LOUISVILLE ― In the first cross-cultural study of its kind, the Rev. J. Bradley Wigger, professor of Christian Education and child development expert at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, has concluded a tour of five countries talking with children about their imaginary friends.

Since 2010, Wigger has interviewed children in the United States, Kenya, Malawi, Nepal and most recently, the Dominican Republic ― more than 500 children in all ― as part of his John Templeton Foundation and Oxford-funded project, “Theory of Mind and Invisible Beings in Childhood.” The aim of the study is to examine the manifestation and influence of invisible (or "imaginary") friends on children from different cultures and countries.

Among children 3 to 9 years old, Wigger found the highest percentage of imaginary friends in the Dominican Republic. Over a third of them had one at the time of the interview with more than 40 percent describing an imaginary friend at some point in their lives. Yet, with only 5 percent of Nepali children having them, cultural factors, Wigger believes, play an important role.

In addition to talking with children about imaginary friends, he also interviewed them about other kinds of invisible beings, depending upon the culture ― God, the ancestors, spirits, angels, fairies, various Hindu deities and even Santa Claus. Conducting what cognitive psychologists call “theory-of-mind” tests, Wigger explored the ways children think about the minds of these extraordinary figures.

For example, would God (in Malawi) or Vishnu (in Nepal) know what’s inside a closed box even if nobody showed them the contents? Young children thought everyone ― whether an angel or dog ― would know the contents. But older children (6 and up) were more discriminating: God or Vishnu would still know, but fairies or spirits or imaginary friends were less likely, while a dog or another person certainly would not. This pattern persisted through all the cultures studied.

“Children around the world have no trouble reasoning about the minds of invisible beings,” says Wigger. “They do it as naturally as they think about the minds of people.”

Wigger sees important implications for understanding children’s development, their religious and moral formation, and the imagination. Children with imaginary friends are a special case-they are making up their own characters (not just the cultural ones) and are practicing different points of view all the time.

“There may be something about a well-developed imagination that helps people negotiate life and relationships better,” Wigger says.

PRINCETON, N.J. ― Princeton Theological Seminary will present three musical services of carols from around the world for the seminary and Princeton communities on Wednesday, December 10 at 3:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m., and 8:30 p.m. in Miller Chapel. This annual Christmas tradition has continued for more than 14 years and offers a counterpoint to the more traditional Service of Lessons and Carols. The service includes readings, choral anthems, and congregational carols led by the Princeton Seminary Choir and international students and staff of the seminary.

Of the 523 students enrolled for the 2014–2015 academic year, 35 are international students who come from Canada, Chad, China, Denmark, Egypt, Germany, France, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Liberia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Mexico, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.
A wide array of carols and anthems from different nations and cultures reflects the seminary’s diverse student body. As part of the service, students, faculty, and staff will read Advent and Christmas scriptures in their native languages, including Arabic, Filipino, German, Hungarian, Italian, Korean, and Tshiluba.  

According to Martin Tel, Princeton Seminary’s director of music, “This year in particular we will experience the joy and the gravity of the season. The young and young at heart will enjoy the way that the birds escort Joseph and Mary on the road to Bethlehem through the Puerto Rican carol Alegria. And through the simple French carol, The Friendly Beasts, we image the animals reception of the holy family in their stable,” he says.

“We know that approaching Christmastide, just as the first Christmas, comes at a time when the world seems bent on war. And so we lament through a modern New Zealand carol, Peace Child, and sing together the hopeful English carol, It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” continues Tel. “It is particularly meaningful that we are including in the service the music of Stephen Paulus, his Pilgrims’ Hymn. The composer passed away on October 19 after a prolonged illness. His anthem expresses the hope of those first Christmas pilgrims, the hope for peace and light, a hope shared by all those of goodwill,” he says.

SAN ANSELMO, Calif. ― The 40th annual Service of Lessons & Carols will be held Dec. 5th & 6th at San Francisco Theological Seminary's Stewart Memorial Chapel. The services start at 7 p.m. each evening and will be followed by a reception on adjacent Geneva Terrace. The service attracts people from a broad spectrum of religious persuasions, making it one of the most popular campus events all year.

This year’s theme is “Listening for the Word Made Flesh.” The theme asks us to join those first Advent listeners ― Anna and Simeon, John the Baptizer, Elizabeth and Mary, Zechariah and Joseph, shepherds, a people longing for liberation ― to listen for a Word of Scripture and to listen in our world for the Word made flesh in the midst of us.

 “The Lessons & Carols service is one of the highlights of the academic year,” said the Rev. Scott Clark, chaplain and associate dean of students at SFTS. “The SFTS Seminary Singers lead worship with amazing music, and we invite folks from across the community to serve as readers, as we tell the Advent story. Stewart Chapel is decorated for the season and there’s a great reception with cookies and cider afterwards.”

The Lessons & Carols service observes Advent's time of preparation and the coming of the Christ Child. Started in 1975 by SFTS Professors David Esler and Wil Russell, Lessons & Carols follows the pattern and liturgy of the Advent festival as presented in King's College Chapel at Cambridge University in England.

DECATUR, Ga. ― “Reading Thomas Merton's Journals as Lectio Divina: An Intimate Way of Reading with Crisis and Mystery” is the title of a Jan. 29-Feb. 1 seminar sponsored by Columbia Theological Seminary’s Center for Lifelong Learning.

“Thomas Merton’s life-long journal project (1939 – 1968) is a key to understanding both his life and developing work,” says Victor Kramer, who will lead the seminar. “The journals also work like a prayer book.”

The seven volumes of the complete journal, as excerpted in the edited The Intimate Merton, by Hart and Montaldo, will be examined through focused study. This selected gathering of entries, taken from each volume of the complete journals, will be used as material which can be seen to function as fuel for Lectio Divina.

Reading the selections in The Intimate Merton, class participants will begin to become familiar with particular passages (and with the 16 journals which have been published – by Merton, or adapted by him, as well as edited by others); will focus on entries from these selections to understand more fully the process of spiritual journey; and will examine many of these entries in detail as a four step process which clearly encourages rereading and prayer.  

PITTSBURGH ― Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and Eckerd College are partnering to offer the Doctor of Ministry Parish Focus degree in St. Petersburg, Fla.

It is the second time the two institutions have offered the program, intended for mid-career Presbyterian pastors seeking to enhance their education. The program offers classes at Eckerd’s beautiful waterfront campus for two weeks in January and two weeks in June over a three-year period.

It is open to about a dozen students, beginning in January 2015. The classes will emphasize missional leadership and contextual issues unique to ministry. The program requires 10 courses including theology of church and ministry, congregation and community issues, and pastoral care among others. All are taught by Pittsburgh Theological Seminary faculty.

Applications are now being accepted.

“Eckerd has had a long history with the Presbyterian Church and we’re thrilled to partner with them again,” said the Rev. Susan Kendall, director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Pittsburgh Seminary. “Eckerd provides library and research support, classroom space, and easy access to the airport and amenities unique to the area.”

Doug McMahon, Eckerd’s chaplain and director of the Center for Spiritual Life, said the program allows busy pastors in the Southeast to earn a doctorate without having to travel to Pittsburgh. “We are pleased with the success of this program and delighted that this partnership will continue,” McMahon said. “It is an excellent example of the deep, historical ties between Eckerd and the Presbyterian Church.”

Visit  www.pts.edu/ministry to apply online or contact Pittsburgh Theological Seminary at 412-924-1381 or e-mail doctorofministry@pts.edu.

RICHMOND, Va. ― While urban pastors devote time and energy to all the typical demands of ministry, they also grapple with challenges endemic to city life.

On Nov. 18 at Union Presbyterian Seminary, Richmond campus, the Rev. Roger Gench (Th.M.'81; Ph.D.'86) discussed his book Theology From the Trenches: Reflections on Urban Ministry. He offered a close look at the challenges for both clergy and church-goers that come from being involved in urban ministry.
“With a good dose of wisdom, experience, and humility, Roger Gench writes with refreshing honesty about ‘doing theology from the trenches of urban ministry,’” says Jessica Tate, director of NEXT Church. “Tackling topics such as race, poverty, food deserts, and living wages alongside the Apostles’ Creed and the Great Commandment, this book is a must-read for leaders who desire to deepen a congregation’s theological self-understanding and transform the congregation’s service and witness in the community.”
Gench has been the pastor at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., since 2002. He conducts retreats for lay people and clergy on spiritual disciplines (especially St. Ignatius), spiritual uses of the Bible, interfaith dialogue, politics & religion, and faith & ethics.

DUBUQUE, Iowa ― Heritage Center, the University of Dubuque’s  and the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary’s performing arts, worship, and campus center, hosted folk singer/songwriter-guitarist Carrie Newcomer on Nov. 14.

The concert was Newcomer’s UD/UDTS debut, with piano accompaniment by Gary Walters, and a special guest appearance by the UD Gospel Choir. The performance was part of a week-long artist residency at UD for the performer, during which she participated in worship services, held public workshops, and worked with student writers, actors, and musicians.

Newcomer has been described as “a soaring songstress” by Billboard, a “prairie mystic” by the Boston Globe, and Rolling Stone wrote that she “asks all the right questions.” One of the definitive voices of the heartland and progressive spirituality, Newcomer has attracted a devoted following with her warm voice, exquisite melodies, and an irreverent yet spiritual view of the world.

Newcomer’s songs are based in the ordinary, and infused with images from the natural world. Says Newcomer of her work, “Something good happened to my writing when I stopped being afraid to do something simple, for the fear that people might think I couldn’t do something more complex. Don’t be confused by the word simple. Simple is not easy, it is clear voiced, and fearlessly elegant. That kind of elegance can only happen on the other side of complexity. You learn how to play a lot of notes, write a lot of words, so that the notes and words you choose to use are the right ones and nothing more.”