Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

4/7 2017

Palm Wednesday – How the Church Responds to Violence

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I am continually faced with my powerlessness over gun violence and its traumatic effect(s) upon me personally and the community in which I live. This past Wednesday afternoon, my four-year old daughter and I, heard around 10 gunshots as we stood near my bedroom window. This is the second time in two weeks that we both have heard gunshots while together at our house. My daughter has recently become accustomed to the “bang bangs” and she appeared excited that such noises were near her house. I have to ask myself, “How do I respond to my daughter’s acceptance of ‘bang bangs[1]’ in her life?” As a community leader, I have to ask, “How do I respond on behalf of my community that has heard and felt more ‘bang bangs’ then I ever will?”

The Humble Witness of Jesus

This past Wednesday, we celebrated the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey. I spoke about the ineffectiveness of military to produce the change of heart and mind that God requires. I proclaimed that the Kingship of Jesus is clothed in humility and that his Kingship is the very reign of God of heaven come down to earth. The day after our service, it struck me—the humble witness of Jesus is just as applicable to my community as it was to that of Jesus. The Roman occupation of Israel was secured through its military strength and it was keen to use it to maintain control. The frustration of being an occupied people often led to revolts and it became apparent that violence would not produce the Peaceable Kingdom (Hauerwas) spoken about by the prophets. My community appears “occupied” by various powers ranging from a dominant street gang to police departments taking on a more militarized approach. The evidence of the occupation of our community is the prevalence of “bang bangs.”

Forgiveness of Sins

As we gathered for worship a few hours after a young man and his pregnant girlfriend were shot, singing of the Kingship of Jesus has a strange power. I was led to shift my focus from the violence around me, to the brokenness within me, as I sang, “Heal my heart and make it clean, open up my eyes to the things unseen, show me how to love like You have loved me” (Hillsong United, Hosanna). As I broke the body of Christ in Holy Communion, I broke it on behalf of our broken community. As I presented the cup of the blood of Christ, I presented a solution to the “bang bangs,” forgiveness of sins that leads to reconciliation between God and humanity and humanity within itself. I became aware of the true occupation of our community, the Kingdom of God breaking through. This reign of God was witnessed through a small group of people whose praises filled the air and whose hearts were at peace with God and each other.

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor 10:4, NIV).

If you’re interested in learning more about how churches can prevent gun violence in their communities, download the Seminary’s Gun Violence Resource Kit, written in partnership with Allegheny County Health Department, Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network.

The Rev. Keith Kaufold ’07/’12 is the lead pastor of a circuit that includes United Methodist Churches in West Homestead, Swissvale, and Millville; pastor of Community United Methodist Church in Aspinwall; and founding pastor of Eighth Avenue Place—a church plant and Christian community that confronts the ignorance that perpetuates racism and lives and ministers together in the name of Jesus Christ. Keith is currently enrolled in the master’s in social work program at California University of Pennsylvania.

[1] The term I use with my daughters to describe gunshots.


6/29 2016

Pastoral Care and Counseling to Navigate Social Services

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tips for pastors to help congregants navigate social servicesAs clergy, we find that we are constantly asked to be experts at tasks and we’re unprepared—plumber, roofer, fundraiser, cleaner, social media expert, copier repair person, barista. Tasks we spend years preparing for in seminary revolve around divinity and theology. Tasks many of us hope we are prepared for revolve around care and counseling. Theology and counseling. We desperately want to make a difference as pastors. We are called by God to spend our lives and our careers telling people about the love of Jesus Christ. It just so happens that nearly all of the people we tell are hurting. And we desperately want to pour ourselves into fixing that hurt.

Pastoral Care

There is a difference between pastoral care and counseling. Pastoral care is walking with someone in their time of trial, hurt, or misfortune. Counseling is problem solving. Counselors have a care plan and a care team to make sure that they are meeting the goals of their plans with their clients. Counselors have brief relationships with clients. Counselors do not walk through life with their clients like pastors do.


Counseling is a brief (a few months or years) relationship with someone focused on a malady in their family system or their emotional state. Counseling is seeing tangible results. And it is incredible to see results. These are results that often evade us in parish ministry.

As a pastor and a counselor, I have found both relationships extremely rewarding, though they have remained separate. I have never been a counselor to a parishioner. The roles are so different. Breaking bread with someone, baptizing their children, being present as they die; this is the role of pastor. This is the honor of walking with someone in the ups and downs of daily life and proclaiming “God loves you!” “Jesus is here!”

As a pastor walking with congregation members, we naturally come in contact with a variety of social service systems. Hospitals, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, suicide hotlines, nursing homes, schools, child services, and the justice system to name a few. Because of our exposure, people oftentimes look to clergy as experts in a subject that we are learning to navigate ourselves. Here are some tips for congregation members as they navigate unknown social service systems.

Six tips to help your congregation members navigate social service systems:


1. Stay calm.

Most people encounter social service systems, whether for children, adults or the elderly in times of stress. If the person in need of the service is under great stress, is too young, or is ill, it is important that someone who can be calm stay a part of the conversation. You must be able to listen, not just hear what the services are saying.

2. Get a buddy.

Even the most competent social service employee will miss something in a conversation regarding a system. Bring someone along with you to your appointments; have someone with you when you register online. Don’t do it alone. You will miss something.

3. Take notes.

When meeting with a healthcare, financial, social security, or child welfare system, take notes. Date your notes. Document what you are to do next and what the system is to do next. Follow up if things are not acted upon as you expect.

4. Come with questions written down.

Spend three minutes before your appointment, discharge, etc. and list questions that you have. Write them down. When the doctor, social worker, or case manager asks, “Do you have any questions?” say “YES.” Everyone should have questions when heading into an unknown system or situation. If nothing else, ask for information on who to contact when you have questions after leaving the appointment/hospital.

5. Advocate.

Be your own advocate and advocate for your friends and loved ones. The only way we can advocate for one another is if we let each other into our health, financial, and social needs. Trust your neighbor, mother, child, or friend when they tell you something is wrong. And do everything you can to work out the problem with them.

6. Connect with a social worker.

Find a local social worker who can be on call for your congregations needs. Most congregations have a social worker who attends, or someone will have a connection. The social worker will be able to help congregation members navigate the systems.

The role of pastor is so unique. No counselor, social worker, or social service is invited into the fullness of life in the way pastors are. In this unique role it is important to know our limitations and lean on experts who can help us and our congregants navigate some of life’s most frustrating and frightening moments. It is part of the honor and responsibility of walking with others and pointing to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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.


6/13 2016

Theological Values of Social Work

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theology and social workThe theological values of social work can be summarized by two of my husband’s phrases, “God loves us no matter what” and “be a hard worker.”

God Loves Us No Matter What

Scripture tells us: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” Rom 8:38-39.

A social worker might say, “For I am convinced that neither hunger, nor thirst, nor mental illness, nor physical illness, nor abuse, nor homelessness, nor wealth, nor government, nor violence, nor poverty, nor injustice, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

In a nutshell social work is seeking justice for the “least of these.” It is working for change in social institutions that are decaying and unhelpful. It is working for change for children and the elderly. It is working for change for the abused. It is advocating. It is being nimble. It is listening.

The theological values of social work are actually quite simple—God love us no matter what.

Be a Hard Worker

Social workers actively live out this belief that God loves us no matter what. Believing that all human beings need to know, and deserve to know, that they are a beloved child of God.

What I most like about the term “social work” is the word WORK. That is absolutely part of the theology. That God wants us to work. Changing social norms, society, government, or the life of just one child takes an enormous amount of work. It takes time, dedication, knowledge, and wherewithal to get the job done.

Social workers are typically underpaid work horses. They are in the background of the story, receiving little to no glory for their hard work. But they do see results.

They get to see children succeeding in school, they get to see behavior management techniques working, they get to see adults discharged home from the hospital with the skills and care they need, they get to listen to couples and see reconciliation, they get to be in the tender moments of life, and they work to get beneficial results for all involved.

The Core Values

The National Association of Social Workers, of which I am a proud member, gives the following definition of the core values of social work:

The mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values. These core values, embraced by social workers throughout the profession’s history, are the foundation of social work’s unique purpose and perspective:

  • service,
  • social justice,
  • dignity and worth of the person,
  • importance of human relationships,
  • integrity, and
  • competence.

You can find more information on these core values and the NASW code of ethics at their website.

Social workers are hard workers. Social workers believe that all humans deserve dignity, service, justice, integrity, and competence. In theological terms, “God loves us no matter what.”

For more information on programs in social work and theology, visit the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary MDiv/MSW joint degree program page.

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.

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