The Purpose of Field Education
Field education at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary assists students in learning the practice of ministry through direct involvement in increasingly diverse placement sites in congregations, institutions, organizations, chaplaincies, and other agencies with gifted and dedicated supervisors/mentors who are equally essential to this venture. This work of exploration, integration and collaboration brings the seminary curriculum and faculty, the students/seminarians, and the supervisors and their sites together for an intentionally creative, sometimes challenging, and almost never boring time of learning, reflection, and growth. Placements are negotiated with the intent of broadening each student’s range of experiences in order to contribute to his or her personal, vocational, and professional growth.
Objectives of the program include:
- acquaintance with a wide variety of ministerial activities,
- development of ministerial skills
- sensitivity to the dynamics of pastoral relationships,
- awareness of the social context of ministry, and
- invitation into the postures, habits and practices of theologically reflecting upon aspects of the practice of ministry.
Master of Pastoral Studies and Master of Divinity students are required to complete one academic year (September – May) of planned, supervised, and evaluated field education in a setting approved by the director of Field Education. The student also concurrently enrolls in the FE 210 and FE 220 Field Education course sequence during the year of supervised field education, for which six academic credits are awarded upon successful completion of all the program elements. The requirement is fulfilled when the student earns a passing grade in both courses and when all evaluations have been completed by the supervisor and the student, accepted by the director of Field Education, and recorded on the student's permanent record. A detailed learning agreement (the Learning Covenant), developed by each student in cooperation with his or her supervisor, coordinates the educational objectives with the needs of the congregation or agency to be served and provides a basis for a shared evaluation of progress at later points in the year.
The Field Education Setting
Congregations and agencies participating in the Field Education program are encouraged to see themselves as a vital part of the student's preparation for ministry. This involves three important steps:
- The congregation or agency makes a formal decision to participate in the preparation and formation of women and men for ministry, based on an assessment of the opportunities for learning it can offer rather than on the kind of assistance it needs.
- The congregation or agency endorses the time its minister or director will need to spend in supervising the student and in preparing for the responsibilities of supervision.
- The congregation or agency prepares a position description.
Contracts normally run from September through May. Students are expected to give approximately 10-12 hours of service in the field each week. Time spent in staff meetings and in preparation for work (lesson preparation, arranging for meetings, room set up, etc.) should be included in this total, but travel time to and from the field is not to be counted. At least one of these hours per week (or bi-weekly at a minimum) is expected to be spent in theological reflection between the supervisor and student upon the experiences, activities, and observations at the placement site. Opportunities for the student to observe and discuss the supervisor's practice in relevant areas of ministry such as discerning and communicating vision, leadership development, community engagement, preparing and leading specialized worship/pastoral services (i.e. funerals, weddings, and baptisms), administration, curriculum evaluation, and home visitation are important to the development of the student’s ministerial skills.
Students normally receive a stipend for their work and reimbursement for travel expenses related to their work. Current guidelines for this compensation can be obtained from the Office of Field Education. The stipend is considered taxable income and is subject to Social Security.
Unless alternative arrangements are made in advance, students will be expected to work in the placement during break periods at the Seminary. The student should nonetheless be assured an opportunity for a vacation the week after Christmas. Students are not expected to work in the field education placement during end-of-term examination periods.
Congregations and agencies may offer full-time or part-time summer employment with the stipend being adjusted to reflect the number of hours the student will be expected to work.
Termination of a position before the end of the contract period may occur only in consultation with the student, the field supervisor, and the director of field education.
The Learning Covenant
The Field Education Office provides training, materials, and the forms to assist students and field supervisors in the process of developing the Learning Covenant, normally early in the fall semester. This document coordinates the educational objectives of the student and supervisor with the needs of the congregation or agency being served. The Learning Covenant makes explicit what is to be learned (the goals/objectives) and how, through specifying the tasks and opportunities as well as the methodology and resources to support the goals. The exploration, discussion and crafting of the Learning Covenant are intended to serve the following purposes:
- to give an opportunity for mutual clarification of expectations;
- to enable students to focus their work around limited and realistic objectives which are related to their specific educational needs and personal, vocational, and professional goals;
- to provide a framework for supervision and evaluation of the activities in which students will be engaged.
This document must be completed by the student and field supervisor and returned to the Field Education Office by mid-October for approval. Because it is an educational tool, the Learning Covenant allows fluidity in its design and execution. It is a framework within which the seminary, the site and the student can establish some basic requirements for the placement and character of participation by all partners. Yet within the framework there is room for negotiation, adjustment and change as is deemed appropriate and necessary by the partners involved.
The Role of the Supervisor
The key to a good field education experience is supervision. It is expected that the student will meet with the supervisor at least one hour each week to discuss and reflect theologically upon some aspect of ministry. Guidance, training and support are provided by the Field Education Office to assist in all aspects of the supervisory relationship. Supervisors and students attend a program orientation session at the beginning of the fall semester and receive a Resource Notebook of various materials for the program. Supervisors also receive monthly email communications from the Field Education office, a visit from the director at the site (if desired), and opportunities to connect with other supervisors throughout the year. Because supervisors are participating in an educational program designed to help equip students for the responsibilities for which they are preparing, they are expected to be theologically trained at the graduate level (normally an MDiv or equivalent degree), ordained for a minimum of three years (if applicable), and have been serving in their current position for at least one year. In some placements, aspects of the supervisory role may be shared by other qualified individuals, with one person identified as the primary supervisor. Under normal circumstances, supervisors do not assume the additional responsibilities of being pastor and/or counselor to students and are not closely related (biologically or by marriage) to the student. The restraints of time and the value of maintaining role clarity make the addition of these responsibilities inadvisable.
Evaluation of the Field Education Program
Mid-year (December) and end-of-year (May) evaluations are required for a student to complete the requirement in supervised field education. The purpose of such assessments is to enable the student to learn and grow in ministry. These evaluations are based on the Learning Covenant developed by the student and the supervisor at the beginning of the field education experience and revised during weekly supervisory sessions.
The final evaluation must be completed and returned to the Field Education Office before the requirement can be considered satisfactorily completed. Forms for the evaluation process are provided by the Field Education Office. The evaluation can be shared with the student's sponsoring judicatory when requested, if the student's written consent has been given and confidentiality has been assured.
The staff of the Field Education Office is eager to explore new placement opportunities through which students may best fulfill their vocational and educational needs and though which creative and engaging supervisors and placement sites may offer their gifts in the formation of ministerial excellence for the Church and the world. We also welcome your specific questions and are prepared to provide the necessary forms and additional information to guide you through the field educational process. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Associate Dean of Academic Programs, Assessment, and Field Education
Holly A. McKelvey
Administrative Assistant for Academic Support
Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
616 N. Highland Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15206