Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Lisa M. Hess

Professor of Practical Theology and Contextual Ministries

I like teaching at United first and foremost because space is created by United colleagues both for what I am gifted by God to offer and for continuing, gentle challenge in the things I am continuing to learn. In this sense, the United mission of church renewal has opened unexpected doors for me into more deeply rooted discipleship, renewed critical inquiry in my research, and diverse opportunities to teach/learn in service to both congregations and more broadly defined communities. I cannot imagine a better place to be for participating in the shaping of religious leaders, because many issues congregations are facing today are ones we as a seminary community are facing…together. All institutions have their internal and external challenges, but those at United are being solved by faculty and staff who model faithful stewardship and thereby shape students’ abilities to face similar challenges within future settings of ministry. We also laugh a lot together. That’s not nothing.

My work is the articulating, modeling and fostering of what I call an expressive theological delight, able to companion the suffering of self and others. Beyond the focus of teaching for United, this calling has pulled me into unexpected conversations and collaborations with rooted, faith-traditional practitioners of all kinds (Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, and more) to learn together and more fully “how to reverence the reverences of others,” as a favorite author and bread-baker I know (Br. Peter Reinhart) once said. Professionally, what this has meant is research and writing into holy intersections of rooted faith practice–what spiritual disciplines/practices constitute the pathway of one tradition, in comparison and contrast with how I live my faith and life in discipling relationship with the Triune God, whom I know in Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit. This led to being selected as a fellow for the AAR/Luce Summer Seminar in Comparative Theology and Theologies of Religious Pluralism for a year, and comparative liturgical/theological work planned for an upcoming research sabbatical. Practically, it has also led into beginning conversations with local congregations–both clergy and laypersons–for an “Inside-Out Faith” network, a generative collaboration aimed toward learning to love others amidst differences of all kinds, guided by the deeply rooted religious-wisdom traditions that available right here in the Dayton, Ohio area.

My advice for incoming students is to drink deeply at the wells of resourcing made available in these vivid hallways–virtual, on campus, within the library, in online resources, contexts of placement, and community outreach. Have fun. Look for people who laugh a lot, yet can be quiet with you as well. Because not all resourcing requires busy-ness, remember. One needs to drink even more deeply at that Well–the quiet spaces between the many words and opportunities, for grace offered and received, for spirits nourished and stretched. Throughout it all, center within the One who calls you here, and never forget that even as you are so rooted by Spirit, you will meet God again, and again, and again. Closer than you can imagine, and never within your reach.

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a rainbow colored stained glass medallion from United Theological Seminary