Speaking on election night, Union Presbyterian Seminary President Brian Blount told a full house at the Assembly Training School/Presbyterian School of Christian Education centennial celebration banquet here that people of faith can and do change the world, and repeatedly cited the legacy of ATS/PSCE as a prime example.
“I grew up thinking every school I would ever attend would be segregated because the world couldn’t be changed,” said Blount, who in 2007 became the first African-American president of a predominantly white seminary in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “And when I arrived in Richmond I heard about its history of segregation.
“But I also learned,” he continued, “that the first unsegregated recreational setting in Richmond was at PSCE. They did that … because they believed the world could be changed.” They were, the Revelation scholar said, the kind of dragon-slayers John depicted in that biblical story.
“PSCE believed that it could change Christian education and thereby change the world,” Blount said, “and the way it propelled its people changed the way Christian education is conducted and thereby changed the church around the world.”
PSCE ― founded in 1914 and eventually a neighbor of Union Seminary across Brook Road here before the two schools joined forces in 1997 ― changed segregation “not just by race, but between men and women,” Blount said, recalling the founding of PSCE by W.W. Moore, who was also responsible for moving Union Seminary from rural Farmville, Va., to Richmond “amid much opposition and hostility.”
“I pass his portrait in the hallway,” Blount said, and ask, ‘What did you think you were doing?’ especially when I wonder what I’m doing and supposed to be doing.” Moore, Blount continued, “was driven by visionary moments and by visionary people … he dreamed a different dream, thinking like a dragon-slayer.”
One of those visionary people was Annie Wilson, a young woman who wanted to be an overseas missionary and felt like she need training to do so. She sought entrance to all-male Union Seminary in 1907 and her dragon-slaying persistence led to the creation of ATS in 1914. “Soon there were so many women clamoring for theological education that Moore changed theological education forever,” Blount said.
Today, he continued, “We are not so much making changes as living into changes that ATS/PSCE launched. Citing a number of dragon-slayers from ATS/PSCE’s illustrious past, Blount said, “Adapt the school’s work to the church’s need was the driving principle then and is the driving principle now, to nurture the pastors and educators who lead the church but also the people who ARE the church.” PSCE, he said, “changed the focus [of the Presbyterian Church] by dealing with lay education, not just leader education, for the people in the pew, not just the people leading them.”
The church and the world still says to the would-be dragon-slayers, Blount said, “You’re not thinking straight if you think a theological institution can change the world.”
But, he rejoindered, “We must trust our God. We must believe we can change our world, that’s why we dream so huge. I know I’m not thinking straight because I do believe we can make a difference.
“Unless we want a dumb church we must find a way to educate the church,” Blount said to thunderous applause, “which means we must find a way to train and equip Christian educators. We must form the faith and transmit the faith. The education PSCE provided is the education we desperately need today – to be used by the Holy Spirit to empower men and women to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Blount outlined a number of Union Presbyterian Seminary programs and initiatives designed to carry forward the legacy of ATS/PSCE. They include a global education/global mission center and two new professorships at UPS in Christian education. World-famous author and PSCE alumna Katherine Paterson made an impassioned plea for financial support to endow a Christian education chair in memory of the late Sara Little, arguably PSCE’s most revered teacher.
“The church acts like it doesn’t need or want more Christian educators,” Blount said. “The dragon says, ‘Let God change the world ― you can’t do it.’
“I say, based on the history of ATS/PSCE,” Blount concluded, “All of us in this room are dragon-slayers. May it be so.”