STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 05/30/2012

Indwelling: Urban (+ Rural) Landscapes

Seven years ago Provost Mark Sargent wrote a manifesto of sorts, "Transformation and Shalom," for the Gordon in Lynn program, casting a vision that continues to inform and inspire the College’s involvement with the City of Lynn, and increasingly with our surrounding neighbors.

by Christen Yates

In “The Last of the Rowanberrys,” Provost Mark Sargent notes that one of Gordon’s distinctives “is that we are able to give our students an experience in the wilderness and in an urban context.” But he calls us to take this further than brief visits for individual learning. Rather, we need to use these differing contexts to more deeply “explore the responsibilities of global citizenship.” Seven years earlier, Sargent wrote an important, though probably not widely read, manifesto for the Gordon in Lynn program (then called the “Lynn Initiative”). In that article, entitled “Transformation and Shalom,” Sargent laid out a vision that would help us seek the transformation of our urban neighbor Lynn, all the while transforming our own teaching, relationships and culture on campus.

During the space between these two pieces, Gordon in Lynn has grown and now resides within Gordon’s new Office of Community Engagement (OCE), which seeks to be an umbrella for all of the local engagement not only in Lynn, but across the North Shore. While most of our partnerships are in urban areas, several are with rural farms, but all, as Miroslav Volf writes in his latest book A Public Faith, seek to engage in “the prophetic role of Christian communities…to mend the world, to foster human flourishing, and to serve the common good.” Toward that end, we’ve crafted three learning goals for our students which we hope honor Sargent’s original vision and move us toward his most recent call.

Because we believe in a relational triune God, mutual friendships are the bedrock of what we do through OCE. “Friendships are revelatory of truth,” write Chris Heurtz and Christine Pohl in their book Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission. “Within friendship we learn truths about the other person we couldn’t know any other way except through a context of trust and fidelity. Within friendship we learn about ourselves as we see our love and action through the eyes of another who loves and trusts us. And relationships forged among friends can open into deeper understandings of God’s love and concerns.” Our first learning goal for students is to help them respect and learn to love people across racial, economic, religious and ethnic barriers within a spirit of mutuality and reciprocity. Friendships obviously can’t develop deeply during one-time service experiences, or, as Sargent mentions, in “an occasional drive to the city.” Rather, through all of our work, students are involved regularly in the lives of others.

Through The Great Conversation service sections, Serve and Learn Teams (SALTeams) go each week to Lynn to share lunch with elementary youth at the Ford School, write songs together at the YMCA’s new sound studio, or teach ESOL to recent immigrants at Catholic Charities. Through College Bound, Gordon students tutor and mentor the youth of Curwin Circle four afternoons a week in hopes they’ll be encouraged along the path to college. And through Outreach Teams, students voluntarily farm land in Beverly and Ipswich, play bridge with seniors in Lynn and paint pictures with youth at ArtHaven in Gloucester. Our constant hope is “that the students would not be outside observers with only academic curiosity about the host setting,” as Sargent writes, “but rather citizen-sojourners who patiently earn the trust and respect of the local populace and its leaders, [that they can] make substantial contributions with a long-term commitment to the cultural, social, economic and spiritual life of the community.”

If friendships are “revelatory of truth,” then it is within these places that deep and critical reflection is most appropriately placed. Our second goal for students is to help them be exposed to, and begin to reflect upon, larger structural injustices within an urban context, both locally and globally. In this sense, we are striving to, as Sargent calls us, “use our urban and rural landscapes more dynamically and fully to explore the responsibilities of global citizenship.” While all of our students are guided in some critical reflection, there is so much potential for this to occur more through the classroom, or what we call academically-based service-learning. As students design and facilitate surveys on the need for urban green space through their social statistics class, they will personally know the complexity involved in urban planning decisions. As they create a mural in partnership with an elementary school, they’ll know in a visceral sense that art for the common good is a beautiful way to promote full human flourishing using their unique gifts.

With mutual relationships as the foundation for critical reflection and learning, whole-life stewardship is our final goal for students. As students leave Gordon, we hope they’ve begun to integrate their faith into all of their lifestyle decisions and become more fully engaged in a life-long vocation of shalom-building. Volf explains that “followers of Christ are engaged in the world with their whole being…The whole person in all aspects of her life is engaged in fostering human flourishing and serving the common good…” What can then happen with this whole-life stewardship is a creative cross-pollination of ideas: when one aspect of your life is put alongside another, all of a sudden you see how they could work together; or perhaps one academic discipline suddenly seems to make new sense alongside a seemingly disparate discipline. Toward that end, Sargent calls us to “more frequent writing and discussion about creative solutions to a variety of challenges across disciplines, more community partnerships guided by the idea that service and innovation often go hand in hand.”

Social entrepreneurship is one example of the merging of service and innovation. Increasingly popular these days, it refers to the imaginative blend of business and community development. Wicked Tasty catering is a new venture in Lynn developed by Gordon alumni Caleb Isabella and Rob Ainslie, with some help from Return Design. Isabella credits his Gordon education with preparing him to start this enterprise. “Gordon equipped me with how to learn, how to not be an expert but still adapt,” reflects Isabella. “Gordon was my swimming lessons. I would have sunk otherwise!” With an end goal to create jobs and job skills among Lynn youth, they are now on their way to becoming a sustainable catering business. (And you can help!

Another creative example of innovation and service is OCE’s En Camino initiative (“on the path” in Spanish), a college access partnership with Harrington Elementary School in Lynn. Now in its fourth year, En Camino invites Harrington’s fourth and fifth graders to Gordon each semester for a morning of exposure to college and leadership development. “Access to college is one major issue in urban education,” explains Jennifer Brink, coordinator of academic programs for Gordon in Lynn and director of En Camino. “By hosting En Camino, our Gordon students have an opportunity to take their learning out of the classroom. Plus, the teachers at Harrington love the learning that takes place for their kids when they see what college is really like.” For the 80 fourth and fifth graders from Harrington, it is a chance to engage with college students and faculty and realize that college is a real possibility. For the Gordon students who host, it is a chance to put theory into practice and experience firsthand the challenges and opportunities for urban youth in regard to college access.

Sargent’s call to engage more deeply in urban and rural landscapes is by no means limited to OCE’s efforts. Service-learning trips through the Chapel Office, practicums and independent studies through various academic disciplines, as well as the compelling array of semester abroad programs available through our Global Education office are all responses with similar motivations. All of us desire, as Sargent has consistently urged us, to see students and communities flourish for the common good while we dwell within these urban and rural landscapes.

Christen Borgman Yates, associate director of Gordon’s Office of Community Engagement, is a native of the North Shore. Christy and her husband, Chris, both attended seminary at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C. They have four young children. Christy is grateful to be involved with the adventure of partnering Gordon College with the surrounding communities, and is especially passionate about the intersection of faith, the arts and sustainable community development.

About the Office of Community Engagement
The Office of Community Engagement creates, coordinates, and supports programs of service-learning and community outreach. Students, faculty, and staff work within mutually beneficial community-based partnerships, the majority of which are based in Lynn, but also across the North Shore and greater Boston area. OCE seeks to foster healthy neighboring communities while developing faithful student leaders through guided civic engagement.

  • Approximately 150 students serve 2500 hours in Lynn each semester through The Great Conversation service classes.
  • Approximately 75 students engage in 1000 hours each semester on student-led Outreach Teams.
  • More than 50 students do over 250 hours each semester of academically based service learning through their classes.
  • 36 students tutor and mentor Lynn youth for over 1500 hours each semester through our College Bound program.
  • 30 student leaders engage in an intensive leadership-development program through the OCE every year.
  • In total, over 4000 students have served approximately 80,000 hours in the neighboring communities since 2005.
  • The OCE was recently accepted onto the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.

Share this story:  

NEXT: Living the History: People, Places and Connections