The following article was written by Alice M. Smith, and was originally published in the Wesleyan Christian Advocate.
Dr. Jan Love, the new dean of Candler School of Theology at Emory University since Jan. 1, is glad to be back home in the South and in the throes of academia.
She left the University of South Carolina, where she had taught for 22 years, to become the head of the UMC's Women's Division in August 2004 and expected to stay put in that position, until Emory President James Wagner and Candler came calling.
"President Wagner got my attention," she said, "with his talk. . . [about the intersection of] religion and public life. . . and the pivotal role Candler can play in forming Christian leaders."
Emory is unique among major research universities, she said, because most institutions of its caliber "are indifferent to or embarrassed by religion." Emory, on the other hand, embraces its Christian ï¿½ and specifically United Methodist ï¿½ heritage. "Emory is true to its historic roots and proud of it," said Love.
One indication of that is the fact that "religion and the human spirit" is one of the emphases of the university's10-year strategic plan from 2005-2015. Specifically, the religion thrust is "emphasizing the positive contributions that religion does and can make to the quality of the community locally and across the world," Love said.
She comes to Candler at a strategic ï¿½ and somewhat disruptive ï¿½ time, as it goes through a major building program that will replace the current 50-year-old Bishops Hall. The "beautiful new building" will include classroom and faculty office space in phase one, and in phase two a new home for Pitts Theology Library. Groundbreaking is scheduled this month on March 20, and both phases are scheduled to be completed by October 2009.
While much has been made of the fact Love is the first woman and layperson to assume the deanship at Candler, she shrugs off those distinctions, and says simply, "I'm just happily being myself."
She points out that while she isn't ordained, "I've been immersed with clergy all my life," but also notes it is "no accident that I am a layperson. I chose it. There is a powerful role for the laity in the church."
The daughter of a United Methodist clergyperson, she grew up in Alabama and became enmeshed in mission, women's and ecumenical work at an early age. "I think part of the gift I bring is I have spent 37 of my 54 years ï¿½ since I was a teenager ï¿½ deeply immersed not only in the life of the church but in the leadership of the church in one way or another," she said.
As for being the "first woman" in the position, she doesn't give that much thought since "I've been the first woman doing a lot of stuff. It doesn't feel too odd."
For a number of years, she was deeply involved in the global ecumenical movement through the World Council of Churches, and through her travels ï¿½ she's been in 40 countries ï¿½ and also through her teaching at USC, she is knowledgeable about religious and political situations around the world.
When she became head of the Women's Division, she chose to concentrate her traveling within the U.S. in order to learn more about the UMC in this country.
"I've been in 15 to 20 annual conferences in two and one-half years, getting to know the church a lot better. I've spoken, led Bible studies, and come away with the very clear assessment the church badly needs leaders eager and ready to move the church into the 21st century."
One of the arenas where she sees pastors in need of help is in coping with conflict, whether it's over how to spend money, types of worship, the uses of church buildings, or any number of other different matters.
Managing conflict not only is important to the quality of community within the congregation, but also it's important in whether churches are going to be successful in their witness to the outside world. A recent major study on church growth conducted by the Hartford Institute for Religion Research found that one of the common factors among growing congregations is the avoidance of major conflict.
One of Love's interests has been in "conflict transformation," a concept that has a different meaning from conflict resolution. Conflict resolution "presumes there is a place we will get to where the conflict ends," she said. "Conflict transformation presumes we may live forever with a difference ï¿½ that we may never come to the same place on it, but we can live productively together anyway."
Conflict transformation, Love said, could be especially helpful to United Methodists who have differing points of view but who want to learn to live together and have respect for one another.
"We really are a strange family," she said. "If we can get along, we can have a more powerful witness to the gospel."
In addition to seeing a need for good leadership, Love said her travels across the church have underscored for her the fact United Methodists are exhausted by infighting and "yearn to get on with the message."
Reconciliation can result when United Methodists engage one another on a personal level, she said. Both within the UMC and within the World Council of Churches, Love has worked to bring competing voices together in dialogue.
In the UMC, she helped co-lead a series of dialogues on the divisive issue of homosexuality, and she said a "great victory" was achieved when dialogue participants recognized that while they still disagreed with one another, they also recognized each other was a conscientious Christian.
On a personal level, she says that living in the South is "radically better for my family life," and that husband Peter Sederberg, a retired dean at USC, will be relocating to Atlanta. Son Per is doing post-doctoral work at Princeton and is getting married in June, and daughter Rachel is a student at Smith College.
"They're both in the northeast, Mommy came back, and Papa never left," Love summed up.