by Keri Willard-Crist
“Ministry is being able to come out of your comfort zone,” said M.Div. middler Brian McCollum. But it’s hard to imagine anything that could make McCollum, who spent five years before seminary touring the world dancing, uncomfortable. McCollum first encountered stepping, a dance method born from African American fraternities and sororities that uses the body as an instrument, when his older siblings returned from college and shared with him the stomps, kicks, spoken word, and clapping rhythms of stepping. He’s been stepping ever since; in high school, in college as part of his fraternity, and professionally as a member of the dance company Step Afrika!
His experiences stepping in El Salvador, Brazil, Thailand, and Tanzania, as well as across the United States, have shown him the possibilities open to ministry when you leave your own community and try to touch the entire world. “We would create an exchange of cultures,” McCollum said of his travels to South Africa, where he and other members of the dance company exchanged dance techniques with children living in Soweto. “At the end of the week we would have a food drive and a clothing drive. We’d worship together. I really felt like I was touching lives and doing ministry,” said McCollum, who also served as chaplain to Step Afrika! He hopes to use the cross-cultural experiences of stepping to inform his call to pastoral ministry, a vocation he came to, much like professional stepping, reluctantly.
McCollum tells the story of getting “pushed” into seminary by a pastor at his home church, Sargent Memorial Presbyterian Church in Washington DC. After he approached his pastor at the end of a service to pray quietly about his sense of call, the pastor immediately raised her arms, silenced the music, and announced to the entire congregation, “Praise the Lord, Brian has just announced to me that he is going into ministry.” It took two years for McCollum to make that pastor’s declaration a reality. “I think now that God was pushing me,” McCollum said of the incident. “Sometimes God will do that, he’ll expose you to get you where he needs you to be.” Spending time mentally and spiritually transitioning from stepping to seminary gave McCollum space to reflect on his call. “By the time that I actually applied [to Princeton], all of my questions were gone, my doubts, my tensions.” When he came to campus during a prospective student weekend McCollum knew this was where he wanted to be, but ultimately he attributes his arrival at PTS to the “advice and prayer” of friends, mentors, and loved ones.
While here, McCollum has found a way to have a foot in both forms of ministry; he still travels with Step Afrika! as a guest artist and is actively involved in the Seminary community as the upcoming moderator of the Association of Black Seminarians, as a deacon in Brown Hall, and as the leader of a new Seminary step group, which he started. But he’s also branching out and being stretched. “I have stepped up to the plate in ways that I didn’t think I would have to,” said McCollum of the challenging academic, spiritual, and formational rigor of PTS. “It’s made me a different person.”
You can see Brian McCollum performing with Step Afrika! on the 2008 season premier of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The children of the family who received the home makeover love stepping, and though McCollum was unable to attend the show’s entire production due to field education commitments, he led the dance while the furniture was moved into the newly renovated home. The show airs on Sunday, September 28, 2008, on ABC.
You can also see McCollum performing with Step Afrika! on the dance company’s promotional video .