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.