Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

10/17 2019

What does church planting have to do with the refugee crisis?

church planting refugee crisis responseEven hundreds of miles from the coasts, here in Pittsburgh, we are hearing a lot about borders and walls, citizenship and belonging, laws and trespasses. There is anxiety in the air—who are we as a country, and what is our relationship to those who come across our borders? Who are “we” and who are “they” and how will we meet each other?


Respectable Sheep and Unruly Goats

Anxiety is something that faith communities know a lot about—particularly this question of who is in and who is out and what it means for our communities. In fact, unfortunately the church is famous for it. Misuse of Matthew 25:31-34 results in the (now vintage) Cake song’s poetic simplification, “Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell.” Somehow that simple statement comes with a clear imagination of who are the respectable sheep and who are the unruly goats. This misses, of course, that the distinction the text makes between sheep and goats is how they live, not where they were born or to whom they were born (see verse 35-41).


Church Planting and the Refugee Crisis

Church planting—that is gathering communities in newly imagined ways of Christian living—offers an interesting response to this tension. What if, instead of gathering as those who are “already” sheep, we gather around the “sheep-like” practices: giving food to the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned? Can we become sheep in those practices? What will this mean for the space where we meet each other? Well, it may be that we become the hungry in our sharing. We may gather together as strangers and share life with the underclad. We may get sick with germs from the sick, and we may even become imprisoned or count the incarcerated as our members.

In short, mixing it up with the world by starting outside of an established group of Christians, there are ways in which we might start to look like the world outside our boundaries. We might begin to resemble those we might feed or cloth or welcome or visit in prison. Which can feel pretty scary. But if you look back—that needy and scary world outside from Matthew 25—that world we might loathe to become is finally concluded to house the presence of the Christ we claim to serve. The same Christ we say we are trying to imitate.


The Rev. Karen Rohrer, M.Div. is the director of the Church Planting Initiative at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, founding co-pastor of Beacon Church in Philadelphia, Pa., and, as it turns out, a real Cake fan ever since they were cool 20 years ago.


10/16 2019

Inside the PTS Curriculum: Spiritual Formation

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 “Spiritual Formation.”

Roger Owens teaching spiritual formationAbout Spiritual Formation

During this term, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary students will be learning about spiritual formation with the Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens in the class “Spiritual Formation.” This two-part course is required for students in the Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree and Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies (MAPS) degree programs and open to students in the Master of Theology (MTS) degree program.

In this course students will be introduced to and practice a variety of spiritual disciplines, grounded in historic Christian spiritual traditions. Students will reflect on their own life of prayer, practice of vocational discernment, and begin developing the skills to lead communal spiritual practices.

Students who participate interestedly and actively, read all the materials, and complete assignments, by the end of the course will have a basic understanding of key themes in Christian spirituality and be able to relate those themes to their own lives of faith; have a practical familiarity with a number of spiritual disciplines and be able to incorporate some of those disciplines into their lives through the development of a rule of life; have experience with spiritual formation in small groups and be able to practice healthy small group process; and have an introductory knowledge of how to lead and teach spiritual practices.

Assignments include keeping a spiritual formation journal; completing a pastor/spiritual director interview; developing and keeping a rule of life; writing one paper and one book review; leading a spiritual practice; and in-class spiritual practices. Required reading includes Soul Feast, Newly Revised Edition: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, by Marjorie Thompson; Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church, by Barbara Holmes; We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People, by Gustavo Gutierrez; Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker Palmer; Abba, Give Me a Word: The Path of Spiritual Direction, by L. Roger Owens; and A Praying Congregation: The Art of Teaching Spiritual Practice, by Jane E. Vennard.

About the Instructor

The Rev. Dr. L. Roger Owens received his Ph.D. in theology from Duke University where he was awarded a Lilly Fellowship for the Formation of a Learned Clergy. Before that he completed his M.Div. at Duke Divinity School. As an undergraduate he studied philosophy and Bible/religion at Anderson University in Indiana. Owens is an ordained Elder in the North Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. In North Carolina he served both urban and rural churches for eight years as co-pastor with his wife before coming to PTS. His newest book is Threshold of Discovery: A Field Guide to Spirituality in Midlife (Church Publishing, 2019.) Owens serves on the faculty for the Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation, where he lectures on postmodern spirituality and traditions of Christian spirituality.


10/14 2019

What is a MAPS? God’s Directions Through an Aptly Named Degree

master of arts in pastoral studiesIn the 2004 classic National Treasure, main character Benjamin Gates discovers a secret invisible map on the back of a rather meaningful piece of paper, the Declaration of Independence.

At Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the meaningful piece of paper that is the Master of Arts in Pastoral Studies, or MAPS, degree may likewise contain a hidden map. We just haven’t seen anyone take the time to look for one yet!

More than just an amusing (and perhaps illuminating?) acronym, the master of arts (MAPS) degree at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is a two-year, flexible graduate degree program that prepares students for leadership in various ministry settings.

What is the MAPS degree?

Across these two years of study, students in the MAPS program will complete 48 course credits, participate in a year-long field education experience, and complete a degree-specific integrative final project. This master of arts degree offers a grounding in core disciplines mixed with the flexibility of electives that fit one’s interests.

Students in the MAPS program will blend study of Scripture, Christian history, and theology—forming a unique understanding of Christian ministry. Through field education, students will learn to exegete and interpret various contexts as the location of God’s mission, right here in the Pittsburgh area. The integrative final project will ask students to draw from completed coursework in a way that supports their ministerial/vocational objectives.

The MAPS degree at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary can lead students to any number of vocational placements—from pastoral ministry to chaplaincy to religious education to faith-based, non-profit work.

What can I do with a master or arts degree?

Students can also earn the Graduate Certificate in Urban Ministry concurrently with their MAPS degree studies. Merit and need-based financial aid are available.

Dr. Leanna Fuller, associate professor of pastoral care, expresses, “The MAPS program is an excellent choice for students who wish to combine the fundamentals of theological education with the flexibility to pursue ministry courses that suit their particular interests.”

In National Treasure, Gates follows his gut and an invisible map to find a hidden wealth. The MAPS we offer at PTS may not lead to a hidden treasure, but perhaps it is the direction in which God is calling you. Let PTS and the MAPS degree help you along your journey in discerning who God is calling you to be and what God is calling you to do.


Chris Taylor, MDiv ’19 and admissions counselor, shares about the master of arts in pastoral studies (MAPS) degree at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He first came to Seminary as a teen in the Miller Summer Youth Institute. After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 2015, Chris spent a summer in Acadia National Park and served as a youth director in Raleigh before moving back to his hometown of Pittsburgh to attend PTS. Chris has also been serving at Parkwood Presbyterian Church in Allison Park since 2017. You can often catch Chris watching Pittsburgh sports, Carolina basketball, reading a good book, or exploring the outdoors.

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