Azure Kline spent Saturday morning painting the walls of her future classrooms.
Later, with traces of dried white paint freckling her face, she said a prayer to dedicate the Metro Baltimore Seminary at Freedom Church, which is expected to welcome its first cohort of new students in a month.
“We thank you for calling us into your service,” Kline, 26, prayed. “We thank you for the will to do this work.”
The Metro Baltimore Seminary launched about two years ago, with a chapter in Howard County. It’s now opening a second campus just outside of Northeast Baltimore, on the second floor of Freedom Church off Hazelwood Avenue.
Its leaders expect the new location will draw more students who are Baltimore residents, like Kline. They gathered Saturday to work on getting the space ready and to celebrate the new site.
“As a seminary, we want to be here to serve the church and the city,” president Dan Passerelli said. “If we’re going to train leaders for the city, we need to be accessible for people in the city.”
The Rev. Stan Long, one of the deans, says Metro Baltimore Seminary’s teaching philosophy is based on the idea that the 12 disciples didn’t study theology to become ministers. Rather, they learned by watching Christ. Following that logic, he said, the seminary’s programs consist of 40% classwork and 60% real-world experience via internships and the guidance of a trained mentor.
They want to create hands-on leaders who can help heal a messy world, which is right now grappling with a devastating pandemic and a national reckoning over racism.
The accredited program is designed to be accessible and slide easily into students’ busy lives, with once-a-week classes that allow them to keep their day jobs. While typical seminaries can cost tens of thousands of dollars, tuition for this program hovers around $6,000.
They keep costs low by hosting classes at local churches, like Freedom. Lead Pastor Jeremy Dickson said the congregation’s mission aligns with that of the seminary. Plus, the space is too big for his church alone, and so he was happy to know part of the building could be used to train future leaders.
Given the restrictions in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the seminary plans to offer a hybrid of in-person and online class options for students. When classes start Aug. 25, students will be able to socially distance inside the building or access lessons digitally via Zoom.
At a picnic to celebrate the new campus, reminders of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, were ever-present, as people prayed outdoors with masks on.
The restrictions have forced current students to be creative in serving and fulfilling their real-world requirements. Some have spent hours calling congregation members and checking in on them as they’re confined in their homes. Another formed an online support group for parents juggling their jobs and homeschooling.
The seminary leaders say they must work to replenish church leadership, as congregations shrink or close and theology school enrollment has declined.
They also say it’s vital to recruit and train a diverse group of leaders committed to the idea of racial reconciliation.
Long, who is Black, serves as a dean alongside the Rev. Craig Garriott, who is white. They previously served for years together at Faith Christian Fellowship in Pen Lucy.
Until Long was nearly a teenager, he said, the only Christians he knew were other Black people. The two men are still working to build faith communities that cross racial and class lines.
“In a world so broken and divided, seeing different people united under one thing, it’s a powerful message,” Long said. “It’s the message Jesus came to bring.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Lillian Reed and Jonathan Pitts contributed to this article.
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