Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

1/19 2016

Non-Traditional Ministry: Preaching in a Nursing Home

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Nursing-home-chaplaincy-quoteAfter graduating with my M.Div./MSW from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 2005 I was excited to see how I would use both degrees. I discovered that my passion and degrees aligned in continuing care/nursing home chaplaincy. The ministry for which my M.Div. prepared me theologically coupled with the skills gained through my masters in social work program was a perfect fit. I spent the next five years engaged in ministry that shocked, excited, frustrated, and empowered me. And I saw God at work in powerful ways in the staff and residents of my community.

Preaching in non-traditional locations, like nursing homes, prisons, hospitals, and businesses, gives pastors two different opportunities. If you are called in as a virtual stranger to offer a message to virtual strangers, you are called to offer hope from outside of their normal daily routine. But if you are the pastor/chaplain who is present daily, preaching becomes like breathing to your congregation. It is a natural outpouring of the week and time you have spent together.

I spent the first year of my ministry trying to fit traditional preaching into my time at the continuing care community. I led three-five worship services a week. These worship services ranged from a memory support service to a service with our independent living residents weekly. Learning as I had in seminary that preaching was the most important part of worship, I spent time researching and writing as I was taught. But the more involved I became in the life of the residents and staff, I realized something was changing.

As I spent eight hours a day five-seven days a week in our residents homes, apartments, and rooms my ministry began to radically change. I began to understand that I was sharing the word of God with people constantly. I began to see that my presence reminded those who often feel forgotten that God loves us no matter what. It became clear to me that preaching was happening every moment of every day-in each family meeting, staff meeting, visit, and worship service. Preaching was not an isolated event that happened three-five times per week. Preaching occurred constantly and our times of worship were all of us gathering together and remembering all the ways God had been faithful to us throughout the week. The words I preached each week, were reminders of God’s faithfulness and a call to do it all again, together.

So, my preaching and worship preparation changed. I began to understand that spending hours in my office preparing was not a faithful use of my time. I needed to be out, with the residents and staff. I still was faithful in my preaching, I still spent time, but not in the manner that was prescribed to me in seminary. I read to them from the children’s Bible. I told them the stories they loved and needed to hear. I met them exactly where they were, and I knew that place so well, because I worked to engage all the staff and residents daily.

Non-traditional ministries and locations often allow pastors to engage with their congregations more often and more intimately. This provides for an exciting opportunity to share the gospel and sermons in a more personal way.

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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11/11 2015

Counseling Through Spiritually Integrated Treatment

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theology and mental health counselingShannon is having sleepless nights, is short with her kids, and has even scared herself from time to time as thoughts of suicide have floated across the landscape of her mind. As a minister in a respectable denomination, she realizes that the words of grace and pardon she proclaims week after week don’t seem to penetrate her own soul even as she hopes them for her beloved sheep.

Michael is in a 12-step program where he is trying to “fake it until he makes it” and is working diligently to change his “people, places, and things”. But try as he might, he can’t quite believe in the higher power that is supposed to be keeping him sober. That higher power of his youth, that pie in the sky Santa Clause figure with a disapproving glare who rains on the just and who has let him down one too many times. Like that time that his father left his mother to raise three small children on her own in spite of Michael’s desperate, but futile, cries to God that his father would return. Michael believes that his very sobriety depends on an embrace of that God and yet he finds himself no longer able to go there.

These people are fabricated in my mind. Or more accurately said, they are bits and pieces of the 100 different people who grace the halls of the Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute (PPI) every day, wrestling with the very place that theology and mental health meet. People often ask us what “spiritually integrated treatment” means. They wonder what PPI does that is unique from secular or Christian counseling. It’s a terribly challenging question but one that I believe finds its focus in the dual MDiv/MSW degree program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work from which I (and many of the other therapists at PPI) have proudly graduated.

Through my seminary education, I learned how individuals construct their understanding of God even as my own thinking about God was challenged to be bigger and more expansive than I previously knew possible. Seminary grounded me deeper in my sacred tradition and deepened the value I place on the power of ritual even as I learned to embrace the traditions and rituals of others. My social work education taught me how our lives are lived in systems, how change comes about in the human psyche, and how human services can function as agents of grace in the world in ways that most churches currently only dream about. The unique coupling of these disciplines creates therapists and practitioners like myself who can journey with people from despair to hope as they weave in and out of the personal and conceptual landscapes of life, and family and sacred community, and faith and social action, and responsibility and connectedness.

People of all colors and stripes, with a vast variety of faith orientations, bring their journeys of brokenness and resiliency, faith and fear, desperation and hope, to the Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute. This is spiritually integrated treatment. Thanks be to the joint MDiv/MSW degree program for equipping me so well to live out this call to the world.

Michelle Snyder, LCSW is a 2009 graduate of the joint MDiv/MSW degree at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. She currently serves as executive director at Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute and oversees The Center for Clergy and Congregational Care.

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10/28 2015

Prayer in the Community

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thank-you-prayerAll the preparation of an M.Div./MSW equips you for ministry in the community. Ministry and particularly prayer in the community are, at times, difficult. Often we spend more of our time in preparation for community prayer worrying about who we will offend, instead of praying to the God who unites us.

In all Christian mainline denominations communal prayer is a regular part of our worship. Some communities might offer prayers of repentance and confession, others offer prayers of the people (or supplication), and others say the Lord ’s Prayer each and every week. We are taught in church that praying together, in community, is important. Depending upon denomination, culture, or area of the country, praying together can last three minutes or one hour. Regardless, that joining together, uniting our voices, listening for God together, is critical to the life of the church and to our own personal life in Christ.

It allows us to remember that faith is not mine or yours, but a gift of God in Jesus Christ. Faith is not something that I choose, but over and over again God chooses me. I have learned that most about praying in the community by being a parent. When our son was born six years ago, we knew we wanted to pray as a family, but had no idea how. We started by praying before meals and at bedtime. The desire of my husband and I was that our son, even at age 1, would be an active part of praying, not passively wondering what mommy and daddy were doing. So we pray by saying thank you. Our prayers are simply thank you God for . . . and we list the people we saw that day, the things we did, what we ate, and at the end of each prayer we say, “thank you for ___” and our son fills in the blank. As soon as he could talk, he started filling in this blank. Some days he is most thankful for trucks, snow, Skylanders, Legos, Grandma or Grandpa, or candy! We never know what he will say. But what we all do know is that we have something to be thankful for.

Ministry and prayer in the community reflects this time of prayer in my family. When I go to write prayers for worship or offer a prayer at a gathering I start and end with thanksgiving. The great God of all has given us the opportunity to be in conversation, what more can I say than THANK YOU?

So the next time you are wondering what in the world to say during a community prayer, say Thank You. The next time you are frustrated by prayers happening in your church or you lose track of what the preacher is praying about, say Thank You. The next time you are rolling your eyes at the idea of having to pray communally again, just say Thank You. And listen for what God says back.

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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