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Christian Leadership and Service: An interview with David and Alissa Williams

David and Alissa Williams, two participants in the Pastorate's 2018-19 Christian Leadership and Service (CLS) cohort, tell us a little bit about themselves and their time as part of this formation group.

Tell us about your studies/career history to date and what you have been doing this year in Oxford?

David: Before coming to Oxford I was the team leader for InterVarsity/USA’s Graduate & Faculty Ministries at New York University where I led their ministries to graduate, law, and healthcare students for five years. Before joining InterVarsity I earned masters’ degrees in Biblical Studies and New Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary and Duke Divinity School, and taught in both a private school and community college. I am passionate about helping students to discern how they and their callings fit into God’s mission of reconciling, redeeming, and renewing all things, and about helping students to think deeply about what difference the gospel makes to their respective fields. I am now working on an MPhil in Christian Ethics here at Oxford and hoping to go on to do the DPhil. I also continue to work part time alongside Alissa with InterVarsity/USA and IFES to support postgraduate ministry initiatives here in the U.K. and am the president of the Oxford Graduate Christian Forum.

Alissa: I now work for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and IFES and focus on ministry with postgraduate students here in the U.K. This is a recent transition for me as my professional background is in international development as well as non-profit management. Most recently I was the COO & Co-Founder of Nomi Network an anti-human trafficking non-profit headquartered in New York City. Because of my background as well as my love of creating global impact for God’s kingdom, it’s been a joy to be working with graduate students here in Oxford, many of whom are international students and who will become leaders in their own fields.

You are very involved with postgraduate, church and Christian communities in Oxford – what has CLS offered you that has been unique to other groups you’ve been involved in?

David: We were grateful for the way in which CLS helped us to find our bearings among all the various postgraduate ministries in Oxford. The Oxford student body has such a high turnover rate (many students being here for two years or less), it is difficult to maintain cooperative relationships between groups as each graduating class takes their social capital and institutional memory with them. CLS has created a hub for student leadership here at Oxford that catalyses collaboration and cooperation across groups by strategically helping leaders to form friendships with each other at the very start of their time here. For instance, I was grateful for the opportunity to address the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society meeting in January, which probably would not have happened had I not met Jahdiel Perez, the Society’s president, through CLS.

Alissa: CLS was a unique experience because it gave us deeper and more substantive friendships with other members of our cohort who we might not have otherwise met and who are all leaders in their own right. This sense of friendship fostered vulnerability in ways that I believe are essential to us not only growing in our personal faith but also growing in our individual leadership potential. It is also always meaningful to have the accountability of a programme like CLS in order to create space in our busy lives to pause and reflect on ways we have taken risks, and despite the outcomes, learned to trust God more through the process.

Who has been your favourite speaker and/or discussion topic this year, and why?

David: I particularly enjoyed our day in the Cotswolds with Terry Halliday, learning about the new faculty initiative he is launching and about the many exciting things happening in postgraduate and faculty ministry around the world. I think we all came away from that day with a clearer sense of how what we are doing here in Oxford fits into an emerging global mission movement reaching the next generation of leaders now studying in universities.

Alissa: Hearing Ewan McKendrick share about his professional experience as former Registrar here at Oxford was a highlight. His role in leadership within a university context helped us learn more about how Christians can be a light, not just in their departments, but also in positions of administration and in service to the institution. It also felt validating to draw some connections between some of the challenges he’s faced and overcome, and my own experience managing staff and a growing organisation.

What’s one thing you have learnt this year that you will take away with you into future Christian leadership and service?

Alissa & David: Never underestimate the power of starting by hearing people’s stories. It sounds like such a heady thing, cultivating a leadership network in a high-powered place like Oxford. But we were struck again and again by the fact that what made the group work was not so much whizbang vision-casting or cutting edge programming, but friendships formed over dinners and lunches and walks through the Cotswolds, and, crucially, through hearing one another’s personal stories of faith, of calling, and of coming to Oxford. Jonathan and Trish [Brant], and Steve and Kay [Rumford’s] hospitality created a space amidst the hurlyburly of the university where we could relax, let down our guards, and quickly build the sort of trust that has allowed CLS to be both a supportive community for all of us and a fruitful centre for Kingdom collaboration.

You can find further information about the Christian Leadership and Service (CLS) programme on our website. If you are interested in being part of the next cohort, please email (jonathan.brant@oxfordpastorate.org) in September 2019.