Faith and Culture

Center for Faith and Culture


The Center's mission: To foster spiritual exploration, authentic dialogue and contemplation of the known and unknown in pursuit of wisdom, reconciliation and human flourishing.

Center for Faith & Culture logo

The Center for Faith and Culture at William Jewell College is the realization of the vision of Philip and Patricia Love. In 2012, after retiring from his role as CEO at Pryor Resources, Phil joined the advisory board of the Center for Faith and Culture at Yale Divinity School and was later appointed managing director of the Center in 2016. As a 1971 graduate of William Jewell College and a member of Jewell’s President’s Advisory Council, Phil believed our community was an excellent place to establish a similar center. Responding to this conviction, he and Patty provided a generous gift and wise guidance for this to occur.

One of the primary objectives of Jewell’s Center for Faith and Culture is to promote and encourage spiritual exploration, a core value at William Jewell College. While it is impossible to define spirituality and spiritual exploration with precision, at Jewell, it involves the process of seeking a life of flourishing through the pursuit of personal authenticity and agency, interpersonal encounters and wisdom. This demands an openness to exploring a connection with a higher power and purpose, to fostering healthy relationships with one’s self and with others, and constructively defining one’s vocation in the world [adapted from Attending to Students’ Inner Lives: A Call to Higher Education (2011); based on Alexander Astin, et al., Cultivating the Spirit: How College Can Enhance Students’ Inner Lives]. We recognize that spirituality is embodied but cannot be reduced to embodiment. Conceptually, spiritual exploration interacts with and moves within a nexus of complementary pairs. These include, but are not limited to, the self & the other, the material & the immaterial, and knowledge & practice.

We affirm that there are many religious traditions that address these issues in faithful ways. Consequently, the Center provides opportunities to learn about these traditions and dialogue with their practitioners. One of the intended fruits of this endeavor is to acknowledge the points of continuity that unite us even as we acknowledge and wrestle with our differences. At the same time, drawing on our heritage as a Christian institution of higher learning, the Center for Faith and Culture at Jewell addresses flourishing from a specifically Christian perspective that takes seriously the biblical claim that humanity was created in God’s image, the mystery of the incarnation, and life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

Connecting with the Center

Our Pillars of the Center for Faith and Culture:

Personal Flourishing    Congregational Flourishing  
student flourishing    partners of the center

 

Leadership

  • Rev. Dr. Craig MacLeod Walls

    Director

    Craig Walls portrait Rev. Dr. Craig MacLeod Walls joined William Jewell College in January 2022 to become the founding Director for the Center for Faith and Culture. Dr. Walls brings a wealth of experience from his over two decades of work in pastoral ministry and as a national church consultant for his denomination. He served as founder and lead pastor of SouthPointe Christian Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, for more than 15 years. During his tenure there, he led a vibrant ministry, including starting a Discipleship School, leading a successful capital campaign and building project, and creating life-giving community service projects. After moving to Liberty, Walls began his work as a senior Capital Services Advisor for Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF). In his five years at DCEF, he worked with hundreds of congregations, helping them to define their mission and vision as well as offering counsel and expertise in dozens of building projects. As part of that work at DCEF, Dr. Walls used his 40-Day Holy Listening Discernment Process to help congregations dream and move toward a bold vision for their ministry. 

    Walls received his B.A. from Hiram College (Phi Beta Kappa), a Master of Divinity from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University and a Doctor of Ministry in Homiletics from McCormick Theological Seminary. 

    His spouse, Dr. Elizabeth MacLeod Walls, began her tenure as president of William Jewell College in 2016. They have two sons, Alec and John.

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  • Dr. Brendon Benz

    Theologian-in-Residence

    Brendon Benz portrait Dr. Brendon Benz is an associate professor of history and religion and theologian-in-residence with the Center for Faith and Culture. Benz is from Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he was raised in the Lutheran Church and attended Lutheran school from kindergarten through 12th grade. After receiving his B.A. in Sociology from Taylor University, Benz traveled to Queens, New York, to teach history at Martin Luther High School. After several years in the classroom, he went on to receive an M.Div. at Princeton Theological Seminary, where he received the Goethe Institute Fellowship and the Henry Snyder Gehman Award in Old Testament. In 2013, he was awarded his Ph.D. in the Hebrew Bible and Ancient Near Eastern Studies from the Department of Hebrew & Judaic Studies at New York University. While serving as an instructor there, he was granted the NYU College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teaching Award. Benz has published several pieces, including his first book, "The Land Before the Kingdom of Israel." He is currently working on a second book of the Greek philosophical tradition on the interpretation of the imago Dei in Genesis 1. Above all of these things, Benz is most passionate about teaching the message, history and context of the Bible in ways that contribute to the growth and flourishing of individuals and communities of faith.

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  • Rev. Melissa Bryson Dowling

    College Chaplain

    Melissa Bryson Dowling portraitRev. Melissa Bryson Dowling, ’06, joined the Center for Faith and Culture as Chaplain of the College in July 2022. She is continuing a rich family tradition as she is the 4th generation of ordained Baptist ministers. She has spent the majority of her ministry serving as a hospital and hospice chaplain in the Austin, Texas, area.

    Her experience of pastoral care in both the church and hospice environments provides her a deep well to draw upon and a unique skill set to serve the students at Jewell. The vision of campus ministry is to provide opportunity for spiritual reflection, growth and exploration. Bryson Dowling will be coming alongside students at a time when they can set the trajectory and purpose of their future and decipher how their faith will intersect with their academic and professional pursuits.

    Bryson Dowling received her B.A. in Religion at William Jewell College, a Master of Divinity at Central Seminary and is a Board Certified Chaplain. She is endorsed as a Chaplain by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and was ordained into the Gospel Ministry at First Austin on March 3, 2013. She most recently served at Hospice Austin, where she was a chaplain for seven years. 

    She and her husband John have three young children: big sister Clara and twins Andrew and Adeline.

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