Alumni/ae Tuesday: VDS Alumni @ Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt Divinity Alumni serve in churches, organizations, and institutions across the country and around the world. Some, however, choose after they graduate to make a transformative impact right here on campus. This series features VDS alumni who work at Vanderbilt, showing the range of work a theological education can prepare one to do. We hope you’ll enjoy getting to meet them!
Mark Forrester, MDiv ’83
University Chaplain and Director of Religious Life
How is your work at Vanderbilt shaped by having pursued a theological education?
Because the work of a university chaplain encompasses the complementary—and sometimes conflictual—tasks of being a pastor, prophet, mentor and religious administrator, the VDS educational model of “minister as theologian” that informed so much of my academic and vocational formation nudged me always to think broadly, yet clearly as possible, at the intersections where sacred reasoning could enrich individuals and institutions in need of an alternative imagination.
Who was your favorite professor (or what was your favorite course) at VDS and why?
I had so many professors who shook and enlarged my world! Still, the one teacher who made the most profound and lasting impact was Sallie McFague. Her lectures were lyrical, dense and soaring. Her writing was impeccable. Her expectations were merciless. I was willing to risk taking four courses under Sallie, so perhaps my favorite was her trademark “Religious Autobiography” class where we read classic and modern memoirs of St. Augustine, John Woolman, Malcolm X and Will Campbell. That course engrained in my mind a theological maxim, “biography precedes theology,” that still serves to remind me that we don’t apprehend the Divine somewhere “out there,” but from within our narratives that wrangle with transcendence in the grit and gristle of life’s work.
What advice would you share with prospective students?
While this is a simple suggestion, I would encourage any prospective student to plan to engage academic rigor, interpersonal growth and vocational curiosity. As a United Methodist clergy for thirty-four years, I had no intention to seek ordination when I first enrolled as an M.Div. candidate. And while VDS was, and is, an excellent environment to envision and test alternative and non-traditional paths, I would highly recommend the variety of VDS field education opportunities that, for many like me, provided the necessary context and quality of discernment to walk more confidently into a future that will nurture and reward your natural gifts.