This month, we celebrate the graduates of Emmanuel College's Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 in the lead-up to our Virtual Convocation, happening May 20 at 2 p.m. Learn more by visiting the Virtual Convocation webpage!
In the spring of 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, Morgan Bell Emm 2T0 was on the cusp of completing his Master of Divinity degree at Emmanuel College. In the blink of an eye, Bell's studies went virtual and his perspective on theology took on a whole new meaning.
“COVID absolutely illustrated what’s at stake in theology,” he says. “It illuminated long-standing issues of justice and injustice throughout this country, and what it means when we talk about salvation and deliverance, for instance.”
Later that spring, he would go on to receive the prestigious 2020 Sanford Gold Medal in Divinity, an award given on the completion of the MDiv program, and on the basis of a candidate’s outstanding scholarship, ability and character.
Now a candidate for ordered ministry within the United Church of Canada, and hard at work on his PhD in theological studies at Emmanuel College, Bell says he is grateful for the unique learning experience Emmanuel offers.
“I had known fairly early on in my master’s work that I was looking forward to doctoral work at some point down the road,” Bells says. “Emmanuel really provided me with a lot of resources to explore and further develop my academic skills and interests in what is primarily training for church-based ministry.”
While Bell acknowledges that Emmanuel’s roots in the United Church of Canada were part of its initial appeal, he says it was the College’s commitment to diversity that really drew him in.
“In coming to Emmanuel College I felt that I was getting a situated theological education that had deep roots within my tradition,” Bell says. “The flip side is that Emmanuel is obviously an interfaith school. Emmanuel’s vision is that we encounter the religious and nonreligious other, not in somehow denying our own tradition but being more deeply-rooted in it, because true encounter with the other requires true encounter with the self. That really resonated with me.”
In addition to connecting with Emmanuel’s curriculum, Bell says he found its tight-knit community of faculty and staff to be a great source of help, especially his MDiv thesis director, Professor Tom Reynolds.
“Tom has been such an incredible support for me. He’s somebody who has deep roots within the Christian tradition and is a keen and thorough systematic thinker,” Bell says. “He’s also a world expert on disability and theology. While that’s not my area of study, I have really appreciated the intense focus that he has on theology being for real communities, and that if it’s not responding to the most vulnerable within our communities then it is not living up to its calling.”
With his sights now firmly set on completing his PhD and his ordination, Bell acknowledges that completing his master’s degree just as the COVID-19 epidemic hit has inevitably shaped his outlook with respect to his calling.
“[COVID] raised a lot of questions for me about the role and place of the church within society—what it truly is, and what it means to be faithful,” he says. Bell points out that it is one thing to contemplate the meaning of faith and the church within an educational setting, and another to be confronted with it amidst the outbreak of a deadly global pandemic. “I’m sure that’s something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life,” he says.
Despite the challenges the last year has presented, Bell, like so many of his peers, believes that a commitment to his studies and to his faith will help carry him through whatever the future may hold.
“Wherever I end up, be it in a congregation or be it in an academic setting, I hope to be able to exercise what I see as a call by God to a sacramental life of care and concern, and to a sharing of the gospel."
Help us celebrate the Emmanuel College Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 with a virtual convocation and the installation of Victoria University’s 15th Chancellor, Nick Saul, C.M., Vic 9T0, on Thursday, May 20 at 2 p.m. ET!