Seminary: that’s for pastors, right? Well, yes and no. Seminaries and theological schools are training grounds for those called to Christian ministry in a local church context. But a theological education can add value to many other vocational pursuits.
People choose to attend seminary for a variety of reasons: to apply theological knowledge to their current vocation, to pursue Christian ministry in non-traditional settings, to launch nonprofit organizations, or to prepare for Ph.D. studies and a career in higher education. Here are a few examples of PTS students or alumnae/i who used their graduate education in unique and exciting ways.
Spiritual Direction: Leanna Lake
Prior to coming to PTS, Leanna Lake ’21 was already beginning to provide spiritual direction. But sensing a need for theological education to build a stronger foundation for her ministry, she enrolled in the Master of Theological Studies program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. This program gave her additional confidence and knowledge to apply to her work of spiritual direction.
“Before seminary, I was intimidated by the Old Testament,” Leanna admits, “but it has become my favorite subject to study. It has opened up a new world of meaning for me as I read Scripture.” She also marvels at how much she has learned about church history, theology, and writing. She was able to pull all this learning together in her thesis, which developed a practical theology based on the integration of mind, body, and spirit in ministry.
Leanna is currently an associate member at the West Virginia Institute of Spirituality, an ecumenical retreat center, where she leads retreats and provides spiritual direction. One of her next vocational steps will be to connect to more retreat centers to provide holistic ministry to more people.
Media: Porsha Williams Gates
The Rev. Porsha Williams Gates first attended seminary to explore a possible vocation in ministry. After receiving her M.Div. elsewhere, Porsha dreamed of Ph.D. level study of the theological perspectives of authors like Toni Morrison and James Baldwin—a Ph.D. program which didn’t seem to exist. So instead, she followed other passions, serving as an ordained Baptist minister in youth ministry and parish settings.
During her six years in full-time ministry, Porsha began asking: Who gets to preach? Who is allowed to share the Word? This reimagined pulpit, one that would amplify the sounds of humanity, started as a podcast and developed into Porshanality Media. Now featuring podcasts like Womanist Salon and Say it Out Loud, the company is a seedbed of creativity, art, and public theology.
Her work has been enhanced by her studies in Pittsburgh Seminary’s D.Min. in creative writing and public theology cohort. “This program is the perfect fit,” she explains. “It combines my loves of literature, writing, and theology—and it also marries so well to my work with Porshanality Media.”
Writing and Editing: Jon Mathieu ’21 and Rose Schrott Taylor ‘21
Two Pittsburgh Seminary graduates have recently been hired as editors at major Christian publications. Rose Schrott Taylor ‘21 is the interim associate editor at The Presbyterian Outlook, and Jon Mathieu ‘21 is the community engagement editor at The Christian Century.
Rose shares the following about her PTS degree:
“I originally chose to go to seminary because I wanted to create spaces and opportunities for people to make sense of the world within the framework I hold as central to my being: Christianity. In other words, I wanted a job like the one I have now. But I knew I needed more theological tools in my tool belt to be prepared for a job like this one.
“I use my M.Div. every day as I help to create content and resources for The Presbyterian Outlook’s audience of pastors, lay leaders, theological thinkers and spiritual thinkers. My time at PTS helped me to better understand the challenges facing the church and pastors so that I can serve this population through the editorial topics we choose, the writers we recruit, and the resources we create.”
Jon offers this advice to aspiring religious and theological writers:
“For those who desire to write or edit in a Christian context, I think that Pittsburgh Seminary specifically offers excellent opportunities to develop the skills necessary for this kind of work. PTS is very intentional about nurturing all its students’ writing abilities at the Center for Writing and Learning Support.
“In addition, with several faculty and staff who are expert writers, it’s possible to further hone your skills in independent or guided studies. I did this in a course called ‘Reading and Writing the Spiritual Life’ with Dr. Roger Owens. PTS even periodically offers a Doctor of Ministry program in creative writing and public theology. I never would have become the community engagement editor at the Christian Century without the connections, training, and practice I received in the M.Div. program at PTS.”
Secondary Education: Jodie Moore and Tom Johnson
“Why don’t we just start a school?”
As Josephine (Jodie) Moore ’96 puts it, “those were seven pretty outrageous words, but we never considered that we couldn’t.”
In September 2001, she and Thomas (Tom) Johnson ’93 partnered to launch The Neighborhood Academy. What began as 15 students in a renovated laundromat has now grown to a beautiful campus with more than 100 students in grades 8-12.
The students attend daily worship, eat three meals, receive seven hours of instruction, participate in after-school activities, are supported by individual and group counseling, and benefit from college prep and financial literacy seminars to ensure that they break the generational cycle of poverty.
“My seminary education was the catalyst for expanding my sense of God and God’s being at work in the world,” says Tom. “I know that the community at the Neighborhood Academcy—the kids, adults, and families—is created and called forth by God.”
Jodie says of her time at PTS: “Without my theological training, I couldn’t have led Bible study or found the theological voice within myself to explain my call. I also received from the faculty the emotional and psychological support I needed to pursue this type of ministry.”
Jodie and Tom have both since moved on from The Neighborhood Academy. However, their legacy persists as the school continues to grow and thrive. Jodie currently serves on the Seminary’s Board of Directors.
Higher Education: Michael Spezio, Patricia Sharbaugh
Pittsburgh Seminary has a rich tradition of preparing students for a vocation of teaching in higher education. Two prominent and completely different examples are Patricia Sharbaugh ’99 and Michael Spezio ’96.
Dr. Patricia Sharbaugh is an associate professor of biblical theology at Saint Vincent College, where she has taught since 2006. In addition to her M.Div. from PTS, she holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Duquesne University. Patricia specializes in the field of biblical theology. She engages in theological questions with a critical study of Scripture, systematic theology, and contemporary theological themes. In addition to teaching at St. Vincent, she is frequently an instructor or presenter at academic conferences and local faith communities.
After obtaining his M.Div. at PTS with a concentration in Christian ethics, Dr. Michael Spezio completed his Ph.D. in cognitive/systems neuroscience at the University of Oregon’s Institute of Neuroscience. Since 2007, he has taught psychology and neuroscience at Scripps College (California). His research focuses on how the brain makes complex decisions about other people, providing new understanding about virtue and moral decision making. His teaching spans many aspects of neuroscience and psychology, including research methods, EEG and MRI/fMRI analysis, data science ethics, depression, and the autism spectrum.
How could a seminary education benefit your work?
There are so many possibilities! Over the years we’ve welcomed lawyers, nonprofit leaders, writers and speakers, teachers, business leaders, and others into our classrooms. Did you know that Fred Rogers attended Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in the early years of his children’s television programming? He attended on lunch breaks over eight years, and eventually became an ordained Presbyterian minister, as he continued his ministry through Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Sounds great! How do I apply?
Visit www.pts.edu/How_to_Apply to start your application! We can’t wait to speak with you!