Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

7/3 2014

Theological Education: Why Seminaries Should Restore the “Public” in Ministry

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image07-03-14There have been a lot of discussions pertaining to the future of public education in this country and Pennsylvania has certainly left its marked on the conversation. Almost two-years ago, the Governor of Pennsylvania cut $1B in state funding from the Commonwealth’s budget leaving distressed school districts further distressed—if not taken over—and public universities crying foul.

Pittsburgh is no longer the city of steel but the city of “eds and meds” and certainly the senior administrators of our institutions voiced their concerns about the effects these cuts would have on our colleges and universities. But is education a public good and does it deserve the support of the wider community?

Before the $1B cut, there were school children who were challenged to learn by sharing (or doing without) textbooks and districts that had to cut music and art programs. What then do we think is left to fully and properly educate our children? Many blame poor student outcomes on bad teachers and, as a result, philanthropic organizations have directed millions of dollars toward creating evaluative tools that measure teacher effectiveness. While I do believe parent engagement is critical to the success of public education, fostering animus between teachers and parents and vice versa is not the answer.

You might ask why a seminary trained clergyman would have comment on this. My concern is rooted in my seminary education. The training I received for my master of divinity (MDiv) degree helped me to exegete communities and the issues that give rise to their good or failing health. Separation of church and state is the prevalent excuse many clergy and parishioners use to justify a laissez faire position on anything political but does that align with the will of the God of justice?

A person with a social work degree may find themselves engaged in a family crisis resulting from conditions of poverty and its corresponding under resourced schools. There is room at the table for those with an MA in theology or an MDiv, but only if seminaries are willing to provide the training necessary.

Anna Oliver, a Methodist pastor, once said, “If the intelligence of the community is promoted the cause of religion is advanced.” This was a quote from her in the Saturday morning St. Paul Daily Globe, dated Feb. 24, 1883. One might ask the question, “What relevance is there in a quote from 1883?” This quote has the same relevance as the statement written almost 2000 years ago in Matthew 21 where it states, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…”

When we, the people of God, take the time to promote the “intelligence of the community” by insuring everyone, and especially the least of these, has access to all the resources needed for a quality education whether public or private, then not only is religion advanced but so is Christ.

The Rev. John Welch is a 2002 graduate of Pittsburgh Seminary. He earned his MDiv degree, served in parish ministry, and is now the Seminary’s vice president of student services.


6/26 2014

The connection between melody and memory, the role sacred music plays in nursing home ministry

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When I graduated from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s MDiv/MSW program in 2005, theology and sacred music was not something that I had thought much about. I love music. But considering how it would be a part of my ministry was really not something that I had been challenged with during the course of my studies.

I began my ministry as a chaplain in a nursing home soon after graduation. Over the course of my five years of ministry there, I grew in my understanding of how important music is to our worship. Even though my residents were weak in body, they loved to sing. The familiar church music lifted their spirits and allowed them to join in the community of believers that they remembered from childhood, youth, and adulthood. You could watch their faces as they were transported to another time, when they were not confined to a wheel chair or a nursing home.

Those familiar words and melodies that transcended much of the rest of their memory were vital to the quality of their spiritual life in their last days. One resident in particular, Vonelle, was a Julliard-trained pianist. She had taught music her entire adult life. Vonelle, had dementia. Much of her memory was gone. But when she sat down at the piano to play familiar hymns, she led us all in glorious worship.

I know the same is true for those of us not confined to nursing homes. Whether you are living in Pennsylvania or elsewhere in the country, sacred music will enrich your worship. Music is powerful, it is how we teach our children, it is how we remember mundane things, and it gets stuck in our minds and hearts (for better or worse). My time as a chaplain in a nursing home taught me much, but one of the surprises was the importance of music for all of us.

The Rev. Erin Davenport is a 2005 alumna of the MDiv program. Through the Seminary’s joint degree program, she also earned her MSW from the University of Pittsburgh. A former chaplain, she now resides in Pittsburgh and serves as the Seminary’s Director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute.


6/19 2014

Why Detroit?

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General Assembly Presbyterian Church (USA)What was the Presbyterian Church thinking when they decided to have the 221st General Assembly in Detroit, MI? Of all places! (As you’ll recall, the last Assembly was held in beautiful Pittsburgh, PA. Just sayin’.)

Haven’t they seen the news? Don’t they read the papers? Don’t they know Detroit’s a warzone? Dangerous? Hopeless?

Several friends of mine expressed concern that I was planning to drive by myself from Pittsburgh, PA, to the Motor City. The guy at the rental car counter (a total stranger) expressed concern at my plan as well.

And for a brief moment, I began to have second thoughts as well.

Rest assured, I arrived safely from Pittsburgh, in one piece, unscathed. And do you know what I have found in Detroit?

Jesus. Beauty. Homelessness. Art. Struggle. The Church. Redemption. Hope.

The Presbytery of Detroit, our hosts for the meeting, chose this for the week’s theme: “Abounding in Hope” from Romans 15:13, “Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope” (The Message).

I have found an unfolding story of redemption in Detroit. I have found people in ministry who have not given up on their city and churches who are not willing to give up on their communities. I have found a denomination that is willing to be a part of this story by meeting within its bounds and bringing with us an influx of cash and business.

My beloved hometown of Pittsburgh has a similar story of redemption: a resurgence of life in its streets, commerce on its corners, hope in its homes. I feel a kinship with Detroit. Their story is my story. And it is OUR story.

Our story, as Christians from Pennsylvania – Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Washington and Warren, Allentown and Altoona – and Michigan – Detroit and Deborn, and all over the world, is a story of redemption, of a God who left the throne in heaven and came down to be one of us in the flesh, and through Christ, rejoices in what gives us joy and mourns that which breaks our heart.

And I believe God’s heart is broken for Detroit. But from what I’ve seen, the good folks of Detroit are doing their best to put the pieces of Detroit and God’s heart back together again through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As a Presbyterian, I am glad to be a part of this story.

Written by the Rev. Allison Bauer ’05, pastor of Frankfort PC near Pittsburgh, PA. She is an alumna of the MDiv program and serves as the moderator of Beaver-Butler Presbytery.

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