Cover Story

Theologians in place: Thinking about God together

Joeanna Brown resides in Albany, New York, and she is a theologian, though she does not have the title. All her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren live in Albany, and their schedules shape her day. She gets up by 5:30 a.m. so that she has time to meditate before her granddaughter goes to work and leaves Joeanna to babysit a two-year-old. If she rises early enough, she can also get in a little Bible reading to prepare for one of the study groups she participates in.

Lately she has been enjoying books by Henri Nouwen (“who helps me appreciate what it means to be an elderly person”) and Walter Brueggemann. As her family schedule allows, she volunteers at a food pantry and a homeless shelter, attends Bible studies and takes part in other small groups at First Reformed Church, where she has been a member for the past several years.

Across town, Allan Janssen, Ph.D., gets up early too. He heads to the YMCA for his daily swim, as he has done for 30 years. One of the pleasures of retirement is that he can swim when he wants to, before the crowds come. Then he spends time in prayer and devotion. By 9:00 a.m. he arrives at the First Reformed Church, where he enjoys a quiet office around the corner from an associate pastor. The office used to belong to a minister of visitation. This past October it was given to Janssen along with the title “theologian in residence.”