Learn more about Methodism. Conduct research. Understand the impact and importance of religion on a particular population. Grow spiritually.
These are goals that Keuka College freshman Mary Leet and sophomore Vincent Glanville share for their Field Periods. And thanks to receiving Spiritual Exploration Field Period scholarships, both will be able to pursue their goals with less financial burden.
Leet, a resident of Stanley who is spending January at St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Ithaca, received $1,000. Glanville, a resident of Cape Town, South Africa, is working with Claremont Methodist Church’s Serving Strangers program in his hometown. He received $2,000 to help offset his costs.
Spiritual Exploration Field Periods involve work with churches, missions, Hospitals, or hospices with an eye toward providing aid to needy individuals and/or groups, in this country or abroad. Funding for the scholarship is provided by an Institutional Renewal Grant from The Rhodes Consultation on the Future of the Church-Related College.
Leet’s mother serves as a pastor at the Port Byron United Methodist Church, so Leet has a “deep” connection with God and her religion. But that connection was tested as Leet began to understand and accept who she is.
“As I got older, I began to learn slowly at first, then all at once, that I was not like my friends,” explained Leet. “I realized I was a lesbian in middle school, and at the same time learned just how unacceptable that was in the eyes of the church.”
Though her mother insisted that Leet didn’t need to turn away from the church, she gave up her religion and had no part in the church for three years. Since then, Leet said she has grown to understand that God loves and accepts all of His children, and she is anxious to return to a congregation where she can fully participate.
When Leet chose to come out to her mom, “I was met with support and love, and we immediately immersed ourselves in finding a way to make our lives better suited to accept everyone like the Bible said we should. That is how we were both introduced to the concept of a Reconciling congregation.”
A Reconciling congregation is a United Methodist local church that makes a public statement welcoming all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, to participate fully in its congregational life.
“[My Field Period] will be a personal journey because I have not yet found a church I consider ‘home,’” said Leet. “I have spent these past three years attending an Episcopal summer arts camp, occasionally attending my mother’s church, and often volunteering. But I have yet to feel comfortable actually joining a congregation.”
During her Field Period, Leet intends to become involved in “various activities of the church, including meeting its board and the Reconciling committee, and participating in discussion groups regularly,” said Leet. “I also plan to participate in youth and Sunday morning activities, and use social media and a newsletter to promote St. Paul’s.”
Leet plans to keep a journal of her reflections, and stories she collects from others through the blogging website Tumblr.
“I hope to compose an insider’s view of what being a Christian really means for a LGBTQIA person,” she said. “In doing this, I will have created something tangible to give others like me hope, and help begin the necessary conversation in more churches to help the Reconciling movement spread.”
Added Leet: “By participating in a church again, I hope to find that I can still belong to a church where I can explore my own spirituality and reflect on what it means to be a lesbian Christian.”
And while Leet will stay close to home, Glanville will trade winter for summer as he returns to his hometown.
“Spirituality has always played a big part in my life, whether it was going to church on Sunday with my family, or going to youth groups on Friday nights,” said Glanville. “I have often taken this spiritual surrounding for granted and as such, have never gone out and experienced the impact a faith such as Christianity has on people less fortunate that me.”
But Field Period is giving him that opportunity via the Serving Strangers’ mission trips.
“Mission trips have always been something that has interested me, and this particular Field Period marries my interest in these trips with my psychology major,” said Glanville. “I believe faith is as much about people’s ideas and thoughts, as it is about their belief, and I want to explore that.”
Serving Strangers aims to help churches reach out to the communities of unreached people who exist around every urban and suburban church. This involves teaching courses, leading seminars, and mentoring. Part of Serving Strangers’ mission is that there is never a time to grow out of the basic responsibilities Christians have toward others.
Glanville also hopes to gather some psychological data on the influence of Western religion—specifically Christianity—on native South African tribal people. During his Field Period, Glanville intends to conduct research on the people Serving Strangers helps. He wants to learn what role psychology plays in a mission, especially the group psychology behind a missionary organization and the group psychology of those they help.
“This will encompass experiencing mission work first-hand,” said Glanville. “I will study the effect Christianity has had on tribal people, how it has bettered their lifestyle, how it has changed their views on their culture or spirituality, and how it has been incorporated into their belief system.”
According to Glanville, most of the people he will be in direct contact with on the mission trips live in tribes or are the descendants of people who were in tribes.
“There is such a spiritual wealth to draw from in conversation and interaction with them,” he said. “Historically speaking, these are the people who were the most in tune with the ‘spirit of the land’ and had heavy reverence for their ancestor’s spirits. It is a spiritual belief system that has been entrenched into them from birth, and one that is far removed from my own.”
By the end of his Field Period, Glanville hopes to understand the impact of Western religion on African culture.
“I want to see why so many of them turn away from their ancestors’ belief system and embrace something many of them consider a ‘white man’s religion,’” said Glanville. “It’s interesting that they would choose to follow Christianity, when they shun so many other things in Western society.”