Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

8/1 2014

Ministry: At the Heart of Administration

Sunset over the open road

Traveling from Pittsburgh, Helen Blier returned to her first love in ministry – teaching.

In late June, I packed my car with favorite books like old friends, my laptop, and a suitcase, and set the GPS to take me from Pittsburgh to Chicago. For a week, I get to revisit the good work that was my first call to ministry. For the past couple of years, a Midwestern seminary has invited me to teach religious education in their summer intensive program.

I wasn’t always an administrator. In 2006, I joined the staff of an accrediting agency, Association of Theological Schools. Last year I was invited to be part of the team at PTS, where I oversee Continuing Education. I happened into the work after a happy career in teaching—first high school, then grad school, ending up with a degree in religion and education. Those who knew me well were disappointed that I wasn’t teaching anymore. “Administration?” they thought. Really? Surely this was a placeholder until I could return to the classroom, where everyone—including me—knew I had been happiest professionally. Education wasn’t what I did. It was who I was. And these people thought I’d left my vocation behind.

I hadn’t. It didn’t happen right away, but I began to see that administration has a rich etymology that is often forgotten—administer, to ‘serve, carry out, to act as a servant, attend to the needs of.’ The heart of administration is ministry. I had always seen the ministerial aspects of good teaching. And at its core, how I did my work as an administrator didn’t end up differing from how I engaged my work as an educator.

What is that core? Animating the imagination of people as they learn to live the Gospel. Whether we are doing urban ministry, serving the homeless, church planting by day and serving coffee by night, overseeing committees, or teaching Sunday school, we are contributing to the places and opportunities that allow people to learn and live the good news—that God is already here, at work in the world, and is just waiting for us to use our gifts, whatever they are, for the sake of God’s reign.

When people ask me if I am an educator or a minister, I catch them off-guard by saying “Yes!” I am an administrator, directing Continuing Education at the Seminary. I might not be in a classroom anymore, but I have the joy of providing opportunities for those who are in classrooms—and pulpits, and hospital wards, and community gardens, and cafes—to reflect, celebrate, and live into their vocations too, wherever they might be.

Helen Blier is the director of continuing education at the Seminary. In this role she provides programs for pastors and laity to grow in their ministry.


7/3 2014

Theological Education: Why Seminaries Should Restore the “Public” in Ministry

image07-03-14There have been a lot of discussions pertaining to the future of public education in this country and Pennsylvania has certainly left its marked on the conversation. Almost two-years ago, the Governor of Pennsylvania cut $1B in state funding from the Commonwealth’s budget leaving distressed school districts further distressed—if not taken over—and public universities crying foul.

Pittsburgh is no longer the city of steel but the city of “eds and meds” and certainly the senior administrators of our institutions voiced their concerns about the effects these cuts would have on our colleges and universities. But is education a public good and does it deserve the support of the wider community?

Before the $1B cut, there were school children who were challenged to learn by sharing (or doing without) textbooks and districts that had to cut music and art programs. What then do we think is left to fully and properly educate our children? Many blame poor student outcomes on bad teachers and, as a result, philanthropic organizations have directed millions of dollars toward creating evaluative tools that measure teacher effectiveness. While I do believe parent engagement is critical to the success of public education, fostering animus between teachers and parents and vice versa is not the answer.

You might ask why a seminary trained clergyman would have comment on this. My concern is rooted in my seminary education. The training I received for my master of divinity (MDiv) degree helped me to exegete communities and the issues that give rise to their good or failing health. Separation of church and state is the prevalent excuse many clergy and parishioners use to justify a laissez faire position on anything political but does that align with the will of the God of justice?

A person with a social work degree may find themselves engaged in a family crisis resulting from conditions of poverty and its corresponding under resourced schools. There is room at the table for those with an MA in theology or an MDiv, but only if seminaries are willing to provide the training necessary.

Anna Oliver, a Methodist pastor, once said, “If the intelligence of the community is promoted the cause of religion is advanced.” This was a quote from her in the Saturday morning St. Paul Daily Globe, dated Feb. 24, 1883. One might ask the question, “What relevance is there in a quote from 1883?” This quote has the same relevance as the statement written almost 2000 years ago in Matthew 21 where it states, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…”

When we, the people of God, take the time to promote the “intelligence of the community” by insuring everyone, and especially the least of these, has access to all the resources needed for a quality education whether public or private, then not only is religion advanced but so is Christ.

The Rev. John Welch is a 2002 graduate of Pittsburgh Seminary. He earned his MDiv degree, served in parish ministry, and is now the Seminary’s vice president of student services.