Hoorah for SCUPE!

One of my formative experiences while a student at AMBS

was an off-campus semester I experienced with SCUPE.

I was recently asked to write a promotional letter for the SCUPE program which the SCUPE folks will send off to prospective students, and I had so much fun doing it, I thought I would also post it here. Who knows, maybe you all will find it interesting, even though most of you probably aren't interested in moving to Chicago for a five-month internship! Here it is ...

3 September 2003
Almere, The Netherlands


When I close my eyes and think of Chicago, images cross my mind like snapshots on a screen saver: my dozen piano students at the Bethel Cultural Arts Center on Chicago’s west side, sprinting down the hallway, lesson books clutched in hands eager for learning; my colleagues at the Arts Center, laughing over lunch, working late hours, scrambling together to meet the next grant deadline; my neighbors, faces wrinkled with age, opening their doors to invite me in; the homeless man in the alley next to Dunkin’ Donuts, his nod of recognition as I duck inside for a pre-class snack; the loud ‘amens’ and spontaneous laughter of my classmates; the passion of a prof as she makes yet another good point.

If you are reading this letter, then odds are that you are considering a semester or summer of study and hands-on learning with the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE). I was in just such a position three and a half years ago. In the spring of 2000, I was a seminary student looking to gain some additional practical ministry experience. When I spotted SCUPE’s posters on my seminary’s field education bulletin board, something within me clicked: an interest, a curiosity, a question. Following the nudges of that ‘something’ started me on one of the most satisfying adventures of my life, an adventure that has not yet come to an end.

What exactly did my SCUPE semester entail? Roughly half of my experiences revolved around my classes and classmates: inspiring lectures and gritty discussions about (to name just a few topics) community development, public policy in urban settings, liberation theology, Christology and cultures, the relationship between faith-based organizations and government, the relationship between the church and the ‘powers that be.’ These were classes that demanded much academically, but still managed to be unapologetically practical in their application to our lives and ministries: a pleasing balance of theory and practice. I remember many a night when a few fellow students and I would head down to a local restaurant after class, minds reeling from a particularly riveting lecture or discussion. Those after-class debriefing sessions were almost as important as the classes themselves.

The other half of my SCUPE experiences revolved around my internship at Bethel New Life, Incorporated – a faith-based community development corporation of which the (previously mentioned) Bethel Cultural Arts Center is one ‘arm’. In my 20 hours per week at the Arts Center, I did a little of everything: gave piano lessons to students in the after-school music program; organized an arts group for women transitioning out of homelessness; applied for grants from the state and federal governments; answered telephones; wrote press releases; sold tickets for theatre productions; and attended meetings in which we discussed the Art Center’s hopes, dreams, and plans for the future. I lived on the campus of Bethel New Life, in an apartment building in which all of my neighbors were participants in Bethel’s senior housing program. Most nights when I went to bed, my neighbors could still be found ‘burning the midnight oil’ in our lounge, playing cards or just chatting.

I graduated from the SCUPE program in May of 2001, and soon thereafter, returned to my home seminary in Indiana to finish my studies. But the prophetic urban perspectives I encountered in Chicago continued to burn bright within me, offering me fresh ways to converse with fellow students and engage the local community. The hard questions I had confronted head-on (in class and in my internship experience) were still alive, demanding my attention. Every theological article I read, every biblical text I exegeted, every chapel service I attended looked just a bit different now. My perspective had shifted and broadened. The city had left its imprint upon my soul, and I soon came to realize that I would never be the same.

After graduation, when I was given the opportunity to move to the Netherlands and participate in an urban ministry project in Almere, a city 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam, it was largely my SCUPE experience that gave me the courage to say ‘yes’. Almere is a different city than Chicago, to be sure. Almere is blessed with different gifts, and contends with different challenges. But the principles I learned in SCUPE – principles relating to cross-cultural living, community building, and sound theological analysis – have remained relevant (indeed, they have proved themselves invaluable) in the midst of this cultural transition, guiding me, helping me find my way in a completely new context.

I do not know what the future holds. But whatever path I take, I have no doubt that my SCUPE semester will be there, within me, informing my work and life in unexpected ways. SCUPE isn’t only for those who are certain that they will find their ministerial home in urban settings. (Born and raised on a farm in Ohio, that certainly wasn’t my point of departure upon entering the SCUPE program!) SCUPE is also for those on the journey, seeking the way, eager for a challenge, and ready for an adventure.

I have no regrets about choosing SCUPE. I urge you to consider choosing it as well.


Jackie A. Wyse
SCUPE graduate, 2001

P.S. I am happy to answer your questions about my SCUPE experiences (or SCUPE in general) via e-mail. Feel free to drop me a line at jackie@doopsgezind.nl

P.P.S. One note of clarification: Many different sorts of internships are available through SCUPE. Mine was arts-related, but instead, I could have interned in a homeless shelter, an urban congregation, a network for community organizing, a soup kitchen, or a senior citizens’ home (to name just a few options). The choices are indeed many and varied.