Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

12/20 2019

Sharing a Birthday with Jesus

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A campus landmark at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary is known as the “free table.” Here, one can explore an ever-changing collection of  items searching for a new home – a package of unused file folders, a rice cooker that didn’t quite make the move with a recent graduate, and, most commonly, a stack of books. As a Master of Divinity student here, this table was one of my favorite places because you never knew what you were going to get.


Christmas Is Not Your Birthday

Take one of my all-time greatest finds: Mike Slaughter’s Christmas Is Not Your Birthday. Sandwiched between a stack of home decor magazines and a set of plastic bowls, it caught my attention and I decided to bring it back to my bookshelf – not as a challenge to the consumeristic ritual of the holidays but because of the book’s ironic title. You see, Christmas actually is my birthday, and I could not pass up the novelty of owning a book that tries to tell me otherwise.

Christmas is, of course, as much about giving as it is receiving. However, Christmas has largely been about sharing for me. Since I was a child, Christmas has meant opening gifts alongside my siblings, giving gifts to other people, and, naturally, sharing the birthday limelight with this guy named Jesus. Over the years, I’ve shared my birthday as gracefully as I could, but ultimately it feels at times like I’ve been cheated of a the birthday experience that so many others have – a day that is all about me.


Sharing Birthdays with Jesus

In my three years as a student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, I didn’t necessarily learn how to be better at this sharing with Jesus, in large part because the Seminary doesn’t need to teach this. Seminary taught me instead that sharing my birthday with Jesus is about more than each of us blowing out candles on our respective cakes. Christmas, and my birthday, are a recognition of Jesus’ humanity. Just as I was born into this world, so was Jesus. Just as I have grown and experienced the wide range of human emotion, stubbed my toe, gotten bad haircuts, and been at a loss for words (for better or for worse), so has Jesus. Not only have I participated in community and been privy to the realities of this beautiful, broken, lovely, and all too human word, so has Jesus.


In the chaos of Advent and Christmas, sharing a birthday with Jesus is a stark reminder that we all share, regardless of when your birthday may be, in the incarnate life that our God takes in Jesus Christ.

Christmas is my birthday, contrary to what any book title may say. But just as importantly it is an opportunity for all of us to remember that the God we love breaks into the cosmos in our likeness through Jesus Christ. God meets us in our particularity because, above all else, God wants to know us and be known by us. Thanks be to God for the gift of life, the gift of the incarnation, and the gift of each other, no matter the day of the year.


Chris Taylor, MDiv ’19 and admissions counselor, 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.


12/6 2019

What Doctor of Ministry Focus is Right For Me?

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doctor of ministry grads

Members of the DMin Class of 2019


What Doctor of Ministry Focus area at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary makes the most sense for you?

One of the distinctive features of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Pittsburgh Seminary is the variety of different focus areas.

Passion, purpose, and plan are three important elements in determining the best DMin focus area for you.

First and most important, passion: What is your passion? What makes you come alive? What would you love to study and learn? Which focus area draws you most deeply?

Purpose matters too: Why are you returning for more study? Who and what do you hope this study will serve? Which focus area will best serve that purpose?

Finally, plan: How does Doctor of Ministry study fit into the trajectory of your call to ministry? What do you plan to do with what you study? How will it further the ministry to which God calls you? Which focus area best fits the plans you see unfolding before you?

Choices are wonderful, but choices can also be vexing. We hope this shorthand guide to our current DMin focus areas will help in your choosing.


Parish Focus

The Parish Focus is the most steady workhorse of the DMin Program, providing an opportunity for parish pastors to join colleagues in diving deeply into the challenges, questions, and opportunities of parish ministry. In years past, the Parish Focus was largely a re-immersion in the traditional areas taught in a the MDiv curriculum: worship, pastoral care, preaching, education, contextual analysis.

We’ve changed this focus up a bit lately, and are now orienting the Parish Focus around specific themes that are important in pastoral ministry today. Risking Faithfully is the theme for the current focus. In the Risking Faithfully cohort we are asking the question of what it means to lead congregations to take faithful risks on behalf of the gospel. We are exploring risk with an eye to changing culture and to the wonderful diversity of Christian community. Possible future themes include pastoral care and trauma, leading communities in the midst of political polarization, and nurturing scriptural interpretation as an act of the community.


Missional Leadership

In the Missional Leadership Focus we explore ministry as an invitation to engage the work God is already doing in the world—work that often takes place beyond the congregation. It is a wonderful focus for pastors who are seeking to discover how their faith communities can engage the local neighborhood and larger community in its present form, rather than in the form that community may have taken in earlier days. By cultivating skills in group discernment, appreciative inquiry, contextual analysis, and biblical interpretation in community, students discover pathways for new imagination in and with their congregations and ministries.


Christian Spirituality

The Christian Spirituality Focus encourages participants to explore the depth and breadth of Christian Spirituality across time periods, cultures, and contexts, and equips students with key skills to help them nurture their communities to be increasingly open to the Spirit of God moving in their midst and to engage the work God is doing in the world God so loves. Cohort participants are encouraged to deepen their own lives of prayer and practice as a necessary first step in leading the communities they serve. Christian Spirituality students also have the opportunity to receive a certificate in either Spiritual Direction in Ministry or Leading Spiritual Formation.


Reformed Theology

In collaboration with New College at University of Edinburgh in Scotland, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary offers a focus in Reformed theology. This is an opportunity to take a deep dive into classic and contemporary Reformed theological texts with an eye to how Reformed theology speaks to life in the world today. Three of the two-week course sessions will take place in Edinburgh and two in Pittsburgh, with students from both schools participating throughout. Topics include hospitality in ecumenical and interfaith encounters, the challenge of faithful presence in volatile political climates, and how historical, social, and cultural dynamics shape and are shaped by theological reflection.


Eastern Christian

In The Orthodox Way, Bishop Kallistos Ware explains, “We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.” Through a collaboration with the Antiochean House of Studies, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary offers a Doctor of Ministry focus on Eastern Christian studies, inviting participants into learning, reflection, and deepening of pastoral practices within the traditions of Eastern Christianity. Most of the students are Eastern Orthodox priests, but this focus also offers ministers in other traditions the opportunity to be formed in the liturgy and learning of the Eastern tradition, with its awe for the mystery, beauty, and wonder of God at its center.


Science and Theology

The Science and Theology Focus provides space for a conversation between the narratives of science and the narratives of faith. Engaging questions of nature, biology, cosmology, technology, and neuroscience, this focus is intended to create opportunities for conversations between scientists and theologians by creating a community of students and scholars who have interests, and often training, in both areas. These conversations provide rich material for ministry in and among people who encounter the demands and promises of science and technology in our world.

Visit the Seminary’s website to learn more about these focus areas, start dates, and financial aid.


The Rev. Dr. Denise Thorpe serves as Pittsburgh Seminary’s interim director of the Doctor of Ministry Program. New cohorts typically begin in January and June each year and focus on a number of topics including Christian spirituality, parish ministry, and science and theology. Financial aid may be available for those who qualify. Learn more about the Doctor of Ministry Program at Pittsburgh Seminary.


11/27 2019

Located Leadership: Church Planting as a Lady Pastor

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church planting woman clerical shirt

These snazzy numbers are available at: https://www.kingdom.com/women-s-long-sleeve-clergy-shirt.html


Have you ever tried to find a clerical shirt made for a woman? A quick Google search will inform you that the selection is sparse—and expensive. Perhaps the picture above offers a promising option? Sometimes it feels like conversations and literature about “leadership” fit about as well as those two poly blend shirts look like they fit me their wearers (or any other human woman). Like maybe if I borrowed my dad’s briefcase from the 90s and laced up his men’s size 16 (truly) wingtips, I’d look like what we all imagine a leader to be. Or perhaps in another tradition I’d need a beard, a flannel, and some tight jeans.


But these are not really looks I can authentically bring to the table—so what does it look like to be the person I am and to lead?


I can’t speak for all women (nor should I), but I can say that church planting—that is, gathering communities in newly imagined ways of Christian living—has a unique way of allowing the leaders to lead as themselves. It turns out, there are plenty of pastors who look like my dad in his wingtips with his briefcase. They have reached the folks who are looking for that. So too with flannel and beards and tight jeans. But every time I mention at a coffee shop or on a plane that I am a pastor, people have questions.


Church Planting and Listening First

Indeed, it was almost accidentally I learned that leading as myself meant leading from a posture of listening first. I heard their questions, and it turned out I didn’t always have the answers. So I started with hearing the questions and letting them be—I started with listening and being with. From there, it seemed natural to confess the truth of who I am, who the church is and has been, and confess that we don’t have all the answers we have long claimed to have. Perhaps it’s a funny way to be a leader, but in an uncertain world, I have found that for me, and for many others, gathering to live those simple practices—listening, confessing, and being with—has allowed church to spring up in all kinds of surprising places.  And that is pretty much what church planting is.


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, is in deed, a lady pastor.

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