By Maria Liu Wong
The theme of “broadening worldviews” is near and dear to my heart and my life’s work. Since being mistaken more than twenty years ago — a young Chinese-American woman teaching music in a south Bronx public school — as a “take-out” cook by second graders in my class, opening up possibilities for others to see more than what they expect or know has been of critical importance. I can think of three ways I have had the privilege to engage in this.
One way has been at City Seminary, an intercultural urban theological learning community in Harlem. Together with my brothers and sisters in Christ from Pentecostal, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, non-denominational, African Independent, and other churches, we experience what world Christianity scholar and historian Andrew F. Walls calls an “Ephesian Moment.” It is a coming together of the parts of the Body of Christ, with a common vision to draw others to Christ in the city, and to recognize that not one part has the “corner” on knowing and worshipping God. Getting to know more about the larger Body comes through time, friendship and a mutual commitment towards Gospel-centered change in our city. This means visiting and worshipping in each other’s churches, and being open to listening and sharing across cultures and traditions. And it means being open to the various ways we experience Gospel change in our hearts, bodies and minds.
Another way has been in the context of our local presence as a neighborhood institution, practicing hospitality in our Harlem community. Public faith is expressed in opening our doors and inviting others in for food, conversation, appreciation of and making art in our monthly Community Conversations and public hours at the Walls-Ortiz Gallery and Center. Alternating art exhibitions that focus on world Christianity and urban issues, we are able to engage those who might never cross the threshold of a church, much less a seminary. Creating this time and space for dialogue has been a rich endeavor that has challenged the way I experience the world, as well as my seminary staff who regularly rotate through the public hours — welcoming long time residents, new transplants and tourists — in the milieu of a changing neighborhood.
Finally, I have seen the opportunity to broaden worldviews across disciplines. Recently, I presented a paper at a “Learning Cities” conference in Glasgow, Scotland where faith and spirituality was noticeably absent from the discourse about learning across all sectors in the city (civic, economic, ecological, social, etc). My colleague at a community college in Philadelphia and I compared the experiences of our students as they engaged in learning more in depth about particular neighborhoods; related in her case, to leadership development, and in mine, to prayerful engagement. We learned that whether faith or spirituality were an intentional component of the curriculum or not, they emerged as key themes in student learning. The conference concluded with the newly appointed director of the PASCAL network (the organizing body) making the observation that cities were spiritual places and this should be included in the discourse.
The work of Gospel change invites the Holy Spirit into all aspects of life – in the church, in the public domain, and across academic disciplines. I am grateful to have had and continue to take part in exciting ways to see God redeem all, especially in the work of broadening worldviews.
Maria Liu Wong serves as Dean of City Seminary of New York in Harlem, NYC. She also leads a women’s fellowship group and volunteers in the children’s ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church Downtown. She graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University this spring, and her dissertation focused on women and leadership in global Christian theological education. She lives in the Lower East Side with her husband and three energetic little New Yorkers, volunteers on the School Leadership Team at her younger son’s school, and enjoys creating ways to make time and space for students, faculty (and herself!) to learn from and with each other.