Mark Jacobs, MDiv 2017
Associate Minister for Outreach, St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Champaign, Illinois
In the ever-evolving world of ministry and community outreach, individuals with a unique blend of vision, compassion, and education stand out as beacons of inspiration. Mark Jacobs, an esteemed alumnus of Christian Theological Seminary, exemplifies the transformative power of education in propelling individuals towards innovative leadership roles. From his beginnings as a non-religious child to his current position as Associate Minister for Outreach at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Champaign, Illinois, Jacobs’ journey is a testament to the significance of remaining open to what God can do with one’s unique skills and talents.
Jacobs currently serves as the Associate Minister for Outreach at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Champaign, Illinois, where he has developed an innovative ministry. Central to his outreach activities is a unique initiative that brings worship services to individuals residing in assisted living and special care memory units. This selfless effort, involving 7 to 8 services biweekly, showcases Jacobs’ commitment to spiritual care and underscores his passion for enriching the lives of those in need. “I use what I learned in seminary as a preacher, in providing pastoral care and comfort, through some small aspects of education, and certainly by providing organization inside the St. Peter’s congregation, but also looking towards ways that we can change the way we do worship in the future,” says Mark. This willingness to reimagine worship led him to recognize a need among those aging outside of their homes for relational presence and spiritual connection. Some of the people he meets with are brought to tears from the simple act of a hug, sharing it is the only physical contact outside of medical assessments they receive. Others who have memory challenges and struggle to remember anything from their lives light up and join in when a favorite hymn is sung, remembering the words effortlessly. It is clear that Jacobs’ ministry is responding to a deep need and providing an incredible service to his community.
Mark earned his Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree from CTS in January 2017. His time at CTS was marked by a dedication to his studies and a profound drive to create meaningful change through his future ministry. Jacobs’ decision to choose CTS was influenced by several factors, with accessibility and inclusivity at the forefront. While exploring seminary options, Jacobs considered institutions in Chicago, St. Louis, and Indianapolis. Ultimately, CTS won his heart due to its unique accommodations for students with special needs. Jacobs, who is blind, found the convenient proximity of student housing to his classes in Indianapolis to be a pivotal advantage. Mark was able to work with CTS staff to use adaptive technology to complete his course readings and write his academic papers. Unlike other cities, Indianapolis provided him with the opportunity to live independently and comfortably, reinforcing his sense of belonging. The warm reception he received from the CTS community during his visit further solidified his decision. The accessibility and navigable campus, coupled with the welcoming attitude of faculty and students, created an environment where Jacobs felt valued and respected. The presence of the breathtaking chapel, resonating with a profound spiritual energy, left an indelible mark on his memory.
Jacobs’ journey at CTS was not only about academics but also about spiritual growth and self-discovery. Incorporating spirituality into his ministerial approach has empowered him to become a more compassionate chaplain, minister, and leader. As he navigates the challenges of a world marked by the pandemic and shifting spiritual landscapes, Jacobs emphasizes the importance of fostering spiritual sustenance and providing a safe haven for those seeking solace. His ministry is rooted in demonstrating open-mindedness, understanding, and unconditional support.
Reflecting on his time at CTS, Jacobs highlights the institution’s commitment to diversity, justice, and social responsibility. The faculty’s expertise and the inclusive learning environment enabled him to broaden his understanding of spirituality, language, and effective conflict resolution. Participating in anti-racism and pro-reconciliation workshops at CTS provided him with tools that continue to shape his ministry’s approach to this day. “It really helped me to be aware of witness and justice as being a very important aspect of my ministry going forward,” he says.
Beyond its academic offerings, CTS stands out to Mark as a vibrant community dedicated to making a positive impact. The spirit of collaboration among faculty, students, and staff was palpable to him, fostering an environment where shared values and a sense of mission drive transformative change. “From the very first class that I took, every class emphasized that we are talking about having a relationship with God, but we’re not trying to tell you how you should do it, and we’re also not trying to tell you that our understanding is better than anyone else’s. I took a wonderful world religions class and had classmates from diverse congregational and faith backgrounds. I learned a lot about language and how you can use your language to make disagreements not lead to conflict but rather to understanding,” Jacobs shares.
In retrospect, Mark Jacobs emphasizes that his decision to choose CTS was a pivotal moment that set the stage for his innovative ministry at St. Peter’s UCC. The convenience, warm reception, and progressive values of CTS have equipped him with the tools to navigate a changing world and envision a ministry that is responsive to evolving spiritual needs. Mark states, “I chose CTS because it was accessible, welcoming, and encouraged students to be innovative. The world is changing so quickly. Theology is changing so quickly. My time at CTS planted the seeds for me, allowing me to experience diverse worship situations and viewing how many different people worship God. I got the understanding that I was not necessarily committed to a traditional parish ministry, and the affirmation that that was of value. As it turns out I’ve been able to create my own ministry from the ground up that is very different from anything I’ve encountered before, but very needed in my community. The knowledge I have brought to this situation all came to me from CTS. It prepared me to worship God in new ways in our changing world.”
For those considering pursuing their graduate degree at CTS, Mark Jacobs offers sage advice. He recognizes that the world and theology are rapidly evolving, demanding forward-thinking and adaptable leaders. “If you want to make a difference in a world that is changing quickly, then CTS seems to me the kind of place you want to go,” he says. Jacobs believes that CTS provides a nurturing environment that encourages creativity, challenges traditional paradigms, and prepares individuals to make a difference in a rapidly changing world.
Mark’s story showcases the profound impact of a person listening to their calling, building the right skills, pursuing the right training, and discovering the ways his unique skills and experience could offer love, comfort, and presence to those most in need. His time at CTS empowered him to overcome challenges, broadened his spiritual horizons, and helped prepare him for a ministry that embodies inclusivity, compassion, and forward-thinking. Jacobs’ story exemplifies the power of education in shaping not only careers but also transformative contributions to the community at large.