Academy for Faith and Life

Welcome to the Academy for Faith and Life, an anchor component of Fourth Presbyterian Church’s adult education program. Through this program we provide short-term and ongoing education for our members, friends of the church, and the wider community.

The Adult Education Committee is committed to offering learning opportunities that invite participants to engage in a range of study options. You will find biblical and theological offerings for those who have years of prolonged study as well as for those who know little about Christian theology or the Bible. Some of the courses integrate issues of social and ethical importance with Christian principles and values. There are classes on spiritual development and practice and others that consider arts and culture. No matter your particular interests, we trust the Academy’s offerings will provide opportunities for growth and Christian community.

Look below for more information about this season's Academy for Faith and Life opportunities!


Winter 2020 Adult Education Opportunities

Foundation of Faith: A Year with the Bible
A Bible Study with the Pastors of Fourth Church

Sundays, January 12–March 29, April 19–May 10 at 9:30 a.m.

Beloved Community: Shaping Our Lives Together
Sundays, January 12–26 at 11:00 a.m.

Black History: Impact on Our Faith Traditions
Sundays, February 2–23 at 11:00 a.m

Barbara Brown Taylor’s Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others
Sundays, February 23–March 8 at 9:30 a.m.

Bible Studies | Newsletter
Course Recommendations and Proposals

Contact Us | Child Care

Foundation of Faith: A Year with the Bible
A Bible Study with the Pastors of Fourth Church

Sundays, January 12–March 29
(No class April 5 or 12)
Sundays, April 19–May 10
9:30 a.m.
Room 5G

Click here to view previous sessions of this Bible study

“The Church confesses the Scriptures to be the Word of God, written, witnessing to God’s self-revelation.” (Book of Order, W-2.2001)

For Presbyterians, this statement from our Book of Order establishes the priority of the Bible for guiding people of faith. To help strengthen understanding of and engagement with this foundation of our faith, Fourth Church’s clergy have committed to offering a weekly Bible study through the Academy of Faith and Life. The intent of this series is to give participants, over the course of the program year, the opportunity to explore the biblical narrative of our Jewish and Christian heritage, focusing on passages that chronicle this faith journey. Each week we will consider a passage in its historical setting and address questions related to its meaning when it was written. We will also take time to think about how the passage is relevant to the contemporary world that Christians inhabit now. In addition, we will provide occasional opportunities for a comprehensive “sweep” of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

All are welcome to this class—whether you are unfamiliar with the Bible or you are a biblical scholar! In addition, each class is self-contained, so if you miss a week you will not be lost. The text passages for each week are on the following page for those who want to read along or prepare beforehand.

The Associate Pastors and Parish Associate of Fourth Church will rotate responsibility for teaching this class.

January 12: New Testament overview* – Rocky Supinger
January 19: Daniel 7 – Vicky Curtiss
January 26: John 1– Matt Helms
February 2: Old Testament overview* – Todd Zinn and Nanette Sawyer
February 9: Luke 2 – Jeff Doane
February 16: Matthew 5
February 23: Mark 7 – Vicky Curtiss
March 1: New Testament overview* – Matt Helms
March 8: Luke 19 – Rocky Supinger
March 15: John 13 – Joe Morrow
March 22: Mark 15 – Nanette Sawyer
March 29: Luke 24 – Lucy Forster-Smith
April 5: Palm Sunday Break—no class
April 12: Easter Break—no class
April 19: Acts 2 – Joe Morrow
April 26: 1 Corinthians 12
May 3: Romans 8
May 10: Revelation 21

*The Old and New Testament overview courses are intended to condense the historical and theological content of the Foundations of Faith series into a single hour (as best they can!). These courses briskly cover the overarching direction and themes contained within each testament, along with stages of development and the broader context of the society in which they were written.

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Beloved Community: Shaping Our Lives Together

with Barbara Ann Wilson

Sundays, January 12–26 (3 weeks)
11:00 a.m.
Room 5G

This class is co-sponsored by the Racial Equity Council.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned a Beloved Community where all people see one another as beloved children of God, developing loving relationships as members of God’s one family. In the Beloved Community, all forms of bigotry and discrimination are replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of belonging. We will explore Biblical and theological foundations for working toward racial healing, reconciliation, and justice. Class participants will identify what Fourth Church can do on the path toward justice and racial equity, including full participation
in every aspect of church life.

January 12
Being and Doing: The Church as the Body Of Christ and Living Out the Great Ends of the Church

This session will be an exploration of the mission statement of Fourth Church through the lenses of The Great Ends of the Church and the Church as the Body of Christ.

January 19
Becoming Beloved Community: Doing Justice

The second session will be a review of Fourth Church’s mission outreach and justice work through the lenses of the Beloved Community, Reconciliation, and the Five Peacemaking Affirmations.

January 26
Cultivating a Pattern of Life in Community

In the last session we will consider worship, hospitality, and service through the lenses of the Belhar Confession, the framework of hospitality, and flourishing together as disciple leaders.

Barbara Ann Wilson currently serves as the Director, Collaboration and Community Partnerships for the Presbytery of Chicago, Presbyterian Church (USA). In this leadership role she facilitates building sustainable collaborative partnerships with leaders of more than 80 congregations and community stakeholders within Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. She received master
of divinity and doctor of ministry degrees from McCormick Theological Seminary.

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Black History: Impact on Our Faith Traditions

Sundays, February 2–23 (4 weeks)
11:00 a.m.
Room 5E

This class is co-sponsored by the Racial Equity Council.

The history many of us learned about our country and institutions—including churches—often overlooks the contributions, perspectives, and experiences of African-Americans. This series will highlight several aspects of history in the United States to help participants gain a more complete picture of who and what has shaped our faith communities and their witness in the world.

February 2
The Black Presence in the Bible

The Bible is a multicultural book; throughout Scripture there is evidence that Blacks are present in the Bible. In this class we will uncover the black presence in the Bible. Taught by Dr. Steed Davidson.

February 9
Chicago Segregation and the Church: Exploring Trends of Segregation and Re-segregation in the City and the Role of Churches

In this class, as we reflect on history, we will also consider how the Christian church and other faith communities responded to segregation as it was occurring in Chicago. Taught by Jack Macnamara and Nedra Sims Fears.

February 16
Hush Harbors: The Impact of Race on Competing Christian Narratives

“Hush harbors” were places where slaves would gather in secret to practice their religious traditions; come learn more about them in this course. Taught by Reggie Williams.

February 23
Roles of LGBTQIA People in the Civil Rights Movement: Llifting up Voices Not Recognized by History

In an era when one could be arrested for being “homosexual,” LGBTQIA persons of color made significant contributions in the fight for civil rights. Taught by Derrick Dawson and Nanette Sawyer.

Reggie Williams is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics at McCormick Theological Seminary. He is the author of Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus: Harlem Renaissance Theology and an Ethic of Resistance. Williams’s research interests include Christological ethics, theological anthropology, Christian social ethics, the Harlem Renaissance, race, politics, and black church life.

John (Jack) R. Macnamara is a visiting scholar at the Loyola University Center for Urban Research and Learning. Jack grew up in Chicago and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Loyola University Chicago. Jack was the chief organizer of the Contract Buyers League of Chicago, an organization of African-American homeowners who initiated two federal lawsuits and conducted a payment strike in which each family purchased monthly money orders in the amount of the contract payment.

Nedra Sims Fears is Executive Director of the Greater Chatham Initiative (GCI). GCI is a new economic development nonprofit that creates a comprehensive action plan for economic growth and neighborhood vitality. Nedra currently serves as a member of the Fourth Presbyterian Church
Racial Equity Council.

Derrick C. Dawson received a bachelor’s degree in English and linguistics from Northeastern Illinois University. Derrick is a member of the Antiracism Commission of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, and served as its co-chair for several years. Derrick is an organizer and trainer and former board member of Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training and is currently Co-Program Coordinator for Chicago Regional Organizing for Antiracism,
a regional program of Crossroads.

Nanette Sawyer is the Associate Pastor for Discipleship and Small Group Ministry at Fourth Presbyterian Church, with responsibility for relational small group ministries, interfaith relations, and racial equity concerns. The author of Hospitality the Sacred Art, Nanette has also published chapters and articles in a number of books and magazines, including The Christian Century. She received her master of divinity at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and was ordained in 2002.

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Barbara Brown Taylor’s
Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others

with Lucy Forster-Smith

Sundays, February 23–March 8 (3 weeks)
9:30 a.m.
Room 5E

Following up on the interfaith themes raised in the most recent Michigan Avenue Forum, we will center this class on Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others. Drawing on her experience teaching comparative religions to undergraduate students, Taylor provides a wonderful way for us to engage in the unexpected discoveries of faith traditions outside Christianity. By guiding her students through the myriad ways that religious traditions have encountered the Transcendent, she complicates and challenges their expectations by bringing them face to face with unexpected insight. As we heard from our guests at the Michigan Avenue Forum, coming to a “holy envy” of others’ religious lives and experiences can bring us a deeper appreciation of our own faith.

The format of the class will be consistent throughout the three weeks, including time for summarizing the chapters and exploring underlying themes, as well as for reflection and small group discussion. Each week will be self-contained, and it is not a requirement that one read or even purchase the book, though copies will be available in the Book Nook for those interested.

Lucy Forster-Smith is Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development
and Adult Education at Fourth Church. Forster-Smith has taught classes in various settings of higher education while working as a chaplain, and she has also published three books on her work in higher education.

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Spring Preview

Join us in the spring for these classes—and more!

From Saint Paul to C.S. Lewis:
    Revisiting Repentance through the Lens of Conversion

with Casie Dodd

Tentmakers Unite!—Exploring a Sacred Calling Inside
    of a Secular Workplace

with Lois Snavely

Jon Meacham’s The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels
with Jeff Doane

Local Perspectives on Environmental Racism
co-sponsored by the Care of Creation Committee

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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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Course Recommendations and Proposals

Suggestions for future course offerings can be submitted to or dropped off at the church reception desk.

Please use this Recommendation Form if you have an idea for a class or speaker; use this Proposal Form if you would like to submit a class of your own for consideration.

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Staff and Contact Information

    Lucy Forster-Smith
    Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education

    Casie Dodd
    Adult Education Program Assistant

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.