Last week, Rev. Deirdre Bower-Latz, the recipient of the Reverend Dr. Fay Quanstrom Chair of Pastoral Ministry, spoke in chapel as this semester’s Revival speaker. From her childhood in Canada, to bringing theology to younger minds in her time as a professor at Nazarene Theological College, Brower-Latz has led a life full of service and devotion. On Thursday, Feb. 1, I had the opportunity to speak with Brower-Latz about how she came to be where she is and what her hopes are for the future.
Q. Tell me a little about your childhood. Did you grow up in the Nazarene faith?
A. I did. I was born in Canada, but both of my parents’ families were part of the Nazarene Church. So, I grew up going to church from when I was in the womb, really.
Q. When did you know that you wanted to make religion your life’s work?
A. It’s not so much “religion” as it is trying to be obedient to Jesus. From that, I felt a call to ministry and leadership. So that was when I was about 19, 20, I suppose. I began to explore that a bit more and then kind of made further commitments along the way. I was at college, getting my bachelor’s degree, and that was when I settled the matter and said to God that I’d do whatever He wanted me to do.
Q. Was that when you made the choice to become a professor of theology?
A. No, not right away. So, for a long time I’d been a pastor and a youth leader and something called a district youth pastor, which in the Nazarene Church means you work with university students and the children of pastors.So, I did a lot of that kind of thing for a long time. And then, around 2000 I think, I started teaching more full time and then part-time at the college I’m at now and pursued my Ph. D while I was also pastoring a church. So, it was only in 2012 that I started full-time at the college.
Q. Who would you cite as some key influences in your faith?
A. I like authors and reading a lot, so I think one of the ones who’s shaped a lot of the way I think is a man called Eugene Peterson. He’s an American writer and pastor, and some of his works on pastoral leadership have been really influential. And then, my parents have been hugely significant. My dad is a New Testament professor and is one of the most wonderful people. He’s very inspiring and dynamic as a model. He loves the Scriptures and digs into them. And then my mum, who’s an immense woman of faith, but also a specialist in autism, and has spent her life working with people with the condition. She’s just really remarkable in how she gives up herself to enrich people.
Q. Can you tell me a bit more about your new position as the Fay Quanstrom chair?
A. Fay Quanstrom wants the role of pastoral theology to be raised and elevated, and also that an example of somebody who’s a woman in ministry would be given. So, the chair actually will mean that I come here a bit, and either speak in chapel and/or teach classes, particularly at master’s level. It’s a two-year chair, and it just means that I’ll be at Olivet a little more than I would have been. I’ll get to spend time with people and do some engagement with students.
Q. Are you enthusiastic about this new position?
A. Yeah—I debated whether or not it was wise to take, because it means being away from my own work. But actually, we talked about it as a faculty—as senior leaders, really—and the senior leaders of the college thought that in a time when women are being really oppressed, and when the church has lots of debate about whether women can be leaders or not, it would be really helpful if I did say yes. Because then, it gives people the opportunity to see women exercising their gifts.
Q. Why did you accept the invitation to speak at Revival?
A. I think because I love preaching, and I was coming anyway for this award. So, when Mark Holcomb and Mark Quanstrom wrote me and said, would I consider preaching throughout the week, I just said, “Well, I’m there, and it seems a good use of my gifts.” If they thought I could be of service to the church and the college, I would try and do that.
Q. What inspired your sermon content for the week?
A. Well, I decided that I didn’t really know what a “revival” was because that’s outside of our culture. So, I kind of wrestled with the idea of what it was, and I’d been reading the Gospel of Mark. It seemed to me that a revival probably means that you’re revived in your faith, or you go deeper in your faith somehow, or you become connected to God in any way. And as I was reading Mark, I was discovering that was what Mark was helping me with.
Q. Revival is not something that they do in Britain?
A. Not really, no. We don’t really have the same emphasis on a particular time when revival would happen. We do have calls to respond, but they’re different. We don’t typically have altar calls, either. Sometimes we do, but they’re rare. So that was a very unusual experience for me, to be part of a service where there’s kind of an expected response. From my perspective, there’s strengths to both ways. It seems here that the thrust of making a response is embodied in a different way here, and it’s very interesting. We don’t have anything similar at our college.
Q. You spoke earlier about women being oppressed within the church. Could you elaborate on that?
A. It’s interesting because in Britain I don’t feel oppressed in the Nazarene Church. I feel like I’ve been given an opportunity, and people treat me as just another human who’s been called. But the stories I hear from some of my American friends, and other places around the globe, leave me to believe that women aren’t given opportunity here sometimes, aren’t given a voice. I see it play out in lots of different ways in congregational life, and wider culture is navigating similar issues. The church needs to do things differently because we really need to understand the role of the Holy Spirit in calling men and women. I don’t know that that’s taken seriously in a lot of places.
Q. If you had to choose, what would be your all-time favorite Bible verse?
A. That may be the hardest question you’ve asked me. There’s this little verse in Acts where Saul has met with Jesus and is blinded. And then Anias is told to go and see him and heal him. The whole passage, Saul has been oppressing and killing people. So, he goes to him and lays hands on him and says, “Brother Saul.” That’s my favorite, I think, because he defies everything that’s sensible, and he reaches out and touches this man he should fear. That sets the trajectory of the church into the Gentiles coming into faith. It’s like this little hinge, and it’s so remarkable that somebody can have so much courage.
My time with Dr. Brower-Latz reminded me that when it comes to faith, God and the writings of his disciples are not the only ones who can open our eyes to the world and to faith. They can also be opened by ordinary people. Dr. Brower-Latz comes from a long line of people who wish to help and encourage others and will hopefully continue this tradition in her time at Olivet.
Photos by Morgan Byers