Alan Smith

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There are several significant sources behind my becoming a religious educator. I grew up in the church. My mother played piano and organ at a variety of congregations in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) so my brother (also an ordained minister in this denomination) and I grew up being in worship and in both Sunday school and Youth groups there.

Every Summer while living in Tennessee, I spent at least a week at Summer Camp at Bethany Hills, the Disciples’ camp and conference center for the state. This experience of concentrated religious education served not only to reinforce my faith, but to elicit my own leadership skills and train me for my vocation I began to experience there.

Rev. Wally Wolfe, Associate Minister of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Chattanooga, Tenn. was director of a high school conference at Bethany Hills in which I served as a counselor when I was in college. Wally asked me what I intended to do with my life (I was a political science major with an eye toward law school and politics at the time.) When I told him my plans, he said, “No; that’s not what you’re going to do. You’re going to be a minister.” He was the first person to recognize the gifts and graces for ministry I possessed. That changed the direction of my schooling and my sense of call.

I majored in Religion at Florida State University after that and the rest, as they say, is history. FSU was one of the first public universities to develop a Religion major and the major and the professors were all new when I began there. My first course in the department was purely accidental. In the Winter term of my Sophomore year, I needed one more course to register as a full-time student and there were almost no courses still open on the last day of registration. In desperation, I registered for “Religious Thought in the Renaissance and Reformation Period” with Dr. Walter Moore, himself a newly minted Ph.D. who was new in the new department. It was one of the best courses I have ever taken. I took another course, then another, and I was hooked! When Wally Wolfe called me out on my call, I was already involved in the Religion department and began to identify my call with the academic study of Religion, Theology, and Religious Education.

Continuing on this theme, upon my arrival at Vanderbilt Divinity School, I was not convinced this was my correct career path yet. In my second year in the M.Div., I was selected to be an assistant in a first-year seminar and worked with Jack Seymour as my immediate supervisor. Jack helped me clarify my direction in this field and showed me what religious education as an academic discipline could be.

Finally, coming full circle, my years as a pastor focused more and more directly on youth ministry and Christian Education as a discipline as the most vibrant, rewarding aspect of my ministry. Simply put, all of the creative, interesting, and committed persons I knew in ministry were in C.E. When it became time for my Ph.D. work, I knew it would be in this discipline—a conversation with Jack Seymour, once again, led me to Claremont and to Mary Elizabeth and Allen Moore. So, that’s my journey in a brief form! It has been a great career and a true calling.

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