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 is to draw participants into the many realms of God’s activity, emphasizing the intersection of faith and life.

Below is a listing of the opportunities you can look forward to this winter and spring. These offerings give you a range of options that will help you engage the important questions of faith in your life and the opportunity to gather with others on their journey of faith.

This winter we will continue our observance of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation through a variety of courses. We will explore our deep Reformed heritage and discern what challenges and excitement will greet us in this new era of Christian faith.

Come with your questions and curiosities, your confidence and your doubt. Come whether you are steeped in knowledge or new to your Christian journey. Come and explore this wild and wonderful life of faith!

Academy Classes

Conversations on Ministry
Sundays, February 4–25 at 11:00 a.m.

Christian Spirituality: What It Is and Why It Matters
Sundays, February 11–25 at 9:30 a.m.

Conversations about Palestine and Israel
Sundays, March 418 at 9:30 a.m.

Celtic Spirituality
Sundays, March 4–25 at 11:00 a.m.

Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason
Sundays, March 25–April 29 at 9:30 a.m.

Church and Empire
Sundays, April 829 at 11:00 a.m.

The Confession of 1967
Sundays, May 6–20 at 9:30 a.m.

Additional Adult Education Opportunities

Race: The Power of Illusion
Sundays, May 6–20, June 3–17 at 11:00 a.m.

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Conversations on Ministry

Sundays, February 4–25 (4 weeks)
11:00 a.m. in Borwell Dining Room
The conversation on February 18 will take place at 12:10 p.m.

Join us for a special series dedicated to exploring God’s call to ministry and Christian discipleship. Have you ever wondered how our ministers found themselves in Christian ministry? Are you curious to learn about their journeys of faith? Through an informal dialogue, we will learn how God has called our ministers to the curious and wild life of ministry. Each duo will share with us their understandings of Christian discipleship in the contemporary church era. Together  we will learn where and how discipleship takes root and blossoms at Fourth Church.

February 4
Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry
Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care

February 11
Victoria G. Curtiss, Associate Pastor for Mission
Lucy Forster-Smith, Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership
         Development and Adult Education

February 18
Shannon J. Kershner, Pastor
John Sherer, Organist and Director of Music

February 25
Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry
Nanette Sawyer, Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry

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Christian Spirituality:
What It Is and Why It Matters

Sundays, February 11–25 (3 weeks)
9:30 a.m. in Room 5D

Led by Carol J. Allen

Spiritual, but not religious? In response to the growing interest in spirituality and skepticism about traditional religion, the focus of this course will be a survey of the history, interpretations, and traditions of spirituality in its Christian forms. An underlying assumption is that all people have the capacity for spirituality and embody various styles of relating to God and the world.

There will be time for participants, with the aid of particular questions and practices, to reflect personally upon their own spiritual formation and the religious traditions in which they were raised and how their hearts and minds may have changed over the years as their spirituality has grown and deepened.

Carol J. Allen is the former Associate Pastor for Congregational Care at Fourth Church. She is now engaged in the ministry of spiritual direction.

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Conversations that Bridge Divisions
about Palestine and Israel

Sundays, March 4–18 (3 weeks)
9:30 a.m. in Room 5D

Led by Nanette Sawyer and Dirk Ficca

Come learn about initiatives in interfaith dialogue that seek to build bridges of understanding between Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Chicago—American, Israeli, and Palestinian. As these communities come together to learn about each other’s experiences and commitments, participants in the dialogue hope to stretch and strengthen their understandings of each other. Faced with tragedy in Israel and Palestine, how can we maintain our relationships here in Chicago, even when we disagree about what is happening in the Middle East? Can we develop shared ways of talking about the situation that do not further the fracturing of communities?

The impact of the three sessions will be cumulative, so attendees are strongly encouraged to attend all sessions if at all possible.

March 4: Bridging Multiple Narratives in the history of the Israel/Palestine region
March 11: Models of Engagement in the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict
March 18: Investing in Peace in Israel/Palestine

Nanette Sawyer is the Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry at Fourth Church.

Dirk Ficca is an ordained minister in the PC(USA) and currently director
of the Interreligious Initiative for Middle East Peace, working in the Presbytery
of Chicago.

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Celtic Spirituality

Sundays, March 4–25 (4 weeks)
11:00 a.m. in Room 5D

Led by Victoria G. Curtiss

An important stream of Christian theology and practice which was buried for many centuries has come alive again as relevant for our time: Celtic Christian Spirituality. In this class we will explore its geographic and historical context, theological themes, and spiritual practices.

Prominent theological themes include the essential oneness of life; humanity as created in the image of God; honoring of both masculine and feminine; and honoring of creation. Major practices include the practice of prayer, soul-friending, pilgrimage, and social justice. This course is co-sponsored by the Spiritual Formation Council.

Victoria G. Curtiss is the Associate Pastor for Mission and Spiritual Formation at Fourth Church. She is also a spiritual director.

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Religion within the Bounds of Mere Reason

Sundays, March 25, April 8–29 (5 weeks)
9:30 a.m. in Room 5D

Led by Claire Pearson

Using Kant’s 1793 work Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, this class will explore one of the most powerful attempts of the Enlightenment to come to grips with the role of organized religion in society—particularly the authority of religion and the dangers of abuse and fanaticism. Dealing specifically with Christianity, Kant delves into questions of original sin and radical evil, grace, faith, free will, miracles, and revelation, arguing for a radical reinterpretation of core theological doctrines and a similarly radical restructuring of the institution of the church. We will spend five sessions reading and discussing his interpretations, critiques, and suggestions.

Claire Pearson has completed graduate work with the University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and pursues interdisciplinary work centering especially on ethical questions and experiences. She chaired the University of Chicago Basic Program from 2004–2008 and co-designed and chaired the Asian Classics Program from 2006–2009. Claire received the 2013 Graham School Excellence in Teaching Award.

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Church and Empire:
New Testament Reponses to the Roman Empire

Sundays, April 8–29 (4 weeks)
11:00 a.m. in Room 5D

Led by Walter Hansen

In every century and country of church history, Christians asked, “How do we follow the Lord Jesus in the context of imperial powers?” They were guided by reading New Testament responses to the Roman Empire. Our course of study will seek to follow the same guide as we ask the same question today.

April 8: The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Caesar
April 15: Singing in the Reign: Luke, Acts, and the Empire
April 22: Jesus is Lord, Caesar is Not: Paul and the Empire
April 29: Beauty and the Beast: the Apocalypse and the Empire

Walter Hansen is a member of Fourth Presbyterian Church and Professor Emeritus of New Testament Interpretation at Fuller Theological Seminary.

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Reconciliation in Christ:
A Discussion of The Confession of 1967

Sundays, May 6–20 (3 weeks)
9:30 a.m. in Room 5D

Led by Jeff Doane

The 1960s were a tumultuous time in the United States. The social change and political drama unfolding on the national stage caused believers and disbelievers alike to question what they had known for centuries. How were Christians to respond to the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam war, controversies surrounding Biblical interpretation, and more?

The United Presbyterian Church (USA) responded by adopting a new affirmation of faith, as well as a Book of Confessions dating back to The Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. The words of the Confession of 1967 shed light on the challenges of faithful living in our own day. Join us to discuss their insights which continue to guide our journey as followers of Christ in this new era of Christian discipleship.

Jeff Doane, Pastor Emeritus of Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church, is on staff at Fourth Church as Parish Associate for Older Adults.

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Race: The Power of Illusion

Sundays, May 6–20, June 3–17 (6 weeks)
11:00 a.m. in Room 5D

Led by Victoria G. Curtiss and Robert Crouch

Through the video series “Race: The Power of Illusion” we will learn about the contradictory assumptions and myths we believe about race. We will examine the underlying social, economic, and political conditions that disproportionately channel advantages and opportunities to white people. After each video presentation, Vicky Curtiss and Robert Crouch will facilitate discussion as we seek to learn how to build a more just and equitable society.

Statement from the Executive Producer
“In producing this series, we felt it was important to go back to first principles and ask, What is this thing called ‘race’?—a question so basic it is rarely raised. What we discovered is that most of our common assumptions about race—for instance, that the world’s people can be divided biologically along racial lines—are wrong. Yet the consequences of racism are very real.

How do we make sense of these two seeming contradictions? Our hope is that this series can help us all navigate through our myths and misconceptions, and scrutinize some of the assumptions we take for granted. In that sense, the real subject of the film is not so much race but the viewer, or more precisely, the notions about race we all hold.”

Victoria G. Curtiss is the Associate Pastor for Mission at Fourth Church.
She is also a spiritual director.

Robert Crouch is the Volunteer Ministry Coordinator at Fourth Church.

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Calvin College January Series 2018

   January 3-January 23, 2018
   11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
   Free and open to all
   Joint event between the Center for Life and Learning
   and Academy for Faith and Life

Please note that there will be no viewing on Monday, January 15 in observance of Martin Luther King Day 

The award-winning January Series of Calvin College is coming to downtown Chicago. From January 4 through January 23, 2018, Fourth Presbyterian Church will be one of 50 remote webcast locations worldwide to broadcast one of the nation’s leading lecture and cultural arts series.

The January Series lectures will be video streamed live at Fourth Presbyterian Church (126 E. Chestnut St.) from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday. The lectures are free and open to the public.

For a full list of speakers and topics, visit Calvin College.

Wednesday, January 3
Mary Hulst, “Why Millennials Are the Hope of the Church”

Thursday, January 4                       
David R. Williams, “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequity Making us Sick?”

Friday, January 5
Randy Lewis, “No Greatness without Goodness: How a Father’s Love Changed a Company and Sparked a Movement”  

Monday, January 8                         
Shane Claiborne, “Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why it’s Killing Us”

Tuesday, January 9                         
Pashon Murray, “Detroit Dirt: Zero Waste from the Ground Up”

Wednesday, January 10
John Inazu, “Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Differences”

Thursday, January 11
Laura Sumner Truax, “Love Let Go: Radical Generosity for the Real World”

Friday, January 12                           
Caroline Webb, “How to Have a Good Day: Using Behavioral Science to Improve Everyday Life”

Monday, January 15                     
No program in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Tuesday, January 16                      
Katherine Boo, “Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity”

Wednesday, January 17               
Kevin Olusola in Concert and Conversation

Thursday, January 18                     
Jeremy McCarter, “Hamilton, Hope, and Change”

Friday, January 19                           
R. David Edelman, “Cybersecurity and Geopolitics”

Monday, January 22                      
Kevin Palau, “Unlikely: Exploring Partnership between Churches and Cities”

Tuesday, January 23                      
John Swinton, “Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Timefulness, and Gentle Discipleship”

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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

    Shawn Fiedler
    Worship and Adult Education Coordinator

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

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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. from September through May. 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 Matt Helms (312.573.3362) at least one week prior to the event.

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View the Academy for Faith and Life calendar here.