Over the past three years, our academic programs in theological education have had over fifty participants from all over North America. Our students are a diverse group, including recent college students, volunteer lay leaders at churches, campus ministry staff, pastors with MDiv’s, pastors without MDiv’s, empty nesters pursuing a long-held dream, and the list goes on. Despite their differing backgrounds, they share one unshakeable trait: a deep curiosity about biblical, spiritual, and theological questions for which they are seeking wisdom beyond pat answers.
It has been a singular privilege to walk alongside these individuals as they build new frameworks for thinking and living theologically as well as discovering a sense of vocational direction. And many of them have used their time with us as preparation for formal master’s degree programs. We highlight some of their stories below.
There are common themes in their reflections: the fruits of rigorous study, the gift of expanding theological vistas, and the joys of formative friendships with lifelong colleagues. Just as striking, though, are their multiple and varied trajectories. I hope you are as inspired as I am by their commitment to ministry as loving and humble service, which they are pursuing each in their own way.
Andy Hill (MDiv student, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary)
This year was a great way to get my feet wet with seminary studies. Having been out of school for 20 years, I had no idea if I even had an academic mindset to tap into, much less the energy to write a paper. I totally proved myself wrong, rose to the challenge, and discovered my inner theologian. Plus getting a transcript and having writing samples made applying to full-time seminary more exciting than simply showing old undergrad materials.
Bryn Valencia (MA student, Fuller Theological Seminary)
My experience was life-giving for me academically, professionally, and spiritually. This year was instrumental in clarifying my decision to pursue a seminary degree (Masters in Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary), providing me with a running head start to an academically rigorous theological education. Each course’s content was curated to develop wisdom for responsibly engaging our diverse world with the message of Christ, and each unit felt intensely relevant to life and ministry beyond the classroom. I felt that each course instructor was deeply invested in both my academic success and spiritual growth, consistently going above and beyond to provide meaningful, personalized feedback and mentorship that have proven to be essential to my academic success in seminary. The online cohort model allowed me to work independently from home, while also benefitting from the wisdom and experience of a diverse, national learning community. Beyond presenting new information about scripture, the year built a helpful framework for approaching theological study by empowering me to ask better questions along my seminary journey. This year taught me to view the world beyond my personal, culturally-formed experiences, and instead to re-imagine the good news of the Gospel for all people. The fellowship introduced me to a culturally-relevant, diverse, and challenging bank of theologians that I am continuing to engage in each of my seminary classes today. More than a theological education, the fellowship invited me into personal transformation, preparing me for ministry that is led, formed, and sustained by the Spirit. Even after my year of study, the fellows community has welcomed me into a global community of fellow sojourners that have continued to provide mentorship, advocacy and hard-earned wisdom as we co-labor in our unique contexts. I am deeply grateful for my time spent learning over the past year, a truly invaluable platform for my seminary journey, personal transformation, and ongoing ministry.
Mira Joyner (MDiv student, Wesley Theological Seminary)
I have always wanted to go to seminary but I didn’t think that I would be able to write masters level papers or be able to keep up online since I had completed my degree 10 years ago. My experience in the fellowship, which uses a hybrid online and intensive in-person format was exactly what I needed to dip my toes in. I got to experience what seminary education might be like and as an added bonus, the content was both relevant and stimulating, and I got to meet some amazing faith leaders doing good work throughout the nation in my cohort. I am a first-year seminary student at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and am thankful that I had the fellowship year to give me the confidence to take the plunge!
Anna Stamborski (MDiv student, Princeton Theological Seminary)
The fellowship was the reason I felt confident in going to whichever seminary/divinity school God called me to. Prior to the fellowship I was passionate about my faith and living it out daily, but I was nervous about jumping right into seminary without any faith-based academic training prior. Especially because I was applying to seminaries that had a deep history in white supremacy, I was concerned that I would be inundated with theological perspectives that would continue on in this tradition. However, the fellowship prepared me to both spiritually and academically to think through my own understandings and what it means to be a Christian seeking God’s holistic shalom on earth. It was the perfect stepping stone in between my secular academic background and attending seminary. Not only did it prepare me academically for the rigorous theological work I would engage in, but it also helped me deconstruct and reconstruct my faith in a critical way so that when I got to seminary my faith didn’t feel like it was falling apart with every Old Testament and Systematic Theology class I took! I had already gone through the process with my fellows cohort, in community with people that I trusted and content that I knew was liberating and not oppressive. Thus my time here at seminary has just been another step on my journey! I would recommend the fellowship to anyone who is fatigued from garnering Christian sources that you know are innately oppressive. The fellows program shows us another way of doing theology––a theology grounded in a love of God, the Bible, and others, but one that has a posture towards liberation.
Timothy Vaughn (PhD student, Luther Seminary)
I did the fellowship for different reasons than others in my cohort. I had completed my MDiv and I knew I wanted to apply to doctoral programs in missional theology, but I hadn’t had a chance to take a deep dive into the field. I found the experience to be so much more than what I intended. The big takeaway that I learned is that my mental constructs of church were severely limited. To be the church is more than a building where people meet on Sundays for the sole purpose of individual salvation and spiritual growth. While I believe that is part of its mission, it is a body that finds God’s activity in the world and engages that activity for a common good. I knew that rationally, but during my year in the fellows program, I experienced that reality first-hand in the people I met, the field trips we took and the theology we engaged. My perspective of God and the church is now deeper and richer, and as I engage my doctoral studies, I do so with the clear purpose of helping the church reframe its work and place in an ever-changing society.
To learn more about the academic track of the Faith and Justice Network, visit our Seminary page.