Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

2/23 2012

Ministerial Formation – Outside the Classroom

As I write this, the PTS community is in the middle of finals week for Term II: the library is full, professors are giving and reading exams, and students are editing papers. All this work, we hope, will give us a clearer idea of what students have learned so far about the texts and traditions and practices of the Christian churches.

Yet, some of the most important learning in a seminary happens beyond any syllabus. Over the course of a master’s program, students also take on the task of discernment, learning to identify their particular gifts and where God might be preparing them to serve. They also take on the task of moving into new identities and roles, learning to relate to those they serve as “pastor” or “minister” rather than simply as “friend.” This is hard work. It can be lonely work. But it’s as necessary a part of preparation for ministry as anything that we’ll test on an exam this week. It prepares us to take the learning we do in classrooms into the work of ministry, as people capable of leading and learning.

I’m grateful for the Student Association’s work in creating ways for us to support each other in discernment and ministerial formation. They’ve invited the staff of Pittsburgh Pastoral Institute to offer three opportunities for student learning and discussion. The first, will be “Owning Your Call: Growing into Your Unique Pastoral Identity,” to help us reflect on our particular strengths for ministry. The second will be “Uncertainty and the Pastoral Role – What if I Don’t Have All the Answers?” to help us think about how we live out pastoral authority as human beings with a limit or two. The third session will be “A Sacred Trust: Boundaries in Pastoral Care,” to help us think through the issues of power and vulnerability involved when people open their lives to us.

These are just three examples of how PTS provides opportunities to gather with others in the community and supports ongoing discernment. And as we begin Lent, may God bless all of us with humility, hope, and fellowship to foster our growth in faith and service.

Deirdre King Hainsworth, Assistant Professor of Ethics and Director of the Center for Business, Religion and Public Life


12/1 2011

Preach Like a Girl!

When I arrived at PTS, like many of my peers, I was questioning my call to ministry. After all, I didn’t really have any pastor role models who were female. So what made me think that I could, or should, feel that I was called to pastoral ministry?

Thankfully, I have had some wonderfully affirming experiences at PTS! The homiletics course called Women’s Preaching Traditions as well as my most recent experience helping to lead worship with an all women chapel team, are two of these experiences.

The Women’s Preaching Traditions class gave me the opportunity to realize that women had a history of responding to their call to bring forth the message of Jesus Christ throughout history, not just recently. My classmates and I saw that women were able to speak with authority because their message delivered the Gospel in a way that it could be heard by marginalized groups, by those who needed to hear the message in a different light, or by those who understood that the messenger was not the message. We wrestled through “Texts of Terror” passages from Scripture where women were shown to be victims of terror. We contemplated how these messages could speak to current situations, and we noted important differences that women bring to the delivery of these messages. I particularly loved the camaraderie that was evident in this class. We had a running phrase “Preach like a girl” which captured the heart of what we were learning and also empowered us in owning our pastoral identities as women.

Working with ordained female pastors (the Rev. Cathy Purves ’97 and the Rev. Kimberly van Driel) to plan and lead chapel services for the first week of Advent provided another perspective on women in ministry. One thing that I noted was that these female ministers took specific steps to consider how music and readings would impact the congregation. They were both interested in how the message would be received if the congregation was overwhelmed by the exhaustion of a difficult song for example. They helped us to think theologically as we made decisions about the various parts of worship. I especially appreciated how they took special care that the logistics were in place to ensure that the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper would care for all, including those with special dietary needs. The level of thought that went into planning showed a compassion for those they serve in their own congregations.

I know that there are still many places where women are discouraged to participate in ordained pastoral ministry, but I have also seen and participated in opportunities where women’s voices have added a new dimension to proclaiming the Gospel message. Praise be to God for these valuable experiences that encourage me and my female peers! In the words of both the male and female students of the Women’s Preaching Traditions class, it is a good thing to be able to … Preach like a girl!

Kathy Shirey, Senior MDiv student


11/24 2011

Thanksgiving Meditation

For Those Who Are Persecuted

Psalm 25:2

 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.” 

This prayer of the Psalmist is not one that most of us have needed to pray, at least very often. However, this is a daily prayer for many who follow Jesus. It is a prayer of tiny minority Christian communities in overwhelmingly Muslim countries across North Africa and throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. It is a prayer of brothers and sisters in Christ under unfriendly Communist governments in China and Vietnam. It is the prayer of Christians who stand up for oppressed minorities in the Philippines, Myanmar, Columbia, Madagascar, and elsewhere.

There have been more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all of the centuries since the death of Jesus. I will never forget shaking the hand of a Nepali Christian who spent three years in prison for being baptized and counted it as nothing for the sake of knowing Jesus. Nor will I forget a conversation with a Sudanese believer who lost his wife and children when he decided to follow Jesus. On this Thanksgiving day, we indeed give thanks for our brothers and sisters around the world who risk so much in order to bear witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.

 Prayer: Lord God Almighty, provide for all who are persecuted for your name’s sake. Be their strength, grant them courage, embolden them in the Spirit, give them perseverance, and bless them with joy in the midst of suffering for the sake of Jesus. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Don Dawson, Director of the World Mission Initiative and New Wilmington Mission Conference

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