The Rev. Dr. Jane Lancaster Patterson Retires

This past spring, The Rev. Jane Patterson, PhD, associate professor of New Testament, announced her retirement from Southwest after a long and meaningful career as a priest, scholar, and beloved teacher. She joined the full-time faculty in 2013 after teaching part-time and serving as interim director of Theological Field Education from 2003–2005. Her wide range of academic interests – which include the intersection of literary, political, and theological study of the scriptures – made her an invaluable member of the Southwest community, and endeared her to generations of seminarians.

The Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge and the Rev. Jane Patterson at their final Eucharist together at Southwest serving in the Altar Guild

In her sermon at one of Patterson’s final Eucharists on campus as faculty, the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge said this of her long-time friend and colleague:

“Jane could not be who she is and do what she does without faithful imagination, to put images together in new ways, to do creative traditioning, to make parables, – she’s always doing this in her preaching! Think of when she reflected on the the phase of the moon on Ash Wednesday 2020….

“The heavens are the wide frame in which we are invited into the practices of Lenten observance, the frame within which we undertake the little human dramas of getting on our knees in prayer, of opening up our wallets to the poor, of choosing to skip lunch.”

Or remember the image she used on John Hines day about the wound in the body caused by racism and the image of debriding it, cutting it away painfully, and of Christ pouring oil on the wounded man’s flesh.  I know you all have your own memories of Jane making a  picture or evoking a  fragrance or feeling that hits the mark and dazzles with light.

God just gave her this gift, and Jane’s nurtured it in practice and prayer and pastoral year in and year out with those in her parish and with students here. I call this faithful imagination by another phrase, one that Jane uses of Paul and of the Christians in the early assemblies,”the scriptures are written on her heart.””

A gifted author of prayer, poetry, sermons, and blogs, Patterson’s pastoral presence among the community of Southwest has been a valued and treasured resource to the student, staff, and faculty of the seminary- especially over the last year and half.

When asked for a quote for this article to reflect on her experience at Southwest, she unsurprisingly provided more than was asked for, but exactly what was needed. We share it below unedited and in its entirety.

Jane’s thoughts from the angle of retirement…

By the Rev. Dr. Jane Lancaster Patterson, Associate Professor of New Testament

I was walking past the seminary vegetable garden a few weeks ago, while thinking about my work as a teacher from the interesting vantage point of near-retirement. I was trying to find words to think about how deeply intertwined teaching and learning are, when my eyes fell upon the companion planting of tomato vines and marigolds. We’ve been having regular spring rains recently, and the tomatoes and marigolds were giving off their characteristic scents, as the sun turned the rain to steam: the tomatoes’ grassy aroma emanating from their fuzzy leaves, and the marigolds’ pungent herbishness rising into the sunlight.

Within the tilled space of the garden bed, both tomatoes and marigolds were clearly thriving, each providing substances that the other one needs for life and health. Likewise, in the space of the classroom, teaching and learning happen together minute by minute, each dependent on the other. But on the best days it can be hard to pinpoint who exactly are the teachers and who are the learners. Teaching and learning seem to be springing up from every corner without effort.

As a person who did her Ph.D. so late that I was never sure how it would be used, I am grateful beyond measure to have had this fruitful season of teaching and learning at Southwest. I have other work, both inner and outer, that is calling me now, but this is the work that has given me the clearest sense of myself as a disciple and a priest, colleague, teacher, and friend – here in the communal garden that is seminary life.

What follows is a portion of the Eucharistic Prayer that I wrote last week as part of my leave-taking. As (Dean and President) Cynthia Kittredge said that night, “The eucharist is the container, the sacramental expression that encompasses everything we say and everything we don’t, it’s the whole fabric, the gracious garment that envelopes us, the fragrant sacrifice that fills the motte and rises to God….”

We give thanks to you, O God,
For your Word spoken in creation;
inscribed in the Torah;
lived by the Jews;
proclaimed by the prophets;
embodied in Jesus;
written on our hearts.
We give thanks for your Word known in the shared labor of teaching and learning:
in questioning and wondering,
in being and becoming,
in sifting and reflecting,
in speaking out and listening,
in writing and revising,
in knowing, and not knowing, and becoming known.
We give thanks for the Word that we would not have heard if we had not begun to worship in the motte:
Your Word spoken in the flight of hawks and the call of owls;
in the sweetness of the Mountain Laurel and the embrace of our buildings;
in the endurance of the oaks and the companionship of the seminary cross.
But especially we give thanks for the Word of Christ
sown into our hearts for the sake of the world:
a Word of Life
that inspires us to service,
that provokes us to justice,
that draws us into prayer;
a Word of the Cross
that finds us where we have been lost,
that mends community where we have broken it,
that participates in our suffering;
a Word of resurrection:
For now we see in a mirror, dimly,
but then we will see face to face.
Now we know only in part;
then we will know fully, even as we have
been fully known.[1]

[1] 1 Cor 13:12