Warner at Duke Divinity School says the John Wesley Fellowship brings together the church and the academy for the renewal of the church in the world.
Laceye Warner grew up in The Woodlands Methodist Church with Ed Robb III as her senior pastor. A Foundation for Theological Education has its headquarters in The Woodlands, Texas, and Ed Robb Jr. (her senior pastor’s father), along with Methodist theologian Albert Outler, started AFTE and the John Wesley Fellowship.
As a college student Warner explored candidacy for ordination as an elder in the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Warner’s educational path took her from an undergraduate degree at Trinity University in San Antonio to a doctorate at Trinity College in Bristol, with a stop at Duke Divinity School for her M.Div. She became a John Wesley Fellow while in Bristol, United Kingdom, where she served urban congregations in the Methodist Church of Great Britain.
Warner found a dynamic synergy between practicing ministry and continuing theological study, particularly regarding her topic, the ministry and Christian theological formation of women as Deaconesses in Protestant churches.
As Warner gained experience as a pastor and scholar, she came to understand that the United Methodist Church was not consistently vital across the connection. Perceiving reluctance on the part of some in United Methodism to embrace theological reflection, she found a strong resonance among the John Wesley Fellows, who share an appreciation for theological reflection that is deeply faithful to the Wesleyan tradition.
“Participating in a network of pastors and scholars who share similar values and commitments is a gift that continues to sustain my vocation to Christian ministry in United Methodist theological education,” Warner said. “Such a network continues to encourage new scholars in the church, empowering them to avoid disillusionment while partnering for the renewal of the United Methodist Church in the world.”
As a seminary student at Duke Divinity School, Warner discerned a calling to pursue graduate theological study by completing a Ph.D., originally to prepare her as a more effective pastor. God had other plans.
Warner’s scholarly research focuses on evangelism, women’s ministry practices and Methodist/Wesleyan studies. She has come full circle as a recipient of the John Wesley Fellowship by now serving on AFTE’s board and the selection committee for the John Wesley Fellowship.
In equipping present and future leaders of the church to serve in a variety of contexts, Warner underscores the important role of the fellowship linking two worlds that are often disparate — the church and the academy — to come together for the renewal of the church in the world.
“John Wesley Fellows consistently demonstrate that pastors and scholars are not required to choose one vocation or the other,” she said. “One can serve the church as both a scholarly pastor and a pastoral scholar.”
Warner says the church in the 21st century needs leaders deeply grounded in Christian communities of faith with an agility to respond creatively to the complex challenges confronting the world. An interdisciplinary, collaborative practice of ministry is among the most promising responses to these complex challenges symptomatic of systemic sin and brokenness.
There is often a tendency when working in such creative space to forget or leave behind the truths of Christian Scripture and doctrine, she said. However, these provide a deep well of possibilities informing our participation in the reign of God as we respond to God’s love in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
“Christian ministry, including our Christian belief, does not begin with human experience or effort, but begins with God,” Warner said. “We are prompted by God’s Holy Spirit who goes before and behind all creation. For the Church to participate in the unfolding reign of God and respond to the Holy Spirit’s invitation, it needs more creative and responsive means of theological education that do not sacrifice doctrinal integrity.”