The New Worlds We Stand Before

There is good news I can’t help but share, yesterday I opened my email to read,

Wess,
I’ve been given the go-ahead to officially welcome you into the PhD program…I’ve been assigned as your mentor, so I’m thrilled to be working with you for the next few years…I couldn’t be more pleased to have you in the program — I know you will make a strong contribution.
Ryan

So it all begins again, a new adventure, a new world of ideas, possibilities, and struggle lay before us.


I can taste the fresh air of excitement.  Emily and I are embarking on yet another journey, one that will be more challenging than we’ve faced yet.  I have, from the time I was a young boy, dreamed of someday getting a PhD.  Of course, when I was a young boy I didn’t know what it would be in, or what that even really meant, I thought maybe something in drawing cartoons or acting would be fine PhD program (I was young).  But hey, I didn’t know anything about what it would take to come to the point where an email in my inbox reads “Congratulations…???

Everyone has their own journey, and story about how they got where they are and the struggles they overcame to get there.  My road has been already very long, even though I am only 27, and to find myself at the doors of this new world seems unbelievable, fascinating and even kind of silly.  Silly, in the fact that its seems so unreal to me, and probably to many who know me.

I didn’t read much growing up, I had pretty good grades because I liked school, but I was never one of the smarter students. I have always had to work hard to get decent grades.  I am the oldest and I have 8 younger siblings, 3 on my dad’s side and 5 on my mom’s.  Its true that I am a stereotypical oldest child.  I always tried to be a good example to my siblings, and so school was one place where I found that I could do that.  I grew up in my mom’s house, and we never had much money, in fact throughout the 90’s we lived on under $15,000 a year (8 of us).  I saw my schooling as a way to gain influence and help people like my own family was – those who are poor and have little resources.  I went to Malone College to be a pastor, so I studied Bible and Theology, and got a minor in Philosophy.  Toward the end of those years I realized that not only did I want to be a spiritual caretaker, but I also wanted to teach.  This was in the time that Emily and I started getting serious about the Friends Church, and about Quaker history and theology.  I connected with Quakerism because it seemed to have a history of helping people who were rejected, in need and had little resources on their own to help themselves.  I knew that I wanted to continue in school and get my Master’s in Theology but I wasn’t sure just what for.

After I began to understand a bit of the Quaker state in America I grew dissatisfied with the way we in many ways lost much of the message and force it once had.  I began thinking about what a Friends church would look like today, that loved and followed Jesus and loved and lived out its radical narrative in today’s world.  I came to Fuller with the blessing of the Evangelical Friends Church – Eastern Region (and region within Evangelical Friends International) and I came on a mission to learn as much as I could about Quakerism and good theology; I did just that.  I wrote as many papers as I could on Quaker history and theology, and every professor gladly allowed me the freedom to do so.  It seemed that most of the professors appreciated my struggling with issues of my own church tradition and learning how to apply them to the issues at hand.

I’ve changed what I wanted to do my PhD in numerous times since Malone.  Under Duane F. Watson, I fell in love with the Gospel of Luke (because of its great message of God’s love for equality, peace, and justice for the poor) and for a while wanted to be an NT scholar on that Gospel.  Under John David Geib‘s teaching, I fell in love with pacifism and the struggle for God’s kingdom here and now, so for a while I wanted to do peace studies.  I have also for a long time considered doing Urban studies and development, because of mine and Emily’s desire to work with and live among the poor.

An odd thing happened though in my second year at Fuller.  I ran into a professor man named Wilbert Shenk, and he taught us all about why the church has lost much of its fervor in society and how America has again become a mission field.  Shenk, a wonderful Mennonite and missiological scholar, enlightened us to a vision of how the church might go about being the church in the postmodern world.  Then he had this guy named Ryan Bolger come and speak to his class about what some churches are doing now in the west to live out the way of Jesus.  When Ryan began to talk about these practices, everything changed for me.  A vision grew out of that lecture for what the Friend’s Church could look like in the 21st century.  Since that time, I’ve had a great time getting to know both Shenk and Bolger.

It was this past spring that I took a class called, “Jesus the Missionary??? with both of them and another incredible class called “Forming the People of God??? with Mark Lau Branson that everything started being pieced together.  Between these two classes, I was influenced by practice theory, a radical vision of Christ’s call to the church, a hope for ministry in the postmodern world, and great professors.  Through this I decided to study what cultural trends caused the Friends Church to break in the 1800’s and what’s different about our culture today that might help us forge a way forward.  I did that study this past summer with Ryan and it was that experience of studying with Ryan on these issues that I decided I really wanted to study with him at Fuller.

Img 1542 Img 1523 Img 1530 (This is me with Emily and my Mom during graduation)

After graduation I applied to two schools, Fuller and the University of Birmingham in the UK.  I really like what Birmingham has to offer, but because I know Fuller and have a good friendship with Ryan Fuller has been my top pick.  What I like about Ryan is that he is trying to think contemporary and future church in ways that do not rely on old versions and molds of “doing church.???  He is a brilliant scholar that is not afraid to push buttons, think outside the norm and what he is doing is fresh with the current movement of the Spirit and helping the church be useful in today’s world.  He is the kind of guy I want to be influenced by.  Plus he loves Dylan and Peet’s Coffee, what more could I ask for.
Emily and I are also excited about living out here for two more years as we totally dig our Mennonite Church community, our small group (now named the hairy tics), and our other great friends we’ve made since we moved out here.  We are also in the process of renting a community house with 4 other people, in order to learn more about simplicity, mission and communal life.

There is a new world that stands before us, and this is the way that God intends the life of faith to be; always ready, at a moments notice, to walk into the unknown.  I have no idea what lays ahead for us, and though it scares me, I also am happy to be in this place.

I’ve attached my proposal if you’re interested in seeing what I will most likely be working on over the course of my program.
Sis Proposal

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

11 thoughts on “The New Worlds We Stand Before”

  1. Congratulations. I downloaded the proposal to read later, because I really am interested. Good luck, God be with you, and I’m so glad to have gotten to meet you at this point in the journey.

  2. Congratulations Wes…
    so excited for you.
    and eager to read of what you’ll be doing.
    i just had a conversation with my brother today about the state of Friends, and mentioned you and some of the things that i had emailed you about. hopefully i will be pursuing these topics more. it’s good to know there are others doing it (and doing it better than i).

  3. Wess,

    Stephanie, Jake, and I are excited for you. It certainly is a huge step and we’re damn proud of you. It looks like we’ll have plenty to “jaw” about in the upcoming years.

    Love, Love, Love, ……

  4. Sweet! And congrats! It sounds like you are in a very “convergent” place. 🙂 I really look forward to hearing what experiences you’ll be led to.

  5. Nice hustle Wess. Just catching up on your blog…congrats on all your recent accomplishments (investigative journalist, phd, etc). I noticed you came up to Berkeley again recently and I’m sure you enjoyed it. Hope to bump into you again soon.

  6. congratulations wess We are all so very proud of your achievements. I can’t tell you what an inspiriation your web site has been to me.

    LOVE YOU

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