In this series of posts, University of Roehampton chaplaincy staff are reflecting, in honour of International Women’s Day, on women who have inspired them. Here Chaplaincy Community Worker Bill Topping writes about Elaine Heath.
Elaine Heath is a professor, writer, speaker and ordained Elder within the United Methodist Church. An online bio described Elaine’s work as follows:
Dr. Elaine Heath’s scholarly work is interdisciplinary, integrating pastoral, biblical, and spiritual theology in ways that bridge the gap between academy, church, and world. Her current research interests focus on community as a means of healing trauma, emergent forms of Christianity, and alternative forms of theological education for the church in rapidly changing contexts.
As well as having served as both Dean of the Divinity School at Duke University and the McCreless Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology, South Methodist University, Elaine is the author of numerous books and articles. In addition, Heath is a pioneer in new forms of theological training and is the co-founder of the Missional Wisdom Foundation and Neighborhood Seminary. She currently serves as Abbess at Spring Forest, an intentional Christian community and farm in rural North Carolina.
It is on the theme of Intentional Christian Community that I first encountered Elaine’s inspiring work. Many of you reading this will know that a large part of my role here at the University of Roehampton is to live in and co-lead an intentional community of students. Elaine’s books: Missional. Monastic. Mainline and Longing for Spring: A new Vision for Wesleyan Community (Co-authored by Larry Duggins and Scott Kisker respectively) have both been full of wisdom and truth, and have inspired me greatly in the work I do. Both equipped me with practical knowledge and affirmed the sense of calling to community I have. Elaine is also a friend of the Methodist Church in Great Britain, giving talks and sharing insight on a number of trips across the pond. Indeed it was planned that she would visit our community here at the University but sadly that was yet another trip cancelled due to the pandemic – we hope this year it will be possible.
It was my pleasure, alongside my colleague Joanna Grennan, to meet Elaine via video call during this pandemic period. It was such a joy to learn that Elaine was as kind and wise and she came across in her books. Her encouragement was so comforting and her practical advice beneficial for all in the community.
I have learnt so much from Elaine Heath. Whether this be practical elements of setting up an intentional community, historical practices that can and should influence our day to day living in the 21st Century or enlightening me as to some of the nuanced and painful ways various experiences can influence one’s relationship with scripture or the institutionalised Church.
Her humble, yet powerful, faith practice is an example to us all and an inspiration. It will come as no surprise that it is in search of Elaine’s wisdom that so often forms my first port of call when it comes to wrestling with a thorny theological issue, or navigating a particularly difficult dynamic in community. She is always a great help. I am so thrilled for the community members of Spring Forest to have her as Abbess.
It is a pleasure to be able to right about Elaine Heath for this Inspired by series. I leave for you a list of links* to additional work of hers that I have engaged with – but there is so much more I haven’t. I have no doubt that if you engage with it, you too will be inspired.
Bill Topping is a Chaplaincy Community Worker at the University of Roehampton
*Book: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Abuse: reading the bible with survivors (2019). Videos: Forming Missional Communities (2016), Prophets, Reformers, Movements & the Church (2017), 5 Ways to Cope with Pandemic Fears (2020)