Meet the Class

La Ronda Barnes (Saul) is a Master of Arts in Practical Theology student at Columbia Theological Seminary, with a concentration in worship, preaching, and the arts. She came to Columbia with a few other degrees in hand: an MDiv and ThM from Candler, and a JD from Yale Law School, among them. La Ronda is the founding pastor of Affirmation Church, a church without walls in Atlanta, and also serves as an adjunct preaching professor at Emory. Prior to entering the ministry, La Ronda served as a judge, an attorney, and a law professor in Atlanta, and was the first African-American female to be elected chair of the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyer Division. She plans to pursue a PhD in Homiletics.     

Greta Dunn (Rizpah) is a Master of Arts in Practical Theology student at Columbia, with an emphasis in Pastoral Care. She has lived in Atlanta since she was two years old. Greta’s spiritual and educational journey began five years ago when she heard a voice on the radio advertising a school; she applied, and two years later, had her Bachelor’s degree in Christian Ministry and was heading to Columbia for a Masters. She asked God, “Who, me? Why?” for a while, but stopped: “God has a way of speaking so loud you can turn the volume down, but you can still hear his voice,” she says; “God will call you until you answer.” Greta says Columbia Seminary is “the salt shaker God put on my table” (Matt 5:13-16). She is part of a non-denominational Christian community in Atlanta.

Nell Herring (Michal and Tamar) is going into her final year of the Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Practical Theology dual degree at Columbia, with a concentration in Pastoral Care. She is originally from Mooresville, NC, and is a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Nell hopes to be bi-vocational, working in congregational care and as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). When Nell isn’t studying, she can be found on a yoga mat, in the kickboxing gym, or eating a bowl of chocolate ice cream. 

Becca Leland (Jonathan and Absalom) is going into her final year of the Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Practical Theology dual degree program at Columbia, concentrating in Pastoral Care. She is originally from Arlington, Virginia, but to her surprise has actually enjoyed living in the South for the past four years. Becca is a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and previously served as a PCUSA Young Adult Volunteer. She can add “Back to the Text Audio Producer Volunteer” to her resume now, too. Becca feels called to congregational ministry with a particular focus on pastoral care and spiritual formation—and hopes that will land her somewhere back in Northern Virginia, so she and her dog, Piglet, can be near family.  

David Manyara (Nathan the Prophet) is a Master of Arts in Theological Studies student at Columbia Theological Seminary, with a concentration in ethics. An ordained minister of the Methodist Church in Kenya, David is a former chaplain at Kenya Methodist University. He also holds an MA in Theology from Newman University in the UK, and after graduation from Columbia, looks forward to pursuing a PhD in ethics. David’s vision is to participate actively in God’s ever-changing world by providing Christian ethical values for peace and justice, so critical to Godly society. 

Youngshin Song (Hannah) is a 2020 Master of Arts in Practical Theology graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary. She is from South Korea, and this is her second season at Columbia: in 2013-14, during her MDiv program at the Presbyterian University and Theological Seminary in Seoul, Youngshin came to CTS as an exchange student—and won the preaching award for the best sermon preached that year at Columbia. Youngshin is a member of the Presbyterian Church of Korea. She describes herself as a student, a part-time pastor, a mother to a three-year-old daughter, and a pastor’s wife, trying to find a balance and call in all of these.   

Onica Stewart (Bathsheba) is a 2020 Master of Theology graduate of Columbia, where her research project focused on African American women, infertility, and reading the story of Luke’s hemorrhaging woman through a Womanist empathetic interpretive lens. Onica hails from the beautiful Twin Island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, and now calls Atlanta home, since migrating to the United States as a young adult. She is an ordained minister within the non-denominational Grace Fellowship of Churches, and serves as the Director of Grace Church International’s Prayer Ministry. Onica has taught and published in the area of Christian formation, and plans to pursue PhD studies in Psychology and Womanist Biblical Interpretation.  

Joshua Woodsmith (Joab) is going into his fourth and final year of the Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Practical Theology dual degree program at Columbia, focusing on Pastoral Care and Old Testament studies. He is originally from Columbia, SC, and calls Georgia and the Carolinas home. Josh is a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA). After seminary, he hopes God will call him on to whatever the next step in life will be—and he hopes he’ll hear the call when it comes. Meanwhile, he’ll be taking lots of walks through Decatur neighborhoods with the dog he and his spouse recently adopted, named Rupert.   

Yajenlemla (Abigail) is a 2020 graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary. She earned a Master of Arts in Theological Studies, and this fall, will be entering the PhD program in New Testament (Bible and Culture) at Drew University. Yajen is from Nagaland, India, and belongs to a tribe called Chang, one of the 16 main tribes in Nagaland. Her home congregation, Chang Baptist Church Dimapur, is part of the Nagaland Baptist Church Council, affiliated with the Council of Baptist Churches in Northeast India and the Baptist World Alliance.  

Anna Carter Florence is the Peter Marshall Professor of Preaching at Columbia. She just finished her 23rd year on the faculty, and her 10th year teaching “Back to the Text.” This is the class where Anna gets to bring together everything she loves about teaching: students and drama and Scripture, and long hours to explore new ways of proclaiming it together. She’s written about it in Rehearsing Scripture: Discovering God’s Word in Community—based on her 2012 Lyman Beecher Lectures on Preaching at Yale Divinity School—and lectured about it at the Festival of Homiletics and elsewhere, but this is the first time she’s had a chance to invite a wider audience to experience what happens in class, and the amazing work the students do.  

Anna earned her BA in History and Theater Studies from Yale University and her MDiv and PhD from Princeton Seminary. She is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Her books include Preaching as Testimony, Inscribing the Word, and as soon as she finishes it this fall, ‘A’ is for Alabaster: A Preacher’s Alphabet. She’s published

articles and chapters in numerous books and journals, including a year’s worth of lectionary text essays for http://www.WorkingPreacher.org, and is a frequent preacher and lecturer in the U.S. and abroad. If you landed on this site through the Festival of Homiletics, where Anna has been a preacher and lecturer since 2002, she’d like to thank you for following the link, and the Festival staff for making it available as part of her lecture, this year.

Anna and her spouse, the Rev. David Carter Florence, met and married in seminary. They are the parents of two grown sons, Caleb and Jonah, who live (respectively) in Colorado and Manhattan, which happen to be great places to visit as frequently as possible. David is the Associate Pastor for Congregational Faith Formation at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in Black Mountain, NC, right down the road from Montreat Conference Center. When Anna isn’t in class at Columbia, she’s in North Carolina with David, hiking the trails with their two dogs and keeping the Icelandic knitting wool away from their two cats.

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