We do not become pastors overnight. For folks interested in becoming Teaching Elders in the Presbyterian Church (USA), three or more years are dedicated to academic development, spiritual formation, and practical ministry experience. On the campuses of Union Presbyterian Seminary, students are challenged to engage the spectrum of Bible, theology, ethical principles, Christian Education, preaching, worship and pastoral care in conversation with one another and the communities around them to craft a foundation for their vocational path.
The Supervised Ministry curriculum integrate interests for ministry and learning goals based upon three leadership roles: practicing theologian, congregational leadership and community witness[i]. Students engage in theological reflection and integration, peer reflection, vocational discernment and practical ministry. Opportunities for learning are crafted in Clinical Pastoral Education settings, parish internships and Church in the World internships.
Mid-July, I made a visit to First Presbyterian Church in Covington, Virginia to guest preach and share about Union. It was a real joy to hear about the rich connection between this congregation and the seminary over the years. Elder Jim Snyder informed me of their historic relationship through the, then, Student-In-Ministry, or SIM year program.
Through this one-year program, students developed hands-on, practical ministry experience in a parish-based setting. First Pres, Covington welcomed several students throughout the early 1980’s and 1990’s. Mr. Snyder contacted one of their former SIM students, Rev. David Witt, current pastor of Opequon Presbyterian Church in Winchester, Virginia, to hear about his experience as a SIM student.
Like SIM students before him, Rev. Witt was responsible for three main areas in the life of the congregation:
- Pastoral care, including hospital visitation and funeral assistance
- Preaching and worship leadership for FPC, Covington and a local, country chapel service
- Christian Education and formation for the youth of the congregation
The relationship between the SIM student and the congregation was mutually beneficial. The SIM year student gained practical, hands-on ministry experience in a variety of contexts and scenarios. Moreover, Rev. Witt and others benefited from the year to discern their vocational path. The congregation at FPC, Covington enjoyed the fresh perspective of the seminary student and the support to staff to meet the needs of the congregation.
With these same goals in mind, Union Presbyterian Seminary has continued a legacy of deep theological reflection, integration, and learning through the Supervised Ministry curriculum. Whether through Clinical Pastoral Education training in a health care setting, in a parish-based internship, or working in a social justice ministry context, students have a better grasp on their gifts, passions and further growth opportunities.
How did your practical ministry experience inform your current practices for ministry?
Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer
[i] http://www.upsem.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Academic-Catalog-2016-17-1.pdf Scroll to page 23, “Academics”, “Program Goals” for full description!