Faith sharing, according to Dr. Rebecca Letterman, associate professor of spiritual formation, serves as a counterbalance to our culture of hurry, efficiency, and the “fix it now” and “do it yourself” syndromes—a balance that enables us to live at the “pace of grace.” Suzanne Pearson (’09) found faith-sharing groups profoundly counter-cultural in that, “it forces one to listen to another without the violence of interjecting one’s own personal experiences and prejudices on another’s experience.” Baiba Peelle (’07) concurs, “When each person is allowed to share without commentary from the others, the group becomes a safe, accepting, non-judgmental place where differences are not divisive but become part of the whole community.”
Developing this discipline helps the seminarian begin to cut through the clutter of voices competing for time and attention to learn to discern the voice of God. Darlene Mieney (‘09) notes that group facilitators are there to help students listen to God rather than ask for opinions from others. For Gloria Roorda (‘02) “the experience allows God to touch something deep in us that up to that point we were unaware needed touching.”
Central to faith sharing is profound respect for the individual, the power of listening to what is going on internally, and the power of God to work in silence. There is a constant climate of invitation to notice and respond to what God is doing or continuing to do in one’s life—paying attention to one’s ordinary experiences. This engenders the understanding that God is active and able to work in profound and life-changing ways.
Still, even with all the fruit that may be cultivated through faith sharing it remains a challenge for some. Letterman observes that because of its focus on listening, it constrains verbal responses to others, a distinct difficulty for people who base much of their learning and ministry on words. And when students expect that the group exists for support, problem solving, or conversation, facilitator Mary Ann Fackelman suggests a readjustment take place before they can actively and accurately engage in the process.
Read Part One here.
A guest post by Thomas Worth, master of divinity and doctor of ministry graduate of Northeastern Seminary:
Like Walking on Water
By Thomas Worth
A Christmas Sermon for 2011
Like walking on water He came to us
When the night was half spent
And the wind was against us.
When our best efforts could not move us any further…
Like walking on water He came to us,
In the impossibility of the Virgin,
In the wide eyes of her wonder,
In the humility of her trust.
Like walking on water He came to us:
In the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost,
In the brooding of the Spirit of God
Over the face of the waters of our humanity.
Like walking on water He came to us:
When from the mountainside of heaven
He saw that we were in trouble and toiling,
Toiling against sorrow and sin,
Against the chaos that would whelm over us.
Like walking on water He came to us:
On the fluid, turbulent upheaval of our condition—
Neither hovering above it nor sinking beneath it,
But in contact with the troubled sea of our humanity,
Touched with the feeling of our weaknesses and infirmities.
Like walking on water He came to us:
Solid and real, not a ghost, but Incarnate,
He took hold of the gunwales of our nature with his bare hands
And hoisted Himself into the same boat we are in.
Like walking on the water He came to us,
In the familiar miracle, the startling humility of his birth,
Displaying who He really is and helping us remember
From the heart what we had failed to understand.
Like walking on the water He came to us,
Born to Mary and Joseph long ago
Born our Savior, Christ the Lord,
Coming to us in the fourth watch of the night
And saying, “Take heart! It is I! Do not be afraid!”
Tom Worth, D.Min. 07, M.Div. 03
Community Covenant Church
A guest post from Dr. Nelson Grimm, director of field education at Northeastern Seminary:
- Apply ministry principles to the context of life
I will never forget when a student told me “Field education changed my life!” The student used her field education assignment to explore ministry options and found a perfect fit. In many ways, field education is a chance for you to test-drive ministry and to gain the insight necessary to make good decisions. It is the rich and effective bridge between the understanding and analysis that occurs in the classroom and the thoughtful and appropriate application that transforms both you and those to whom you minister.
- Discover how God has gifted you
As you prepare for more effective service within God’s kingdom, the field education setting helps you ask (and answer) questions like: How has God shaped you for life? What are your abilities and strengths? What experiences have you had that have been most rewarding? What societal needs challenge your heart the most? As you are able to test various ministry contexts, you are better able to confirm your sense of fit with your anticipated vocation and to develop skills and confidence. And when this “testing” is done alongside seasoned mentors, those who understand the nuances of the individual and communal aspects of their unique ministry context, the discernment process is further strengthened.
- Do something new—or do something in a new way
Perhaps you will, for the first time in your life, work on a new program for the disenfranchised “30-somethings” population, or preach a sermon, or develop a community service ministry, or engage in visitation at a hospital. Or maybe for you, field education is not be about doing something new, but about doing something in a new way. I recall a student who had been a pastor for many years before coming to seminary. When he came to discuss his field education focus, he indicated that he had done it all, that his twenty-plus years of pastoral ministry provided him with all sorts of experiences. I agreed; he had experienced the wide range of pastoral responsibilities, so I challenged him to think of what he could do in a new way. He chose to work on his preaching and designed a rigorous program including soliciting feedback from parishioners and videotaping sermons that he reviewed later with his mentor. Within weeks, parishioners were commenting on how much his preaching had changed. He moved away from overused words and awkward mannerisms. He improved his eye contact with people and structured his sermons more simply. Whether you are very new to ministry or you bring multiple years of experience, field education provides the opportunity for exploration and growth all within your context for living.
- Build a network of colleagues and resources
As with many placement programs like field education, you establish professional and collegial relationships that you can draw from as a resource long after you’ve completed seminary. Not only can placements lead to permanent employment, but because there is a propensity to become isolated in midst of a demanding ministry, these connections can become central, serving to sustain efforts, provide perspective, and re-energize visions. Ministry collaborations and vocational learning provide ongoing enrichment.
Dr. Nelson Grimm firstname.lastname@example.org
Director of Field Education, Associate Professor of Applied Theology
The student was apprehensive, reluctant to fully engage. After all, those experiences and feelings he was asked to share were intimate—they belonged to him. The nervousness was palpable among the small group of students as they met for the first time. Thus, the faith-sharing process at Northeastern Seminary begins.
This process, a central element of the personal and spiritual formation program, is described by Associate Professor of Spiritual Formation Rebecca Letterman (‘08) as an intentional place and space in which students take time to reflect on moments of significance in their lives. It provides a way for students to slow down enough to perceive God at work in themselves and others. They experience the hospitality of interested listening and also have the opportunity to learn to listen deeply to others. In this setting students discover they are not alone; others struggle with similar things in their lives and ministries. And it provides experiential learning of the theological truth: "God is at work in the world—sometimes even without me!"
The intentional growth reflection sessions are led by a certified spiritual director, most often alumni of the program. Graduates recall that the faith-sharing experience, with its commitment to observing silence and creating spiritual and emotional space, has a counterbalancing effect as it allows for synthesizing data gathered in the classroom. As Suzanne Pearson (‘09) describes, “It offers space and time … for spiritual reflection on the massive volumes of academic material one is learning and to listen for the living word of God.” John Miller (‘04) agrees, “It moves the ‘information’ into the ‘formation’ of the person,” while Steve Dunmire (‘05) notes appreciation for the process: “Especially in hindsight, I think it’s one of the areas where Northeastern made my seminary years a time of spiritual growth, not just learning.”
Read Part Two.
Perhaps you are like me that when August comes around, you naturally think about starting school. This is the case for many of us. However, through the history of Northeastern Seminary, we have found that some people really value the opportunity to start in January (spring semester), rather than in the fall. Below are seven reasons why people start in January.
- Some occupations (ex. teachers, agricultural workers, etc.) have busy fall seasons and January allows these people to start seminary at a time when their workload is more manageable
- Individuals can qualify for returning student scholarships as early as their second semester instead of having to complete a full academic year
- There are often unique scholarships specially earmarked for students who start in January
- Starting in January allows individuals to graduate one semester sooner
- The January group of seminary students tends to be smaller which fosters an even greater sense of personal attention and community with faculty and colleagues
- Students who begin in January - when video conferencing among multiple classroom sites around New York State is not part of the academic instruction - enjoy the live presence of faculty in every class
- Starting your courses in January allows you to study the same fully accredited curriculum and benefit from the same excellent teaching that is provided in our September start courses.
Shady Grove Wesleyan Church
Charles Vollmer, pastor
“I had to brush up on my farming knowledge in order to be able to understand the issues. Most of the people don’t use computers or have e-mail accounts. They aren’t the type of people who like to chat on the phone.” So says a member of a devoted yet shrinking population—pastors of small-membership rural churches.
Changing population demographics, the demise of the small family farm, and harsh economic realities have all negatively impacted America’s rural churches. Thousands of these small congregations, the hands and feet of Christ in their communities, have had to close their doors or combine with other congregations to survive. Three recent graduates, all mature students in “second career ministry,” are taking on the challenge.
In his first pastorate Howard Russell (NES ‘08) served a 190-year-old Baptist church that had a strong charismatic influence. It was the only remaining church in town and there was open hostility between two traditions that threatened a church split. He recalls, “The traditional Baptists and the contemporary Pentecostals were at odds with one another. By the time I’d arrived, many of the Baptists had already left, which caused a lot of suffering.” He credits his master of divinity studies for providing him the perspective to minister from the centrality of Christ, “to bring healing and eventual unity to the congregation.” He led the church to a blended worship style, reintroducing hymns that had been removed from the service and ensuring that all had a voice in the church again. He balanced a Bible study geared toward the remaining Baptist population and an intercessory prayer meeting for the Pentecostals. By the close of his four-year tenure the church had become a non-denominational community church that affirmed both the authority of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit.
Charles Vollmer (NES ‘08) believes the parish context is essential in the rural setting in how it can unite isolated populations. Parishes, although shrinking in number and size, are a way to bring together those who might not normally be in a church setting, in areas where there has always been “traditionally strong core values for God, country and family.” Vollmer believes that rural ministry is ideal for second career people “who have experienced the hardships of life from the perspective of a laborer or agricultural worker.” He cautions it is not for those without patience or thick skin but, he says, it can be one of the most rewarding ministries in that you can gain the loyalty of your parish and that loyalty can be passed on from generation to generation.
Like his classmates, Jeffrey Roets (NES ‘09) serves a very small community of believers; this one is in Amish country, in the middle of a large dairy and farming community. The distance between pastor and parishioners is great and the people Roets serves are older, conservative Christians with country ways and country mentality. Communication is one of the challenges he faces. “It has taken a while to gain their trust, but I feel that I am making progress,” he notes. “They are open and willing to almost anything I want to do. They love Bible study and hearing the Word. I feel very blessed … the education and field training I received has really prepared me for the ministry.”
Although filled with challenges, these pastors affirm that small-membership rural church ministry is among the most rewarding. Of his vocation Russell reflects, “rural areas have fallen on hard times, and America’s “Bread Basket” needs the Bread of Life: the Light, Love and Hope that is in Jesus Christ.”
With only 44 percent of Americans regularly attending some form of religious service, and only 61 percent of that total identifying themselves as Christian, students and alumni of Northeastern Seminary respond by bringing God’s love to people’s everyday lives—as chaplains.
In this specialized ministry, a chaplain interacts with people in settings outside the traditional church. Lida Merrill (NES ’06), who serves the developmentally disabled and their families, believes her ministry is relevant and necessary amid political and economic uncertainty: “the ministry of chaplain can be a bridge for the unchurched society to test out the truths of the Gospel.”
Chaplaincies offer essential opportunities to reach people who may never enter a church, including the military, hospitals and human services, hospice care, and correctional facilities. In Merrill’s experience, “Many people have questions and deep spiritual hunger, but they will not return or go to a church because of past wounds. A chaplain is a safe person because he or she is usually not working at a church, but in a community or care-giving setting. Chaplains are in a unique position to listen to people’s concerns, discern where God is at work within their lives, and be an ambassador of the Kingdom of God.”
Michael Cerula (NES ‘09), chaplain for the U.S. Army, says the most gratifying part about serving with the military has been how soldiers openly ask for prayer and willingly share their stories with him. Like others, Cerula had been challenged and invigorated through the seminary’s focus on intentional personal and spiritual formation. “What used to be a boring discipline of morning devotions has turned into a joyful time of thanksgiving with our Creator God.”
A chaplain’s motivations go beyond church membership or conversion head counts. According to Bruce Swingle (NES ’01), lead chaplain at a VA Medical Center, “It is about relationships and about competencies.” He explains, “If someone wants to be a chaplain they must be firm in their own beliefs and values while respecting those of others. They must love learning from formal courses, from other disciplines, and especially from the people and families they serve. From my understanding of I Thessalonians 4:8, I see chaplaincy as allowing people to become so dear and important to us that we are willing to share with them not only the Gospel of God, but our own lives as well.”
Click here to find out more about fulfilling chaplaincy requirements with a Master of Divinity.
When the British Broadcasting Company was investigating a recent trend among older Americans’ desire for seminary education sparked by a Time magazine article, correspondent Johnny Dymon selected Northeastern Seminary as the focus for a short radio documentary. Interviews with Academic Vice President and Dean Doug Cullum, current student Mary Van Houten, graduate Bill Rabjohn, and prospective student Shawn Carey provided a window into the dynamic pull second-career people feel toward seminaries and on the decision process that incurs. Listen to the audio clip that recently aired in the United Kingdom on BBC radio.
Would you like to know about the programs offered at Northeastern Seminary? We invite you to learn more.
- A Ph.D. isn’t for everyone - In traditional post-graduate education, individuals are required to focus on a particular area; becoming subject matter experts in a small slice of a big theological pie. A Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) is a professional degree allowing ministry professionals to bring their background to bear in the classroom and eventually within an application-based dissertation. Many individuals find renewed excitement and focus as they return to the classroom to rethink and imagine their vocation.
- Ministry-Friendly Schedule – A traditional D.Min. schedule requires professionals to visit the host campus twice a year for three years. Most programs require two week residencies; some programs allow individuals to stay for just one week depending on their schedule.
- Fewer Credit Hours - While most M.Div. programs are 90+ credit hours, a D.Min. is 36 credit hours and broken up into a maximum of six credits per semester.
- Peer-to-Peer – D.Min. colleagues have served for years in ministry providing expanded scope and mature perspective. They have completed the master of divinity degree or its equivalent in seminary already. While theological discussion sparks reflection and thought, the majority of discussion surrounds the challenges and opportunities of ministry for the years to come.
- Contributing a Body of Knowledge - A D.Min. program allows ministry professionals the framework and guidance to produce a dissertation that will be presented and archived for future benefit in ministry.
- Personal growth – Students and graduates report that pursuing a D.Min. helped them achieve new levels of competence in ministry and developed their spiritual maturity and personal faith.
- Reasonable Cost – Because of the decreased credit load each semester in a D.Min. program, the cost per semester is often more manageable. In addition, at Northeastern Seminary we award scholarships of 25% to 50% scholarships regardless of part-time or full-time status. The complete degree cost can be as low as $8,500 for the full degree.
Receive a packet of information today for Northeastern Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry in Scripture, Spirituality, and Leadership. Click here to learn more.