Nearly a year into her role as director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, the Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston is finding her stride.
A Pittsburgh native, she came to the Seminary in January 2023 after 20 years serving as an ordained Presbyterian pastor, most recently at Community PC of Ben Avon from 2013 to 2023. Donna has a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University with expertise in homiletics and liturgics, practical theology, feminist scholarship, and theological education, and is also a teacher and writer. Still, her primary identity has always been as a pastor.
“Certainly, I’ve missed being a pastor,” Donna says, reflecting on her first year at the Seminary. “But I feel as if this is where God is leading me in this chapter of my life. I have really appreciated how my sense of vocation has come full circle. In this position I am able to use my academic interests, and lean into my pastoral identity as well.”
The position allows her to be “a pastor to pastors,” she says, helping them not only with their doctor of ministry projects but also in their life and ministry. After spending the spring and summer visiting with students in all of the PTS D.Min. focus areas, the relationships Donna has built with the Seminary’s 126 D.Min. students has led to invigorating follow-up conversations.
Those visits have also helped her get to know the Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry Program better. Although Donna had some familiarity with the program, having taught as an adjunct, she admits it was a steep learning curve at first. She says:
“The challenge has been going into a really different job. I knew how to be a pastor, but I didn’t yet know how to be the director of a doctor of ministry program. So it was a lot of asking questions. I have a very good staff that were patient with me and helped me learn about things.”
Her first inquiry was about the D.Min. Program Handbook, which led to the discovery that it was in need of updating. So that was her first major project: revising the handbook so students, faculty, and staff, had more clarity about roles, responsibilities, and policies. Now “everybody’s looking at the same playbook to know how the Program runs. It seems like a small thing but it’s been really important,” says Donna.
Having gotten everyone on the same page, Donna has turned her attention to developing new focus areas for the Doctor of Ministry Program at PTS. Her guiding question is, “What don’t we have as a focus area that we should have?” She asks this of all potential D.Min. applicants she meets, primarily pastors and staff of churches. But Donna is also attending academic conferences to see what new, growing edges are being explored by contemporary scholars, and engaging in conversation with PTS faculty to see what interests they have.
Good Mission, Good People
In fact, her relationships across the PTS community bring her a lot of joy these days. Donna loves working here for two reasons: the people and the mission. She says:
“My great joy is always to work with people who are passionate about their work, intelligent, committed, fun colleagues to be with, and supportive of each other’s work. I’ve certainly found those things here, and that’s what I really love about this place.
“And I love the mission of the Seminary: to equip and form leaders for participating in God’s mission in the world. It’s not just printed on a sign, but people really believe it and are committed to it. If you have a good mission and good people you can do anything!”
A Scholar with Many Interests
Donna’s joy and passion for leading others in ministry shows not only in her Seminary work, but also in her writing. She is the author of Claiming the Call to Preach: Four Female Pioneers of Preaching in Nineteenth Century America; Writing for the Ear, Preaching from the Heart; and co-author of For Every Matter Under Heaven: Preaching for Special Occasions. She has also written many published journal articles and book reviews.
But it’s not all work for Donna. She also creates time for rest and renewal, whether it’s reading a book in solitude, traveling, playing with her rescue dog, Sadie, or riding a bicycle alongside her spouse, Brian, a middle school teacher and administrator. They support each other in their respective work and are proud of their adult children, Rebecca and Christian, as they pursue their particular vocational callings.
Pittsburgh Seminary is blessed that Donna has been called to be “a pastor to pastors” here for this season of her ministry. With a good mission, and good people like Donna Giver-Johnston, anything is possible!
Interested in the Doctor of Ministry program at PTS? Learn more and apply: www.pts.edu/doctor-of-ministry