Alumni Dr. Ruiz on Justice, Art, and Worship - Princeton Theological Seminary

Throughout the world, women are being celebrated and honored during Women’s History Month. It’s a time for women, such as Rev. Dr. Lis Valle-Ruiz, ThM ‘13, to be commended for their accomplishments and contributions to society. And Puerto Rico native, Valle-Ruiz has many.

For six years, the Vanderbilt University graduate has served as McCormick Theological Seminary’s Assistant Professor of Homiletics. She’s taught courses, such as Pilgrimage in Faithfulness, Introduction to Christian Worship, Introduction to Christian Preaching, and Worship and Sacraments in the Christian Traditions. It’s a role in which Valle-Ruiz combines two passions: liturgy and homiletics.

“McCormick is a trinity for me,” says Valle-Ruiz, whose specialization lies at the intersection between worship and preaching, including performance theory, embodiment, and postcolonial perspectives, to name a few. “It’s a seminary body that has ties to my denomination, Presbyterian Church (USA), it’s justice-oriented and many of the students are students of color. It’s what I love about it, especially justice. If I was to choose one of the three, it would be that they are very committed to justice.”

Valle-Ruiz’s own commitment to justice dates back to her life growing up in Puerto Rico, she says. The unfairness she and others experienced growing up in a colony is the primary reason she weaves justice throughout her work, particularly as it pertains to the arts. A Juris Doctorate from the University of Puerto Rico also helped in that endeavor.

When Valle-Ruiz was younger, she felt called to spread the gospel through dramatic arts, which is why she attended seminary in Puerto Rico and it’s also why she pursued an undergraduate degree in theater from the University of Puerto Rico in preparation for that ministry.

“When I started doing it, it was very clear that I needed other tools,” she admits. “All these members of the theater troupe would come to me as if I was a pastor or a minister. They wanted prayer and they would tell me their stories. Sometimes they were very hard to hear, and I didn’t know what to do. So, then I started seminary.”

“I teach my students to denounce the evil powers of the world and to enact the kind of world the Divine wants, a healed world,” she says. “That’s the thing about art, it’s not just talking about liberation, it’s about enacting liberation.”

Theater has always been included in Valle-Ruiz’s ministry but as her understanding of the gospel grew, theater, for her, became more about justice. A course she developed, Proclamation and Artivism, is open to numerous arts, though Valle-Ruiz prefers, and is trained in, performing arts.

“I know my students may be better at musical arts, visual arts or poetry,” she says. “In this course, I teach them the basics of prophetic preaching, and then they have to create artistic pieces that have those characteristics. They create prophetic sermons but instead of the normal oratory that we’re used to, they are artistic pieces.”

Through her work with McCormick, where she also works as the Director of Community Worship Life, Valle-Ruiz plans to teach an amended version of the Proclamation and Artivism course, named Spiritual Activism in the Jail, this fall at Cook County Jail.

Among Valle-Ruiz’s other accolades is her work as a principal investigator for Mary Magdalene’s Presence in Foot Washing Rituals, which included researching the genesis of biblical and historical foot-washing rituals, New Testament foot-washing text comparison, and more.

The Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary graduate is also a Hispanic Theological Initiative (HTI) alum, a Princeton Seminary Initiative. During her time as an HTI scholar, she received invaluable support and guidance throughout Vanderbilt University’s doctoral degree application process. Rev. Joanne Rodriguez, director of the Hispanic Theological Initiative and the Hispanic Theological Initiative Consortium, offered tremendous assistance, she says. As an HTI scholar, Valle-Ruiz attended individualized capacity-building summer workshops annually, which provided opportunities for her to learn how to navigate comprehensive exams and build community with other HTI participants and leaders.

As an HTI scholar, Valle-Ruiz was the first person to participate in the initiative’s pilot internship program, where she leveraged her experience with organizing worship services for a Hispanic Youth Leadership Academy (HYLA) event at Boston University. “I led them in designing, executing and performing worship services,” she recalls. “It was amazing, one of the best experiences I’ve had,” she adds.

Valle-Ruiz continues to combine her passions for justice, worship, preaching, teaching, healing, and performing arts to bring forth her contributions to the world in creative ways. Even before she made the decision to leave Puerto Rico and since then, her hope for societal impact in the various aspects of her ministry has always been connected to the arts.

“I teach my students to denounce the evil powers of the world and to enact the kind of world the Divine wants, a healed world,” she says. “That’s the thing about art, it’s not just talking about liberation, it’s about enacting liberation.”