Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

9/8 2020

Seminary or Divinity School: What’s the Difference?

difference between seminary and divinity school

Perhaps the only thing I’ve found more difficult than earning a Master of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary has been explaining to friends exactly what seminary is! While one friend jokingly called it “cemetery school,” another thought it was more like a monastery. People somewhat familiar with the world of theological education often assume, however, that seminary is the same thing as divinity school. I was always at a loss to explain what the difference was and just chalked it up to the sphere of “I’m not really sure.”

So, how does a Pittsburgh Theological Seminary MDiv alum and current admissions counselor now explain the difference between a seminary and a divinity school?


Seminary or Divinity School?

First, the most fundamental difference between a seminary and a divinity school is that a divinity school is typically tied to a larger university via its label as a professional school within the umbrella of the university. Seminaries, on the other hand, are often their own educational institutions with no ties to a larger university’s jurisdiction. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but it’s a great starting point for understanding the difference.

Seminaries are also often affiliated with a specific denomination, offering specific courses to help student prepare for ministry within that tradition. That does not mean that you must be a part of that denomination to attend but that the seminary likely caters to a specific crowd in a specific way on top of offering general theological education. Divinity schools, on the other hand, are more likely to be loosely or not at all affiliated with a denomination and are often viewed as more “academic” since they skew toward helping prepare students for further study.

These differences, however, are not binding to all seminaries and divinity schools. For instance, one could attend a seminary and still pursue a PhD afterwards (students do that here, including many in the MTS program), while divinity school can prepare one for ordained ministry as well. Finding the right graduate program is ultimately up to personal preference, and any deliberation between these labels should not be a key factor in one’s decision.


Finding the Right Fit

So what makes Pittsburgh Theological Seminary unique to the world of seminaries? PTS is its own institution holding partnerships with other schools in the city, though it is not under the jurisdiction of those schools. PTS is also a seminary of the Presbyterian Church USA, uniquely rooted in the Reformed tradition. However, PTS welcomes students from all backgrounds of faith to explore the call that God has placed on their life here in this community. We have more than 20 denominations represented in our faculty and student bodies. Whether you are seeking ordination in the PCUSA, interested in starting a church plant, wanting to explore the world of urban ministry, or seeking to experience the Spirit’s movement in the global church, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary could be the right fit for you.



Chris Taylor, MDiv ’19 and admissions counselor, first came to the Seminary as a teen in the Miller Summer Youth Institute. After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 2015, Chris spent a summer in Acadia National Park and served as a youth director in Raleigh before moving back to his hometown of Pittsburgh to attend PTS. Chris has also been serving at Parkwood Presbyterian Church in Allison Park since 2017. You can often catch Chris watching Pittsburgh sports, Carolina basketball, reading a good book, or exploring the outdoors.


6/1 2016

Welcoming the Little Ones

families in christian congregationsAlmost every church congregation that I’ve ever been a part of—whether as parishioner or pastor—has had one particular goal in common: attract more families with young children. Everybody wants more of these kinds of families in their churches, often because they are seen as a way of helping to insure faith communities’ growth into the future.

Whether or not families with young children are actually the key to a church’s continued vitality, or whether it is even appropriate to think about families in this way (in which families almost seem like a means to an end), are matters of intense debate—a debate which goes far beyond the scope of this post. Instead, what seems obvious is that if you want to invite more families with young children into your faith community, how you go about it is very important.

Given the many different demands of today’s culture, families simply aren’t going to devote a lot of time and energy to an organization where they don’t feel welcome. From my point of view, then, hospitality is the key to inviting families to visit your congregation, and perhaps to find a home there.

But what does hospitality look like for families with young children? What can churches do to welcome families with young children in congregations in ways that feel inviting and supportive? Here are a few ideas:

Ask the families!

If you already have families with young children in your congregation, ask them what the church might do to be more helpful to them. Maybe it would be providing child care for more church events, or planning a social time for parents to get to know one another better. It might even be something as simple as putting a changing table in the restroom. You may never know what would be most helpful to parents and their young children until you ask them. I suggest this not in a consumerist, “we’re going to give you whatever you want so you’ll be happy and stay here” kind of way. Rather, I think it’s a basic function of Christian community to find out what helps people feel truly welcomed, and then try to provide that in ways congruent with your congregation’s mission. If you don’t currently have families with young children in your congregation, ask families you know what would really communicate hospitality to them if they were to visit your church. You might be surprised by how simple and doable the answers are.

Keep children safe

Many of our Christian congregations pay close attention to children’s safety issues when it comes to things like broken playground equipment. But when it comes to keeping children safe from sexual or physical abuse, churches have often resisted implementing appropriate policies. Many congregations think “That could never happen here!”–and yet, it does. One of the most powerful ways of extending hospitality as a church is to show parents that their children’s safety is your top priority. If your church doesn’t already have clear policies in place to help protect children from abuse, consider creating some as soon as possible. There are many resources available to help churches with this. The “Safe Sanctuaries” curriculum, provided by the United Methodist Church, is one such resource. Be sure to check with your own denomination and/or judicatory to find out what is recommended for your particular congregation. If you already have safety policies in place, assess them regularly to make sure they are working properly and that they comply with the most recent state laws (for example, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania now has more stringent abuse reporting requirements in place than it did a few years ago. You can read a summary of the new requirements online.

Make worship a welcoming space for children

This one is complicated, because what “welcoming” means is going to vary a lot for individual families, and for different kinds of congregations. Even so, I think most of us realize that expecting very young children to be perfectly quiet and still for long periods of time during worship is not realistic. There are many different ways churches can make their worship time and space hospitable for children. Here are just a few ideas:

— Provide worship “kits” containing coloring materials or simple craft items that children can play with quietly during the service.

— Integrate more child-friendly elements into worship itself – for instance, sing simple choruses that children can easily learn and that don’t require reading; include embodied or interactive activities (marching around the sanctuary waving palms on Palm Sunday is a great example of this); or have children help act out a Bible story.

— Create a congregational culture where children are seen as vital to the worship experience, rather than as a distraction from it. Granted, this one is probably a lot easier said than done. But one Lutheran congregation in Apple Valley, Minn., modeled this in a very creative way by creating a “pray-ground” in the front of the sanctuary, where children can simultaneously play and be near what is going on in worship.

Welcoming families with young children into our congregations is important because as Christians, we are called to extend God’s love and care to all people. Finding ways to be as hospitable as we can to the families who walk through our doors is not only good manners; it’s good discipleship.

The Rev. Dr. Leanna K. Fuller is assistant professor of pastoral care at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and teaches in the MDiv Program. Her ministry experience includes serving as associate pastor of Oakland Christian Church in Suffolk, Va., where she coordinated youth ministry and Christian education programming. She writes regularly on pastoral care and counseling, pastoral theology, and congregational conflict.


2/25 2015

Why My MDiv/MSW Joint Degree Created Clarity

mdiv-msw-joint-degree-pittsburghI began my graduate studies as a student of the University of Pittsburgh working to receive my masters of social work (MSW). The course work was practical problem solving for those with mental health, social, and justice issues. It was exciting to be learning about how government programs work and how to best serve those with mental illness.

I was fascinated by my classes in cognitive-behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. I could not get enough. In my second semester I was required to do my first internship. I began working as an in-home family therapist. It was wonderful work, coming alongside a child, and therefore a family, to offer services to better the life of the family and child.

In this work I got to travel all around the city of Pittsburgh. I worked with families that were very affluent and some that were the poorest of the poor. In all of it, my education, matched with outstanding supervisors, gave me the confidence to enter any situation, face it, and do my best to improve the lives of those I was working with and for.

As I entered my second year of graduate school, a more intense internship was required. I began working at a step-down program for children and youth exiting the psychiatric hospital and slowly transitioning back to school. There I had to apply what I was learning in a completely different way.

Suddenly, I was faced with children and families who were experiencing trauma that I could not imagine in my worst nightmares. During a therapy session with one such child he asked me, “Does Jesus want me to forgive my auntie who hurt me? My pastor said on Sunday that we should forgive everyone. Is God mad at me?”

And with that one therapy session I realized I needed way more than the training I was receiving in my MSW. Clinically, I could answer that question with a question, “What do you think Jesus would say to someone like you?”

Theologically, I was not ready to proceed. And I could not proceed. Working in a large conglomerate system does not allow for personal religious beliefs and frankly, neither does therapy. It is about working out the problems of the client and helping the client achieve mental health. For this young man, I can say that I did the best I possibly could. We worked on his problems and my hope is that he is a well-adjusted man today.

But personally, I knew I had to go back to the drawing board. My MSW was not enough. I needed a theological education that would provide a foundation for all of my practical and theoretical knowledge. And that is why I then began attending Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, earning my MDiv through the PTS/Pitt joint degree program. I graduated with both degrees in 2005 and have found the mixture of practical and theoretical knowledge perfectly supported by my theological education.

Being able to see the world and the great, tragic problems of the world, through the lens of my theological education gives me great eschatological hope. And great practical hope. The lens through which I understand God and our human interactions with God does not get clearer every day, if anything it gets foggier. But having both an MSW and an MDiv allows me a clarity that one alone did not.

The Rev. Erin Davenport is a 2005 alumna of the MDiv program. Through the Seminary’s joint degree program, she also earned her MSW from the University of Pittsburgh. A former chaplain, she now resides in Pittsburgh and serves as the Seminary’s Director of the Miller Summer Youth Institute.

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