterfield is president of Northeastern Seminary and Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester. NY.

Tags: listening, community, church's response to violence, compassion

To Thrive In A Foreign Land: The Faithful Service of Northeastern Seminary Students and Alumni

Posted on Tue, Apr 14, 2015 @ 10:37 AM

bare_feet_imageSadly, refugees are often a misunderstood people notes Rev. Bob Tice (D.Min., ‘12) senior pastor at River Rock Church. “At worst, many think of them as rejects and outcasts, poor, and a strain on America; and some a bit better think of them as just strange.” What is more alarming is that many people do not understand the unique needs of refugees.

“Imagine you fled your home country with your family, and now lived thousands of miles from anyone you know. You have very few possessions to speak of, little money, and you do not speak the country’s language.” Marie Moy (MATSJ ‘15), a home visitor at Jericho Community Health Center, prompts reflection. “Refugees need help navigating American systems of banking, schools, housing, and medical care.” They often find what seems normal to Americans to be peculiar and overwhelming.

In response to the unique needs, Tice and Moy, among other Northeastern students and alumni, are actively engaging in focused ministry in neighboring cities: Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo. Rooted in biblical principles, refugee-conscious ministries give refugees a solid foundation to build on and the opportunity to thrive in a foreign land.

Patricia Welch (M.Div. ‘09), while pastor of New Hope Free Methodist Church in Rochester, N.Y., oversaw the resettlement of 34 African refugees who were finishing their six-month government-sponsored resettlement program with the Catholic Family Center, also in Rochester. She helped renew benefits with the U.S. Department of Human Services noting that at the sixth-month mark many refugees are at risk of losing their services if the proper paperwork is incomplete. In this ministry, Welch helped refugees open bank accounts, obtain needed household items, liaise with landlords, get to medical appointments, and receive job coaching. Welch also helped develop an English-as-a-second-language program which trained consultants and provided individual tutoring at refugees’ homes for a full year. Her next venture includes setting up an immigration and legal aid clinic to provide additional needed services.

In some ways similar to Welch, Moy supports refugees’ basic needs in the area of healthcare at the Jericho Community Health Center who partners with churches like the Renovation Church in Buffalo, N.Y. where Moy attends. Volunteers serve as English tutors, mentors for pregnant women and single mothers, drivers to take people to medical appointments, homework tutors for middle schoolers, and/or childcare providers for parents attending educational classes. Moy serves as a home visitor through the Parent Child Home Program, providing educational toys and books and preparing pre-school age children for school twice a week. The church’s ministerial efforts of reaching out to those in need are making a noticeable difference. Moy explains, “Low-income children statistically have about a 55% high school graduation rate—with rates being lower in Buffalo. After participation in the program for one year the graduation rate increases to about 63%, and after two years the rate goes up to 84%, which is on par with middle-income families.”

But graduation rates are not the only concern for children. Refugee children require particular attention in the transition process. In Michael Brown’s (MATSJ, C32) field education experience through Northeastern he worked as a co-leader with Hopeprint Summer Kids Camp in Syracuse, N.Y. The camp addressed many basic needs for refugee and non-refugee children with opportunities to engage in English language programs, formal and informal mentoring, tutoring, teen programs, children’s programming, and more. “While we are engaged in many immediate needs,” Brown further clarified, “we are always aware of the broader needs of individuals, families, and communities to develop to their fullest. We are always thinking about two-way mentorships, about leadership development, and about issues of community development.”

By far, a supportive and loving community is one of the most important aspects when working with refugees. The needs of these children and adults transcend the necessity of food, clothing, shelter and work. Refugees need the unconditional support of volunteers, the community, and especially the church.

The Boaz Project at Dongwon Kim’s (MATSJ C32) church, the Korean Church of Syracuse, provides computer services to refugees, teaching people basic skills about operating systems and how to use office programs. “It is a tool for spreading the Gospel [and] we hope the skills help their life,” Dongwon explained. As people serve one another through the Boaz Project, invisible barriers between refugees and non-refugees are broken down and in its place noticeably stronger relationships are built.

At River Rock Church Tice aids in cultivating such a community by encouraging a culturally fruitful environment for people to commune and worship as a single body in Christ. He explains that at “River Rock Church itself we hope we are developing an authentic multicultural church where every culture and race and group has a voice and the opportunity to be empowered in ministry according to their gifts, including the leadership of the church across all its diversity.”

Likewise, Bishop William Turner (MAT ‘01) creates a welcoming multicultural experience at the churches where he serves. Bishop Turner founded the Living Word Temple Restoration Ministries and oversees three sister churches. Whereas some of the members, such as the Bhutanese population, were persecuted for their beliefs in their native country, at church they are able to worship God freely and cultivate a love for Christ.

Showing the love of Christ by spreading the Gospel, reaching out to the refugees, and pouring into their lives is a ministry that is making a noticeable impact in communities across New York State. These ministries, the passion of Northeastern Seminary students and graduates alike, allow refugees to thrive and transition from the foreign to the familiar as God’s love is manifested through the hands and feet of His willing servants.

The content of this article was prepared by Ashley Henry, a Roberts Wesleyan College student and a communication intern at Northeastern Seminary for spring 2015.

About Northeastern

Since opening its doors in 1998, Northeastern Seminary on the campus of Roberts Wesleyan College has continued to grow in prominence as a significant resource for the church community in upstate New York. Northeastern Seminary is a multi-denominational graduate school of theology offering five academically and professionally accredited degrees: Master of Divinity, Master of Arts of Theological Studies, Master of Arts in Theology and Social Justice, Master of Arts in Transformational Leadership, and Doctor of Ministry. The student body is comprised of more than 30 different Christian faith traditions represented among 170 students and over 350 graduates ministering around the nation and world.  For more information visit or call 585.594.6800.

Tags: community, ministry, compassion

Compassion and Neuroscience—Sister, Can You Spare a Dollar?

Posted on Tue, Sep 17, 2013 @ 02:21 PM

A guest post by Diane Stephens, a keynote speaker at the McCown Symposium on September 23

man with homeless man

Since this last economic downturn, the number of men and women panhandling on the streets of Chicago seems to have increased. Sometimes I offer a dollar or spare change—my pastor friend Anita who was once homeless encourages me to do so—and sometimes I simply smile, shake my head as if to say "not today" and keep on walking. Why do I respond compassionately one day and not the next?

Witnessing the pain of hunger and who knows what else is, well, painful. It could be compassion fatigue—that feeling of being overwhelmed by devastating situations and the attention we want to pay to suffering in the world. It is a hazard for those of us in the caring professions. After a steady diet of personal pain, we start to recoil from it, knowing there's a limit to how much suffering we can take in.

Resisting the sight of pain, or looking away is a natural response. But I remain unsatisfied and disappointed in myself.

For eons, we have thought empathy and compassion were matters of the heart. But recent research suggests they are matters of the brain. Our brains, it turns out, are wired with an intricate empathy circuit that starts with the eyes. The physiological components of our visual system take whatever we're looking at and send it to the brain where instantaneously, the brain begins interpreting what we're seeing. Some things have emotional valence; some do not.

Neurons get involved. So do biochemicals like dopamine and oxytocin. Before you know it, we're feeling empathy—automatically, rapidly and unconsciously.

So now I remember my banker friend Mark who, one Christmas, gave his 12-year-old son Sam 20 five-dollar-bills and walked the streets of Chicago with him. Sam was to give out all the fives, each to a different person who likely had no place to go for Christmas dinner. Sam could choose who to give the money to. After he gave away the first five, Mark called his son aside and instructed him to go back, look the man in the eye and give him another $5. And to do the same when giving away the rest of the fives. Mark stressed the importance of "seeing" the person. 

Next time I'm in the city, I'll remember Mark as well as Anita. I think I'll take a moment to look and really see. And make sure I have several ones.




Diane Stephens is a spiritual director, retreat leader and Ruling Elder in the Presbyterian Church USA. She also serves as affiliate faculty in spiritual formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, and as faculty of the CREDO program of spiritual renewal for Presbyterian pastors.


Diane Stephens and her husband, David Hogue, are the keynote speakers for the McCown Symposium at Northeastern Seminary on Monday, September 23. They will offer a thoughtful,
heartfelt analysis of the vital intersections of classic Christian spirituality, emerging discoveries in the neurosciences and spiritual practices that have become hallmarks of the Wesleyan movement. For more information and to register, visit

Tags: spiritual formation, compassion, neuroscience