Adam Interviews new Crozer president

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Dr. Angela Sims takes charge of Crozer Divinity School at a pivotal time

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School is about to uproot itself from the hilltop its called home since 1928.

It will step down from its perch beside Highland Park and replant the campus at Village Gate in August.

News 8 has recently covered the contested redevelopment plan for the historic campus.

This giant transition is being overseen by the school’s new president, Dr. Angela Sims, who took over on July 1, following the tenure of Dr. Marvin McMickle.

Having worked at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas and Oklahoma, Sims comes to Rochester hoping to expand and strengthen the school’s degree program.

Below is some of the dialogue between Dr. Sims and Adam Chodak:

Adam: So we’ll start with your short tenure so far, how’s it going?

Sims: So far it’s going well. I’ve had an opportunity to walk the grounds here, and I’ve also had an opportunity to walk our space that we will be occupying August 20th, with classes starting August 26th, so just getting a sense for the rhythm of a place, and getting to meet the remarkable persons with whom I will be working.

Adam: What is it like to come into this historic campus knowing you’re going to move to a new one?

Sims: Having worked at an institution for the previous 12 years where we made two re-locations, one coming from the initial campus site, just recognizing that it’s really not the place that defines the institution, but it’s how we think about how we not only honor the past, live in the present, but prepare for the future that’s most important to me.

Adam: And what is the mission as you see it?

Sims: So the mission as I see it will remain unchanged. And that is preparing individuals for service, not only to congregational-based ministries, but the service to the world. For the people who are, who comprise that world. Being really attentive to our commitment to peace and justice. And thinking about the way in which that is interwoven throughout the life of this community. Recognizing that we first and foremost have a responsibility to educate our students to be deep thinkers, to be deep questioners, and to understand the way in which their own evolving sense of theology will definitely impact the way they respond to all problems. I have selected as our theme for this academic year, “Living Our Mission.” This is our bicentennial year, and so thinking intentionally and purposefully about the ways in which we will live our mission even as we transition into a new location

Adam: It’s really interesting, to me it sounds almost secular when you have other congregations, other denominations, talking primarily about immortality and the afterlife, you’re talking about the here and now …

Sims: I am. And I guess for me, having grown up in predominantly black Baptist congregations, as I’ve aged, I’ve really begun to question, how is it that we can talk about life in the here and after, always talking about this ascendancy, but not deal with the groundedness, where we have our feet planted, in every day life. And I think we need to be attentive to both. If we can’t attend to the life of those who we see every day, and not even question the quality of our relationship with a divine being whom we don’t see.

Adam: You had mentioned one of your goals is to bolster the Master’s program here, make sure you keep the numbers up of students (roughly 100 currently attend). How do you intend to do that?”

Sims: A couple of ways. We will be taking an innovative approach. Recruitment is not the responsibility of one person or one department. It is the responsibility of this entire institution. So looking at our curriculum, and asking ourselves, ‘Are our course offerings aligned with what we say our commitments are, and what our mission statement says we actually do?’ We have a number of emphases in our Master’s program. There’s emphasis on women and gender studies, and asking ourselves, if we are attending to those issues in our coursework. Also thinking about the way in which we approach skilled education, and thinking about the relationships with the Greater Rochester community, and making sure that we are forming partnerships with congregations and organizations whose missions complement ours, and provide our students with a different venue in which to engage in theological discourse.

Adam: You’ve studied and written quite a bit about lynchings, in part you said because it represents the power of fear and how people use fear to control others. How do you overcome such a means of control that’s lasted thousands of years?

Sims: I think one of the ways is to begin to name and confront. I’ve always believed that until we can name something accurately, we can’t begin to address it. And as I look at issues that are unfolding in this country, my work suggests that a culture of lynching is still very much prevalent. And that we need in this school and in other schools of theology to begin to really name those problems and to do so mindful that we might not be the best place for every individual to study. But then again, we might be just the place where individuals need to come and study.

Adam: Do you see any progress in this realm?

Sims: I always see signs of hope. I always believe that there is indeed, metaphorically, more light than darkness, and that often we have to be willing to be perhaps get outside of some comfort zones and to expand our own networks in order to find out who else is engaged in this work.

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