Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

10/27 2020

Spotting Grace When You Need It Most

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People who know me know I’m prone to tears. Like when I’m singing hymns in church, or when I’m reading a children’s novel to my 11-year-old daughter—so often when I’m reading to her.

Or when I’m talking with my spiritual director. Recently, I cried when I shared this story with her:

The other day, my family visited an Audubon nature reserve, where I thought I spotted one of my favorite birds: a ruby-crowned kinglet—a tiny thing, not much bigger than a hummingbird. I hadn’t seen one in years. But the kids were fighting over my binoculars to get a better look at some cedar waxwings, so I couldn’t confirm my initial impression. Don’t they have that olive-green color, a white eye ring, a habit of flitting their wings? I thought. I’d intended to check my bird book when we got home, but forgot.

The next day, my 15-year-old son and I were taking a walk near our home. I told him that I’d forgotten to look the bird up yesterday, and he reminded me that we’d seen one together in the neighborhood about five years earlier.

“We could even see the ruby crown. You pointed it out to me,” he said.

We talked about the way it hovered to nab insects from the underside of leaves. About the way it flitted its wings, giving it a nervous appearance.

As we were speaking, a small bird darted above our heads. It hovered near a branch hanging over the street. It flitted its wings nervously. It wore a drab olive coat and white eye-liner.

“That’s it—that’s a ruby-crowned kinglet!” I said.

Another joined it, and the boy and I stood in the middle of the road watching these birds frolic among the leaves.

Jean Pierre de Caussade, a 17th century French priest, wrote about receiving what he called the “sacrament of the present moment.” He meant that each moment is charged with God’s presence, that each moment is a vehicle of grace. It’s a spirituality I try to practice, especially in those moments when the Presence isn’t so obvious—washing the dishes comes to mind.

But sometimes it is. Sometimes when you need grace the most—when a raging pandemic and rancorous politics, for instance, squeeze all peace from your spirit—sometimes that sacrament is clear, obvious.

And beautiful.

Like when your memory of a kinglet seems to summon one, and you and your son watch grace flit freely above your heads.


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).


10/23 2020

INSIDE THE PTS CURRICULUM: Planting and Leading New Faith Communities

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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: “Planting and Leading New Faith Communities.”

Scott Hagley planting and leading new faith communities

About Planting and Leading New Faith Communities

During this term, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary students will be learning about church planting with Dr. Scott Hagley in the class “Planting and Leading New Faith Communities.” This course is required for students in the Master of Divinity (MDiv) with Emphasis in Church Planting program, and it is open to all students in the Master of Divinity (MDiv), Master in Pastoral Studies (MAPS), and Master of Theology (MTS) degree programs.

In this course, students will adopt a biblically/theologically rooted approach to planting mission-shaped churches. They will be formed as church planting leaders able to cultivate these new mission-shaped Christian communities in specific contexts. Students will develop the capacity to be theologically reflective leaders from within concrete personal and communal postures, habits, and skills of initiating and leading the formation of new Christian communities. To these ends, students will engage in interpretation and imagination of particular contexts, reflect on their vocation, grow in their leadership capacities, and develop spiritual habits of discernment.

Assignments include weekly reflections based on required readings and an important final project. This project will ultimately represent a proposal for a new faith community and will include a rule of life, neighborhood report, and experience in the context. The five required texts are The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods by Peter Block and John McKnight; Missional. Monastic. Mainline: A Guide to Starting Missional MicroCommunities in Historically Mainline Traditions by Elaine Heath and Larry Duggins; The Pentecost Paradigm: Ten Strategies for Becoming a Multiracial Congregation by Jacqueline L. Lewis and John Janka; Brian Bantum’s The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World; and Christopher James’ Church Planting in Post-Christian Soil.


About the Instructor

Dr. Scott Hagley is associate professor of missiology and joined the Pittsburgh Seminary faculty in 2015. He received a B.A. in youth ministry and communication from Bethel University, an M.Div. from Regent College, and a Ph.D. (with distinction) in congregational mission and leadership from Luther Seminary. He has served as director of education at Forge Canada in Surrey, British Columbia, where he worked to develop curriculum for the formation of missional leaders in hubs across Canada. He also served as teaching pastor at Southside Community Church, a multi-site church in the Vancouver metro area organized around neighborhood-based missional communities. Dr. Hagley has  taught courses at Augsburg College, Rochester College, Bethel University, and Luther Seminary, and previously he was a consultant and researcher with Church Innovations Institute. He has lectured at denominational meetings and retreats on topics such as missional communities, faith, and spiritual formation. His most recent book is Eat What is Set Before You: A Missiology of the Congregation in Context.


10/20 2020

Chapel: the Seminary’s Playground

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The child would not sleep. She was scared to be alone, scared of the dark, scared to miss out. Yet, every time I would babysit her, she wanted to play “bedtime.” I would tuck her in; she would tuck me in; we would fake snore and “wake up” giggling. When it became a pattern, I mentioned this to her mother who replied, “yes, she is working something out.”

This story and the power of play come to mind as I reflect on the Worship Program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. As a third-year Master of Divinity student at the Seminary, I have had a chance to participate in numerous chapel services and have grown to see this space as the school’s playground—even virtual chapel in this season of pandemic.


Coming Together in Christ

The chapel is a place where students and staff gather together and experiment with new worship styles, revisit favorite liturgies, and address relevant topics. We play. We get our hands dirty. We work out the heavy theological readings and lectures that form our course load. Sometimes, we step on each other’s toes in the process. But we learn from that how to work humbly and ecumenically with Christ remaining at the center.

Because, here is the thing about any playground, there’s no room for hierarchy. Whether the people in attendance are students from the Master of Divinity, Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies, Master of Theological Studies, certificate, or Doctor Ministry programs, whether they are tenured or visiting professors or staff members, in this space, in this time, we are all equals. We are all children of God—in need of the Lord’s grace and salvation. We collectively are reminded that we are reconciled in Christ to God, and we get to practice this reconciliation with one another as well.


Sharing Love with the World

It is this regular practice and reminder that creates a space in the middle of a day full of classes, work, internships, and meetings. Just as recess is scheduled in elementary school as a way for students to play in order to focus better, chapel offers a chance for students to set aside their pending deadlines and daily stresses to remember why we are here and what we are all working towards: God’s call in our lives to share the Lord’s love in the world.

Here, I’m afraid, is where my analogy of the chapel as playground has run its course. Because, in reality, it is more than that. It is an opportunity to hear great preachers and learn how different denominations run their services. It is a space where you can see your professors, many of whom have real ministry experience, step into the pulpit and preside over the table. It is an opportunity see your classmates lead and look them in the eyes as they offer “Christ’s body broken for you and Christ’s blood shed for you.” It offers a space of comfort for students to gather in the wake of tragedy. It is challenging, and I do not claim that we do it perfectly here in Pittsburgh. However, I think the spirit of the student and staff leaders of the service encapsulate a sense of joy and experimentation. And that makes the journey edifying for all involved.


Rose Schrott is a Master of Divinity student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary with an interest in chaplaincy and spiritual writing. A Pittsburgh native, she is glad to be back in the city after graduating from Denison University in 2014 and working for several years in digital marketing.

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