Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

1/25 2016

Reconciliation Through Social Work and Theology

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MDiv-MSW Program StudentI love making phone calls. I always jump at the chance to make phone calls to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary alums and friends. While talking with people on the phone, they always ask, “so, what degree program are you in?” As a graduate student, I get asked this question quite frequently. My answer, however, is unexpected and different from most seminarians. Not only am I getting a Master of Divinity from PTS, I am also getting a Master of Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh. Currently, I am in my third year at PTS and my first year at Pitt.

I initially decided to start the MDiv/MSW dual degree program because I want more practical knowledge and skills for pastoral care. I feel called to be a hospice chaplain, and I figured that completing the MDiv/MSW dual degree program would give me extra preparation for chaplaincy. I was surprised after I started both degree programs that social work and theology work well together. Completing both degrees has helped me to understand the world and myself in a different ways.

Through classes in both programs, I have learned what it means to serve “the least of these.” From classes at the Seminary like “Church and Society” and classes at Pitt like “Diverse Populations,” I’ve begun learning about the vast number of cultures and influences in different groups of people. I’ve learned about the need for cultural competence and understanding in ministry and social work practice. In ministry, it is essential to understand your own culture as well as the culture of the people you are working with.

The MDiv and MSW programs have led me to have a better theological understanding of Christ’s mission of reconciliation. In my “Diverse Populations” class, I learned about the different types of oppression people experience in the world. Being a part of Christ’s mission of reconciliation means breaking down systems of oppression in society and internalized oppression. The MDiv and MSW programs have forced me to step out of my comfort zone and see what personal biases I have and need to overcome. These programs have stretched me and encouraged me to work with people who experience oppression. Most of the clients I work with at my MSW internship are older adults who experience ageism and have a lack of resources. All of my field work in the MDiv and MSW programs continue to prepare me for working with a wide variety of populations.

Being a graduate student at two schools comes with a lot of stress and a heavy course load. Many people have asked me, “is it all worth it?” I personally believe that getting these two degrees is worth it. Just in this short amount of time, I have learned so much about theology and how it applies to everyday life. I have learned concrete skills and techniques that can help me be a part of Christ’s mission of reconciliation. Whether I am a chaplain or social work practitioner, I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to learn so much about God, the world, and myself.

Annamarie Groenenboom is a senior MDiv/MSW student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work. She is a Hartford Fellow at Pitt and focuses on gerontology. She is completing her internship at Harmar Village Care Center and looks forward to using her joint degree to be a hospice chaplain. When not studying she likes to spend time with her husband, read Harry Potter, and crochet.

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