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Post by: Melissa Cedillo, MTS ‘21 

As an HDS student, summers are an exciting time to delve further into your studies in any number of opportunities, including participating in Field Education or studying a language in the Summer Language Program (SLP) or completing research through fellowships. Though two units of field education are required for MDiv students at HDS, MTS students who are interested are welcome to engage in field education as well. In this post, second year MTS student, Melissa Cedillo, reflects on her summer field education experience as a Harvard Presidential Public Service Fellow (HPPS) working with Faith in Public Life (FPL). 

Melissa Cedillo (MTS ‘21) 

This summer, I served as a Harvard Presidential Public Service Fellow. HPPS is a program that fully funds student initiated public service programs. This fellowship took place during COVID-19, which required creativity and adaptation. My project worked with Faith in Public Life (FPL), an organization that “plays an important role in changing the narrative about the role of faith in politics and winning major progressive policy victories.” I served as a Faithful Voter field director on the Florida organizing team. We worked on voter outreach with faith-based communities. 

Here are highlights of what my summer with FPL looked like: 

May: 

  • FPL supported on-the-ground faith leaders involved with the Black Lives Matter uprising. 
  • As a team, we organized a response to the Florida unemployment rate due to COVID-19. 
  • I learned more about data entry to track voter program results. 

June: 

  • I attended messaging training sessions to use for field work, began a relational organizing training series, and learned more about voting-by-mail.  
  • I connected with Florida clergy about supporting Family Paid Leave and Competitive Workforce Act. 
  • As a team, we reviewed and edited the Faithful Voter tool kit to reflect correct voter registration dates and deadlines. 
  • We uplifted the online, four-year PULSE remembrance, honoring the 49 lives that were tragically taken on June 12th, 2016.  
  • We were able to conduct Latinx COVID-19 specific outreach using pre-recorded voice calls. 
  • We were able to plan and attend a virtual town hall with Sen. Janet Cruz and Florida clergy to discuss the importance of Family Paid Leave during COVID-19 and how to file for unemployment in the Tampa Bay area. 

July: 

  • We joined the virtual Equality Act lobbying day to push for its passage. 
  • Our team met with Florida legislative groups to discuss to share updates. 
  • I researched various faith-based groups in Gainesville. 
  • We launched our Faithful Voter phone banking. Our call to action was centered around vote-by-mail, and I was able to implement what I learned in my June trainings. 

My work at Faith in Public Life also counted as field education. The Arts of Ministry* I am working towards are: “Racial Justice and Healing” and “Public Leadership, Community Organizing, and Planning.” This summer’s field education allowed me to bridge what I have been learning in the classroom with my vocational work. 

My first year at HDS emphasized how the world is in desperate need of healing—healing from generations of racial trauma and violence. Advocating for policies like Paid Family Leave or the Equality Act pushes for healing through policy change. My time at HDS has also taught me about the need for coalition building: working with different groups who ultimately have the same goal. The communication needed to do this work is crucial for community organizing and public leadership. Communication skills during COVID-19 are calling us to be more innovative and patient with each other. My first years of classes were centered around the way religion in the U.S. affects everything from organizing to election. This summer’s work showed how that’s still the case. Being able to bring a theological perspective to the world of politics allows me to reimagine how a lot of these systems work. 

A portion of fieldwork also requires that I meet weekly with a faith mentor. These weekly meetings were a chance to spiritually ground myself and reflect on the work that was being done. It was reminder that, in order to do healing work, we must constantly be working on self-healing too. This summer’s field education gave me an opportunity to utilize the gifts I have been blessed with and to grow into the minister I want to become. I am grateful that this work was able to express both my faith and political convictions. As I enter my final year at HDS, I am looking forward to seeing how I can apply what I learned this summer to the papers I write and materials I read. 

The 2020 general election is less than 100 days away, and COVID-19 is reshaping how we organize. Black and brown communities are being hit hard; this election will shape how our communities recover. This fellowship allowed me to more deeply research the issues that are severely impacted by COVID-19 and fight for the safety of the vote. I am looking forward to continuing this work into the fall! 

HDS provides course work and field placements leading to competence in eight Arts of Ministry: Preaching and Worship; Pastoral Care and Counseling; Religious Education and Spiritual Development; Administration and Program Development; Public Leadership, Community Organizing and Planning; Peacebuilding and Just Conflict Resolution; Racial Justice and Healing, and Denominational Polity. MDiv students must demonstrate proficiency in at least three of the eight Arts of Ministry through a combination of course work and field education; MTS students who choose to engage in field education work toward proficiency in a couple of Arts of Ministry in their site placements as well.