Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

8/18 2014

Nursing Home Ministry

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Nursing-home-ministryNursing home ministry is different. Whether serving with an MDiv/MSW in Mt. Lebanon, Pa., or Orlando, Fla., I found that all ministries are intimate. Pastors are involved in weddings, funerals, divorce, baptisms; they are there for the key moments of the lives of congregants. In nursing home ministry, pastors experience these same things except they are working in their congregant’s physical home each and every day. This is where the residents live; some of them for 30+ years, some of them for just a few days. But regardless, it is their home for the time they are there.

In my time in nursing home ministry I learned the unique daily routines of my residents. I learned their physical needs and ailments as well as their spiritual ones. I learned that Marg was unavailable at 1:00 p.m. because she was watching her soap opera. I learned that Betty sleeps most of the day, but around 6:00 p.m., this 103-year-old was ready to talk. Being there, with them daily, allowed me to be a natural part of their daily routine. In these moments of their daily lives my calling was to proclaim the gospel. In every interaction, to show love, mercy, care, and grace.

I think there are two great misconceptions about nursing home ministry. The first misconception is that nursing home chaplains aren’t pastors. They are. In a normal week I preached three times, led two Bible studies, officiated communion monthly, and officiated several funerals a month. In addition, I spent countless hours in family meetings and with my congregants at meals, activities, and in their rooms listening to their stories and praying with them.

A second misconception is that nursing home ministry is all about death. It isn’t. It is about life. Living daily life with residents and insuring that they have the best possible life for the days, weeks, or years that they have left on this earth. Certainly I was there with Marg as she died, and I had the honor of officiating Betty’s funeral. I was present as many of my congregants took their last breath. But I rejoiced with them and their families, because of their amazing life on earth. And the many, many hours that I spent with all of them in their home, before they died, made those moments of death peaceful, confident that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Nursing home chaplaincy is different. But different can be really, really good.

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.


8/15 2014

New Doctor of Ministry Degrees: Meeting Today’s Needs

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Urban scene from Pittsburgh to Paris

By the end of the century, 75 percent of the world’s population will be in urban areas. The Church must be spiritually and socially transformative in urban ministry.

As the world changes, those in ministry must meet new needs. To help prepare pastors, Pittsburgh Seminary is offering two new Doctor of Ministry focuses. The Missional Leadership and Urban Change DMins begin January 2015.

The Urban Change Focus is designed to assist church leaders in framing and pursuing spiritually and socially transformative ministry responses to rapidly changing complex urban circumstances. Opportunity for study in urban settings, including an international immersion for one week in London and a second week in Pretoria, South Africa, will provide global contextual education. Other sessions meet in Pittsburgh.

The Missional Leadership DMin seeks to form pastors to lead congregations in recognizing what it means to participate in God’s mission within their specific context. Defining mission while sitting in the pews blocks the wide open vision of community. The goal is to plunge into the neighborhood and develop new relationships while practicing a keen understanding that God is active in the world. From these new practices and habits, a new vision for ministry and faith emerges. Classes meet in January and June in Pittsburgh.

Both Urban Change and Missional Leadership include the following goals:

  • To develop a biblically rooted and theologically informed understanding of missional congregations and leadership. Achieving this goal will include the development of a theology of missional congregations, leadership theory, ethics, ecclesiology, proclamation, and conflict theory.
  • To form leaders who are theologically reflective from within their own contexts and able to lead their congregation to become a missional community. Achieving this goal includes the integration of research methodology with formative postures, habits, and practices of adaptive change leadership, the challenge of re-thinking church, cultivating communal discernment, plunging into the neighborhood, preaching, worship, and pastoral care.

Interested in either program? We welcome your applications online through Oct. 31, 2014. Or contact the Doctor of Ministry Office with questions at 412-924-1421 or skendall@pts.edu. An MDiv or equivalent is required for the Doctor of Ministry degree.

Written by the Rev. Dr. Susan Kendall, director of the Doctor of Ministry Program.


8/5 2014

Theology and Superheroes: Stained Glass Comics

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superheroes teach theology and divinityAs director of enrollment at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, I get to do a lot of guest preaching around the country. I wind up in churches and chapels in areas as diverse as Tampa Bay, Fla., and Kittaning, Pa. In all of these settings, I find myself fascinated by the theology of the buildings.

That’s right. Church buildings have theology.

The theology of the building conveys itself in different ways, but it’s always there. I’ve found two tools that are invaluable in deciphering the theology of any given church building. Naturally the first is my MDiv degree, but the second is more unexpected. The second tool is my knowledge of superheroes.

Comic books teach us how to spot the theology in church buildings. They’re especially helpful when that theology is represented through art. For example, here are some of the kinds of things I’ve seen in stained glass, sculpture, or paintings:

  • A winged lion
  • A glowing bird
  • A golden staff with an X and a P

These strange images seem out-of-place in churches. That may be because they represent a technique that we actually expect in comic books. To understand what I mean, imagine finding the following images in a comic book:

  • A big red S against a yellow background
  • A searchlight in the shape of a bat
  • A black spider on red background surrounded by blue.

They make sense; we know what those images signify. The S is Superman. The searchlight is Batman. The spider is Spider-Man. We expect superheroes to have insignias, symbols, or attributes that point to a wider story. The same is true in the church.

That strange winged lion? It comes from passages in Ezekiel and Revelation. It has come to represent the Gospel according to Mark because Mark begins with a voice in the wilderness like a roaring lion.

The glowing bird? It’s usually a dove, and is a symbol of the Holy Spirit reminiscent of Mark 1:9-11.

The golden staff with the X and P? It’s often called the Labarum, and represents a turning point in the history of Christianity and the conversion of Constantine.

These images use the same technique as Superman’s S, the Bat Signal, or Spider-Man’s costume. They point us to people and stories. Of course, you have to know your scripture and church history to catch them, but it also helps to know your superheroes.

Written by the Rev. Derek Davenport ’05, director of enrollment and program co-director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Derek is also an alumnus of the Master of Divinity (MDiv) Program. Derek has covered images like those listed above in greater detail on his website www.preachingsymbols.com

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