Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

10/4 2018

Not Just Chickadees—Remembering Francis, a Subversive Saint

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St. Francis Blessing of the AnimalsI’ve already seen the signs: “Blessing of the Animals—This Sunday”.

In honor of St. Francis—who preached to chickadees, tamed a wolf terrorizing a town, and welcomed chipmunks onto his shoulders—many churches will be offering animal blessings this Sunday. They will invite dogs, cats, gerbils, lizard, cockatoos, and more, into their sanctuaries—or at least into their front yards. They will sing All Creatures of Our God and King. They will invoke the name of Francis. And they will bless these furry and feathered friends. The children will love it.

What they won’t do? Encourage kids to steal.

Maybe they should.


Francis the Thief

Before he ever preached to an animal, Francis criticized the burgeoning merchant economy of 13th Century Italy. He grieved the way the economy put money into the pockets of some while leaving others begging along roadsides.

One of Francis’s first acts on his way to becoming St. Francis was to steal fabric from his father’s business and sell it. One account says he gave the money to a church, another says he offered it to the poor. Either way, he didn’t seem to appreciate the notion of property. The fabric—and the money it fetched when sold—wasn’t his to give away.

He did it anyway.

This act marked the beginning of what we might call Francis’s conversion—the 180 degree turn God’s Spirit was working in his life: a turn from a world in which a human economy allows people to say, “This is mine, I earned it, I can do with it what I want,” to a vision of a divine economy in which all that is belongs to God, is oriented toward God, and should be used for God’s purposes.

And, as Francis found out, living in that kind of economy can get you in trouble.


A New Vision Emerges

Unsurprisingly, Francis’s father did not think highly of this act of generosity. He flew into a rage, and Francis absconded. He hid for several weeks in a small cave, where only one friend knew where he was. He ate what little food his friend brought him, and he prayed. As one early biographer put it, “The Lord sent him such consolations and delight as he had never known.”

There’s no way to know exactly what happened to Francis in that cave, but I love the way G. K. Chesterton, in his biography of Francis, describes his new attitude when he emerged. Chesterton suggests that, when Francis came out, he saw the world upside down:

The effects of this on his attitude toward the actual world were really as extravagant as any parallel can make them. . . . If a man saw the world upside down, with all the trees and towers hanging head downwards as in a pool, one effect would be to emphasize the idea of dependence. There is a Latin and literal connection; for the very word dependence only means hanging.

Francis saw the world—all of creation, even himself and, presumably, his father and his father’s fabric—as suspended from its divine source. He saw things as they really are—coming from God, belonging to God, to be used for God. And that kind of vision doesn’t jibe with the way things typically work.

No wonder we bless the animals—that feels safe. Celebrating Francis-the-thief would contribute to the corruption of minors.


Of a Piece

But Francis-who-blesses-the-animals and Francis-who-steals-the-fabric are one and the same Francis; these two aspects of his character are of a piece. They flow from his radical reorientation.

Francis discovered a kinship with the rest of creation—Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Second-Cousin Squirrel—because he saw the trees, wolves, cockatoos, and gerbils as existing in God, as all things do. He peered into their divine heart—the same divine heart in his father and in the poor beggar. But the human economy—This is mine! I earned it! You can’t have it!—blinds us to this truth.

So when we bless the animals, we’re not just doing something cute, and we’re not just putting at risk the sanctuary carpet. We’re glimpsing the heart of reality. We’re practicing radical kinship. We’re being a bit subversive.  We’re learning that not only the animals, but our very lives and our things, come from God, belong to God, and should be aimed toward God’s purposes.


Stealing St. Francis

When my wife and I got married, she bought me a little statue of St. Francis holding a basket. I filled the basket with birdseed and placed it in the front yard of our house. I loved that statue of Francis, loved how he greeted me each time I approached the front door. And I loved how, from the dining room table, I could watch the squirrels, chipmunks, and birds eat their fill as I ate mine.

When we sold the house 13 years ago, we forgot Francis. He stayed in that yard, and I wanted him back.

Last summer, when our family visited that town to see friends, we drove by the house to show our kids. “Boys,” I said, slowing down as we passed, “this is where we lived when you were born.” And then I stopped. I saw Francis, my Francis. He’d been moved from the island of azaleas in the front yard to near the bushes beneath the dining room window.

I glanced at our eight-year-old daughter, quick and small. She could pull off a heist if anyone could—dash into the yard, pluck Francis from among the bushes, and jump into the van before anyone saw her. And I’d never driven a getaway car before. It felt exciting.

Until I remembered—that’s not the kind of thief Francis was. He didn’t steal in order to own. He stole because what his father possessed wasn’t being used for its divine purpose. It had lost its place in Gods economy.

So we drove away, and I was left wondering, not whether I would every have my Francis back—I won’t—but whether I could let this vision of Francis shape my life. Would I ever really see the world the way Francis did?

And would I be willing to show that world to my kids, knowing the trouble seeing the world this way could cause them?


The Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens is associate professor of Christian spirituality and ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and teaches courses in the MDivDoctor of Ministry, and Continuing Education programs. Before coming to PTS he served urban and rural churches for eight years in North Carolina as co-pastor with his wife, Ginger. He has written multiple books including The Shape of Participation: A Theology of Church Practices which was called “this decades best work in ecclesiology” by The Christian Century. His latest work is Threshold of Discovery: A Field Guide to Spirituality in Midlife (Church Publishing Inc., 2019).


10/3 2018

INSIDE THE PTS CURRICULUM: Introduction to Caring Ministries

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The “Inside the PTS Curriculum” series gives you an inside look at what students are learning in their courses at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Each article focuses on one class, its subject matter, what students can expect to learn, the required texts, and the kinds of assignments students can expect. We’ll let you know whether the course is required or available for the Master of Divinity (MDiv), the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), or Master of Theological Studies (MTS). Each article will include the professors’ bio.

This week’s course is: “Introduction to Caring Ministries”.

Leanna Fuller teaches pastoral care

Professor Leanna Fuller teaches MDiv, MA, and Doctor of Ministry students at Pittsburgh Seminary.

About Introduction to Caring Ministries

This term, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary students will be learning about a specific aspect of ministry with the Rev. Dr. Leanna Fuller in the class “Introduction to Caring Ministries.” This is a required course for second year students in the Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree program and can also satisfy a requirement for the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS) degree. Introduction to Caring Ministry is available to students in the Master of Theology (MTS) program as well.

In “Introduction to Caring Ministry,” Dr. Fuller introduces students to the theology and practice of caring ministry. The class also pays special attention to pastoral self-awareness and key relational skills. Students in the class will develop their capacity to understand and discern the needs of persons and communities and will also determine appropriate responses to those needs. The course provides a chance for students to explore the intersection of leadership and care through the study of organizational dynamics and group processes.

By the end of the class, students will have an enhanced understanding of pastoral theology and pastoral care and their relationship to one another. Students will also explore and reflect on their Christian identity as caregivers. Dr. Fuller teaches students basic principles, theologies, and theories that ground pastoral care and how to use them to guide and critique their own ministry. Through the process, participants begin developing a practical expertise in the art of pastoral care through skill-building and reflection.

As to required texts, Dr. Fuller uses Debora van Deusen Hunsinger’s Pray without Ceasing, Sheryl A. Kujawa-Holbrrok and Karen B. Montagno’s Injustice and the Care of Souls, Emmanuel Lartey’s In Living Color, Ronald W. Richardson’s Creating a Healthier Church, and John Savage’s Listening and Caring Skills. In addition to the textbooks, Dr. Fuller assigns pertinent articles from time to time. Coursework typically includes short reflection papers, case study responses, and a final paper.


About the Instructor

A graduate of Vanderbilt University (Ph.D.), Vanderbilt Divinity School (M.Div.), and Furman University (B.A.), the Rev. Dr. Leanna Fuller is in her element when teaching about caring ministry. Ordained in the United Church of Christ, her most recent book is titled When Christ’s Body is Broken: Anxiety, Identity, and Conflict in Congregations (Wipf and Stock, 2016). Fuller has earned numerous fellowships, awards, and honors. She concerns herself with church conflict, and her book uses two case studies to examine the issue toward constructive outcomes. Fuller advises pastors to develop an intentional plan for dealing with congregational conflict—before the conflict arises! Some of the first steps, she says, include acknowledging that anxiety will be present in such circumstances and that the more serious the conflict the more time it will take to resolve it constructively.




9/26 2018

Inside the PTS Curriculum: Gospels, Acts, and Johannine Epistles

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The “Inside the PTS Curriculum” series gives you an inside look at what students are learning in their courses at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Each article focuses on one class, its subject matter, what students can expect to learn, the required texts, and the kinds of assignments students can expect. We’ll let you know whether the course is required or available for the Master of Divinity (MDiv), the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), or Master of Theological Studies (MTS). Each article will include the professors’ bio.

This week’s course is: Gospels, Acts, and Johannine Epistles.


mdiv contextual learning class in Pittsburgh

Professor Edith Humphrey teaches MDiv, MA, and Doctor of Ministry students at Pittsburgh Seminary.

About Gospels, Acts, and Johannine Epistles

This term Pittsburgh Theological Seminary students will be studying the Gospels with Dr. Edith Humphrey and Dr. Tucker Ferda in the class “Gospels, Acts, Johannine Epistles.” A required course for the Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree, the class also fulfills a requirement for the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), and is open to students in the Master of Theological Studies (MTS) degree.

Students in the course will get an introduction to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (along with John’s Epistles), and Act, as well as explore their significance in the Church and the world today.

The class devotes time and attention to the specific content of each of the books, as well as to their genres and connections with ancient biography or history. Students will also explore the various theological and historical portraits of Jesus and learn about the methods used in critical study of the Gospels (source, form, redaction, literary, sociohistorical, canonical, and rhetorical).

By the end of the class, students will have a better understanding of the contents, structures, and literary genres of these New Testament books. They will also gain an appreciation for the historical context of Second Temple Judaism and the Greco-Roman world.

Students will leave with tools and methods to interpret Acts, the Gospels, and John’s epistles as Christian Scripture, as well as the ability to consider how socio-cultural context shapes interpretive traditions and practices. In addition to the historical and interpretive work students will do, they will spend time reflecting on the connection between Christian ministry and biblical insight, both then and now.

As a first year course, the Gospels, Acts, and Johannine Epistles class offers students an opportunity to begin to engage in graduate-level theological research, as well as foster a love of the texts in their unity and diversity.

As to required texts, students will use either the New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha or Harper Collins Study Bible (NRSV) with Apocrypha. They will also use Burton H. Throckmorton’s, Gospel Parallels or Kurt Aland’s Synopsis of the Four Gospels (which is Greek/English). The final required text is the second edition of David Wenham and Steve Walton, Exploring the New Testament: A Guide to the Gospels and Acts, vol. 1.

In addition to course participation and written reflection on the assigned readings, students can expect three short writing assignments, two content quizzes, and a five to seven page essay.


About the Instructors

The professors for this course are uniquely qualified to lead students in their exploration of New Testament. Dr. Edith M. Humphrey is the William F. Orr Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary (2002-present). Prior to her service at PTS, she taught at several colleges and universities in Canada and was professor of Scripture at Augustine College, Ottawa, Canada, from 1997-2002, where in her final year she served as dean. She earned her bachelor’s (with honors) from Victoria University (University of Toronto) and received her doctorate from McGill University, Montreal, where she was awarded the Governor General’s Gold Medal.

A prolific author, several of Dr. Humphrey’s recent books include, Further Up and Further In: Orthodox Conversations with C. S. Lewis on Scripture and Theology (St. Vladimir’s Press, 2017); Scripture and Tradition: What the Bible Really Says (Baker Academic, 2013); Grand Entrance: Worship on Earth as in Heaven (Brazos, 2010).

In addition to her writing and scholarship, Dr. Humphrey is also an accomplished musician. She was the musical director and organist at St. George’s Anglican Church in Ottawa, she now helps with her parish choir, participates in the PTS Taizé ensemble, and plays oboe in the North Pittsburgh Symphonic Band.  In addition to her thought-provoking lectures and discussions, Dr. Humphrey often incorporates music into her classes.

Also teaching this course is Dr. Tucker Ferda, who began his position as visiting assistant professor of New Testament in 2017 after serving as a lecturer since 2013. He earned his Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Pittsburgh, where he also served as teaching fellow. In 2015, he was named one of only three Society of Biblical Literature Regional Scholars, an award which “recognizes and promotes outstanding entry-level scholars.” Dr. Ferda has expertise in a wide range of areas in biblical studies, including the Gospels, the life of Jesus, the Old Testament in the New, the history of biblical interpretation, Hellenistic Jewish literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and biblical theology.

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