Academy for Faith and Life

The Academy for Faith and Life provides short-term and ongoing adult education for the members and friends of Fourth Presbyterian Church and for the larger community. Its mission, further described in the explanation of the Academy seal (see below), is to draw participants into the many realms of God’s activity, emphasizing the intersection of faith and life. All persons are welcome to participate in Academy courses, and all meeting rooms are wheelchair accessible.

View the Academy for Faith and Life calendar here.

Winter 2015 Classes
The Impact of American Slavery on African American Spirituals:
   From Sounds of Defiance to Sounds of Liberation
Perspectives on Healing and Faith
The Laws of Leviticus
The Rise of Modern Islamic Movements
What’s NEXT?: Discovering the NEXT Church Movement

Spring 2015 Classes
Nature and Grace in Poetry and Prose
Pilgrimage as Spiritual Practice
The Network Church
The Politics of Revelation

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Impact of American Slavery on African American Spirituals: From Sounds of Defiance to Sounds of Liberation

     Sundays, February 8–March 1 (4 weeks)
     2:45 p.m.
     Borwell Dining Room
     Led by A. Alyce Claerbaut

“In the furnace of slavery, a lasting musical form was forged.”
     — Angela M. S. Nelson

The history of the development of spirituals is a journey of a people from the most brutal of human institutions to freedom and conversion to Christ. This course will explore that development of African American spirituals as a reflection of the struggle for freedom. Together we’ll chart the course of spirituals from their beginnings as freedom songs to worship songs through the transforming power of the gospel.

Week one will cover the impact of slavery on the role of religion and music for African slaves in America. Week two will examine the contradiction of Christian-led plantation culture and its impact on African music. Week three will explore American slave exposure to Protestant Christian worship and how a new identity was shaped. And finally, week four will look at post-Emancipation Proclamation growth of the black Christian church and the shaping of worship music.

A. Alyce Claerbaut is President of Billy Strayhorn Songs, Inc., a family-owned music publishing company that administers the catalog of the jazz great. In this role, she, along with other board members, interacts with music publishers, producers, and educators, particularly in jazz. Her formal music training includes concentration in applied voice. She has sung professionally in many types of settings—jazz, classical, art songs, spirituals, and popular songs, with a specialty in choral repertoire. She was named “Chicagoan of the Year” in Jazz in 2011 by the Chicago Tribune, and her work as a jazz advocate and artistic manager was cited for this award. She is a member of First Presbyterian Church in Evanston, where she sings in the choir.

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“Perspectives on Healing and Faith

     Sundays, February 15–March 22 (6 weeks)
     11:00 a.m.
     Room 5G of the Gratz Center

What role does faith play in the response to illness?

A panel of distinguished instructors will help us explore the varied aspects of that role and its importance. Theologian Martin Marty will begin the series by talking about “The Intersection of Compassion and Vulnerability,” addressing practical matters in the lives of individuals, communities, and institutions.

Mark Stoltenberg will follow in week two with a presentation on “Christianity and Modern Medicine: Friends, Foes, or Somewhere in Between?” In week three, Beth Reece will use patient stories to illustrate “Redefining Healing, Rediscovering Faith When It Hurts.”

Tom Dozeman and Mary Talen will follow in week four with their presentation “Religion and Health Care: The Dynamics of Medicine, Sacraments, and Healing Rituals.” In week five, Tyler VanderWeele will present “Lessons for the Church from the Health Sciences and Potential Partnerships.” The series will conclude in week six with a panel discussion led by Steve Stanley.

Everyone is encouraged to attend all six sessions, but attendance is also welcome at selected presentations as schedules dictate.

Martin Marty is Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, a Lutheran pastor, and the founding President of the Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith, and Ethics.

Mark Stoltenberg is a third-year resident in family medicine at Northwestern University. He holds a B.A. in religion from Duke University and combined M.D.-M.A. degrees in bioethics from Loyola University in Chicago.

Beth Reece is Chaplain at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.

Mary Talen is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Family and Community Medicine at Northwestern University. She holds a Ph.D. in counseling psychology from Columbia University.

Tom Dozeman is Professor of Old Testament at United Theological Seminary. He holds an M.Div. from Fuller Seminary and an M.Phil. and Ph.D. from Columbia University.

Tyler VanderWeele is Professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. He holds a B.A. in mathematics, philosophy, and theology from Oxford University, an M.A. from the Wharton School of Business, and a Ph.D. in biostatistics from Harvard University.

Steve Stanley is a retired Church of God pastor who, along with his wife, Emmy, is a regular attendee and active participant in the life of Fourth Presbyterian Church.

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“The Laws of Leviticus

     Sundays, February 22–March 15 (4 weeks)
     9:30 a.m.
     Room 5E of the Gratz Center
     Led by Jeffrey Stackert

Who reads Leviticus? With its pedantic, even harsh distinctions between profane and sacred, it is surely one of the least appreciated parts of the Bible. This class invites you to explore such topics as the Israelite sanctuary, priests, sacrifice, and more of the murky ethics and underpinnings. Together we’ll come to a better understanding of the text in its time, making it not only comprehensible but exciting and relevant to contemporary life.

Jeffrey Stackert, Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible at the University of Chicago Divinity School, is a biblical scholar who situates the Hebrew Bible in the context of the larger ancient world in which it was composed. He is currently working on a monograph on the biblical priestly religious imagination. His newest book, A Prophet Like Moses: Prophecy, Law, and Israelite Religion, was published by Oxford University Press in 2014.

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The Rise of Modern Islamic Movements

     Sundays, February 22 and March 1 (2 weeks)
     11:00 a.m.
     Room 5F of the Gratz Center
     Led by Azam Nizamuddin

This course is designed to highlight and explain the rise of modern Islamic movements from the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida to ISIS. From the late nineteenth century, various Muslim reformers have challenged the traditional patterns of religious institutions in the Muslim world. However, instead of liberation and freedom, much of the Muslim world is under the grip of totalitarian and military regimes. This has led to the rise of politico-religious movements and, in some extreme cases, the likes of al-Qaida and ISIS. 

Are these socio-political phenomena to be viewed in geo-political terms or in socio-religious terms? This course will explore some of these questions and provide a proper historical narrative.

Azam Nizamuddin is an attorney and principal of the Law Office of Azam Nizamuddin, P.C., where his practice focuses on employment law and family law. His firm advises individuals and assists businesses, including nonprofit organizations, for their litigation and corporate needs. He is also Adjunct Professor in the Department of Theology at Loyola University of Chicago, where he teaches courses on Islam. He taught at Elmhurst College in Illinois from 2002 to 2007. Mr. Nizamuddin has lectured extensively on Islamic theology and law and on Islamic civilization to churches, synagogues, civic organizations, and federal agencies across the country. 

He has also provided testimony to the Illinois Commission on Civil Rights as well as to the Council of Foreign Relations in Chicago regarding the status of the American Muslim community after September 11. He has been interviewed by NPR, the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, and the Daily Herald.  His commentary and writings have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Huffington Post, and the Chicago Bar Association magazine

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“What’s NEXT?: Discovering the NEXT Church Movement”

     Sunday, March 15
     11:00 a.m.
     Room 5F of the Gratz Center
     Led by Layton Williams

With all the talk of decline in mainline Protestant Christianity, have you ever found yourself wondering what’s next for the church? A few years ago, a group of pastors and other Christian leaders became invested in exploring that very question. Instead of focusing on the things that were falling away, they decided to invite pastors and other people of faith to come together and dream up different ways the “next church” might look and indeed how it is already being shaped and lived out in this world. Every year, people from within the Presbyterian Church (USA) and beyond come together to share stories, ideas, best practices, dreams, and hopes for the church.

Come learn more about the history of this movement, what to expect for this year’s NEXT conference—which is being held March 16–18 at Fourth Church! (see for details or to register)—and share your own hopes and dreams for the church. Whether or not you are planning to attend the conference, this will be a great opportunity to learn more about the life of Fourth Church and our denomination.

Layton Williams currently serves as Pastoral Resident at Fourth Presbyterian Church. She has attended the NEXT conference in the past and is serving on the Worship Planning Team for this year’s conference at Fourth Church.

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“Nature and Grace
in Poetry and Prose

     Sundays, April 12–26 (3 weeks)
     9:30 a.m.
     Room 5D of the Gratz Center
     Led by Jeff Doane

“If poems touch our full humanness, can they quicken awareness and bolster respect for this ravaged resilient earth we live on?”
     — John Felstiner in 
Can Poetry Save the Earth?  

People of faith are not only confronted by daunting ecological statistics, we are lured by the opportunity to “put the grace of God behind the eyes with which we look at the world and into the hands with which we touch the world” (Joseph Sittler).

Two books will center this class: Joseph Sittler’s Evocations of Grace: Writings on Ecology, Theology, and Ethics and poet and professor John Felstiner’s Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide to Nature Poems. We will take up examples from both works, as well as share favorite nature poems, seeking together to be transformed by the spirit of our minds.

Jeff Doane is Pastor Emeritus of Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church and is an active participant at Fourth Presbyterian Church. He earned his A.M., D.Mn. at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago and an A.B. at Cornell University.

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“Pilgrimage as Spiritual Practice

     Sundays, April 12–May 3 (4 weeks)
     11:00 a.m.
     Room 5E of the Gratz Center
     Led by Vicky Curtiss and Fourth Church members

For centuries, Christians have gone on pilgrimages as a spiritual practice. They have left the routines of their lives to renew their commitment to God, to pray and reflect, to journey to a holy place, and to be receptive to God’s transforming presence.

In this class, we will learn about the theology and tradition of pilgrimage and hear from Fourth Church members about their recent pilgrimage experiences.  The class will then conclude with walking the labyrinth as a form of pilgrimage. 

Vicky Curtiss serves as Associate Pastor for Mission at Fourth Presbyterian Church and is also a certified spiritual director. She will be leading this class along with several Fourth Church members who have also explored various forms of pilgrimage as spiritual practice: Marilee Hopkins, Kathi Bates, and John Dallas.

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“The Network Church

     Sundays, May 3–17 (3 weeks)
     9:30 a.m.
     Room 5G of the Gratz Center
     Led by John Vest

A decade and a half into the twenty-first century, the twin headlines of American religion are the overall decline of Protestantism and the so-called “rise of the nones”—the developing phenomenon in which more and more people in the United States claim to have no religious affiliation. These “nones” haven’t necessarily abandoned faith in God, but they are walking away from organized religion and church institutions.

For the most part, church leaders have responded to these trends within the bounds of traditional congregational life. The church at large has failed to recognize that our most basic form of organized religious life—the congregation—is rooted in social constructs that are being eclipsed by new means of social connectionalism. Organizational, aesthetic, or even theological shifts will ultimately have limited impact on these trends, because people experience community and search for meaning in places other than weekly communal gatherings.

What if congregation-based ministry is just one socially constructed form of religiosity and not the only way of doing church? After a brief introduction to post-Christendom and the emergence of new understandings of Christianity in North America, this class will explore a new model of church life based on a network approach to ministry in which people live authentic gospel-shaped Christian lives in their native and natural social contexts. We will consider emerging experiments in new forms of church, spiritual practices in a variety of cultural spaces, and post-congregational expressions of Christian faith.

John Vest serves as Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry at Fourth Presbyterian Church.

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“The Politics of Revelation”

     Sundays, May 3–24 (4 weeks)
     11:00 a.m.
     Room 5D of the Gratz Center
     Led by Clare Rothschild

Dystopian and post-apocalyptical subject matter are on trend in popular culture, yet of all the books of the New Testament, Revelation seems most controversial and enigmatic—even off-putting.

Up for a good challenge? Join us as we dig into this ancient and still influential Christian text. We’ll “decode” Revelation and explore the background of Christian texts in Jewish apocalypses, examining the politics and context of Christian apocalyptic texts and several modern expressions of apocalypticism—the “apocalypse now” aspect of the class series. With perspectives developed with reference to the ancient materials, we can engage more clearly and critically about the relevance of various manifestations of apocalypticism today.

Clare Rothschild, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Scripture Studies at Lewis University and an esteemed New Testament scholar and teacher. Her expert insight, energy, and enthusiasm promise a lively adventure.

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Other Opportunities

Mindful Parenting
   Sundays, February 8, March 8, and April 12
   9:30 a.m. in Room 4G
   Led by Sue Schemper, M.Ed., Spiritual Director and Educator

This is a monthly series centered on mindful, creative, and effective parenting. Participants will explore a variety of topics, such as

  • reducing stress in the home
  • discipline techniques that develop responsibility
  • creating a family culture that supports each member in developingtheir full potential
  • how to communicate effectively with schools and teachers
  • what to do when you believe intervention is needed with your child

More information is available on the Replogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being web page.

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Enriching Relationships

   Sundays, February 22, March 22, and April 26
   9:30 a.m. in Room 4G
   Led by Rachael L. Miller, M.A., L.P.C., N.C.C.,
      of the Repogle Center for Counseling and Well-Being

This series is for partners and spouses who want to take time together to grow and deepen their relationship. Classes will cover key topics, offer practical tools, and be directly applicable to everyday life as a couple. More information is available online here.

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Faith in Focus:
   A Series for People in their Thirties and Forties
   Second Sunday of the month
   February 8, March 8, April 12, and May 10
   11:00 a.m. in Room 5F

Led by local religious scholars, “Faith in Focus” uses a theological-ethical lens to bring into focus different topics for each monthly conversation. We explore multiple religious traditions from ancient to modern times. Large- and small-group formats help foster a dynamic and thoughtful exchange.

More information is available on the ThirtiesForties web page.

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Registration for Academy Classes

Please help us in our planning by preregistering for classes. You can register by

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Academy Newsletter

To receive periodic email updates from the Academy for Faith and Life, send email addresses to

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Staff and Contact Information

Ryan Loeckel, Coordinator Adult Education and Worship (312.640.2570)

Contact Information
• general questions or requests for information,
• requests for class tapes,
• evaluative comments,
• suggestions for courses and speakers
—please contact the Academy office at (312.640.2570).

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Child Care

On Sunday mornings: Childcare for infants up to age two is available in the Nursery from 9:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Sunday School classes for all other children are offered at both 9:30 and 11:00 a.m. For information about Sunday School and children’s and family programs, contact Matt Helms at 312.573.3362.

On weekdays
: To arrange childcare for weekday courses or events, contact Liz Nickerson (312.787.2729) at least one week prior to the event.

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