I began my graduate studies as a student of the University of Pittsburgh working to receive my masters of social work (MSW). The course work was practical problem solving for those with mental health, social, and justice issues. It was exciting to be learning about how government programs work and how to best serve those with mental illness.
I was fascinated by my classes in cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. I could not get enough. In my second semester I was required to do my first internship. I began working as an in-home family therapist. It was wonderful work, coming alongside a child, and therefore a family, to offer services to better the life of the family and child.
In this work I got to travel all around the city of Pittsburgh. I worked with families that were very affluent and some that were the poorest of the poor. In all of it, my education, matched with outstanding supervisors, gave me the confidence to enter any situation, face it, and do my best to improve the lives of those I was working with and for.
As I entered my second year of graduate school, a more intense internship was required. I began working at a step-down program for children and youth exiting the psychiatric hospital and slowly transitioning back to school. There I had to apply what I was learning in a completely different way.
Suddenly, I was faced with children and families who were experiencing trauma that I could not imagine in my worst nightmares. During a therapy session with one such child he asked me, “Does Jesus want me to forgive my auntie who hurt me? My pastor said on Sunday that we should forgive everyone. Is God mad at me?”
And with that one therapy session I realized I needed way more than the training I was receiving in my MSW. Clinically, I could answer that question with a question, “What do you think Jesus would say to someone like you?”
Theologically, I was not ready to proceed. And I could not proceed. Working in a large conglomerate system does not allow for personal religious beliefs and frankly, neither does therapy. It is about working out the problems of the client and helping the client achieve mental health. For this young man, I can say that I did the best I possibly could. We worked on his problems and my hope is that he is a well-adjusted man today.
But personally, I knew I had to go back to the drawing board. My MSW was not enough. I needed a theological education that would provide a foundation for all of my practical and theoretical knowledge. And that is why I then began attending Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, earning my MDiv through the PTS/Pitt joint degree program. I graduated with both degrees in 2005 and have found the mixture of practical and theoretical knowledge perfectly supported by my theological education.
Being able to see the world and the great, tragic problems of the world, through the lens of my theological education gives me great eschatological hope. And great practical hope. The lens through which I understand God and our human interactions with God does not get clearer every day, if anything it gets foggier. But having both an MSW and an MDiv allows me a clarity that one alone did not.
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.