Reaching a Quarantined Neighborhood with the Gospel in New York

Running from a call to ministry after a poor church staff experience, Cathy Bruce did not envision sitting in a seminary course, engaging with professors, and tackling stacks of reading. Yet, as a member of the Class of 2022 in the MDiv program at Northern Seminary, she recalls her experience learning in the Northern community as a transformational. Currently serving as a Lead Pastor at Hope Midtown in New York City, Cathy’s perspective on urban ministry was profoundly shaped by her professors and peers at Northern.

Cathy’s introduction to Northern resulted from Northern’s partnership with Colorado-based Ten Thousand Fathers & Mothers Worship School (10KFAM). Living in Athens, GA, at the time, Cathy’s church recognized her potential and gave her both encouragement and a platform. Seeking training for her position as a worship leader, Cathy’s first foray into theological education was with 10KFAM. During her first intensive, Greg Armstrong and Sam Hamstra were provided an opportunity through Northern’s partnership with 10KFAM to present students with an overview of the MAW program. As Cathy recollects, “The more they talked, the more my heart was pricked.” Thus began her journey toward Northern.

God spoke to Cathy about considering seminary during her drive home that night. Within a week, she called Greg and prefaced the conversation with, “I can’t believe I’m saying this.” In September 2017, she began the MAW program.

Shortly after beginning her studies, the Bruce family was called to New York City, their previous home. Again a local church recognized her potential. She was brought on staff as a teaching pastor. With humility and boldness, Cathy changed her degree goal to an MDiv with the expectation that it would more fully prepare her for teaching and preaching.

During her studies, Cathy was impacted by the teaching and influence of Drs. “Coach” Wayne Gordon, Ingrid Faro, David Fitch, and Lynn Cohick. Her ministry role changed to church planter, and she began building a team for a small, missional church with a vision for being deeply rooted in the community. Interestingly, church planting utilized both her previous experience  as an entrepreneur (she built a dog training business in Georgia) and her theological studies.

Dr. “Coach” Wayne Gordon’s CCDA class was timely and revolutionary for Cathy’s ministry. Mid-church plant, the pandemic shuttered churches and wiped out their plans. However, it was the resources in Coach’s class that gave her the inspiration, creativity, and wherewithal to pivot to a digital launch in May 2020. “I needed everything I learned in that class,” Cathy gratefully acknowledges. The question for the new church became, “How do we reach our neighborhood when everyone is being told to stay inside?” Sponsoring PPE giveaways, park cleanup days at Madison Square Park and Bellevue South Park – plus dog events at the parks, courtesy of her dog training career – connected the church staff to their neighborhood in creative, joyful ways. While COVID ravaged the city, Cathy’s team was benefiting from her education at Northern Seminary and the influence of urban ministries such as Christian Community Development Association.

Adequately describing her admiration of Dr. Ingrid Faro is a difficult task for Cathy. “She is much more than a professor.” A champion of women and dispenser of sage advice, Dr. Faro was developing her latest book on deconstructing evil while teaching on evil in the Old Testament. Gleaning from Dr. Faro’s theological process while getting to know her as a person of faith and integrity, is one of many reasons Cathy describes Dr. Faro as “a huge inspiration.”

As a minister to the younger generation, Dr. Fitch’s course on sexual ethics provided theological perspective to Cathy’s ministerial context. “The way he holds the tension of culture and theology is brilliant.” Again, her coursework shifted her ministry to becoming more theologically robust and pastorally loving.

Prior to enrolling in the course on Women in the Early Church, Cathy knew of Dr. Lynn Cohick’s reputation as an esteemed scholar. In her last term, Cathy experienced the camaraderie of a dynamic group digging into the portraits of women in their first century context. In those weekly classes, Cathy “saw space cultivated” for women and men to learn and study together.

Overall, Cathy was refreshingly astonished to experience the pastoral care of the faculty. “To be taught by those who are living out what they are teaching is invaluable.” When ministry was exceptionally challenging and circumstances were uncertain, the rhythm of seminary kept her grounded.

Engaging in quality, theological wrestling is transformative work. Cathy emphasizes the impact of community in her Northern experience: “You can go have a walk with Jesus by yourself, and you’ll grow a little. But when you walk with Jesus in community, it takes your growth to another level. Seminary was like that for me.”

Written by Kelly Dippolito

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