Congratulations to our 16 Doctor of Ministry Graduates

Congratulations to our 16 Doctor of Ministry Graduates

Sixteen graduates from different concentrations in the program, and from around the nation gathered in Pittsburgh last Friday

Two Richard J.  Rapp awards were given:  Daniel Gordon in the Science and Theology Focus and Christine Gravely in the Parish Leadership Focus

States represented included:  New Jersey, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, New York, Michigan, Iowa, Indiana, and Alford, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.

This is indeed a national program, one which draws from a variety of denominations and ministry settings.  More importantly, these graduates honor a commitment to study so that they may contribute new thinking in their respective ministry settings, and offer leadership at a critical time.

It has been a pleasure to have each of these students in the DMin program.  They have developed new friendships, been challenged by excellent faculty, and mentored one another through the exchange of ideas, reflections, and new insights.   Several of these final papers are worth publishing in some form. 

There will be new opportunity in 2017 to receive inquiries regarding the DMin program as new programs are announced.  The commitment of the seminary is to maintain the highest standards for creating a learning environment, offering the necessary skills for designing a research project, and preparing for a church and for ministries yet to unfold.

Ministry in traditional forms and in new configurations is a worthy, necessary and vitally important vocation.  I challenge those who have listened to that still, small voice to pay attention. And once in ministry to pay attention even more to deepen and strengthen vocational identity voice, skill, self-care and community.  One might at times be tempted to escape to a cave, to become angry when shade trees die leaving only the hot sun.  We are invited in this vocation to take care lest we grow too tired, too frustrated, too lonely, too afraid. 

Susan Kendall, PhD

Director, DMin


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Ending and Beginnings

Anita Little writes in, about digital discipline–#Relent 2016.

A project of Jason Chesnut, Lutheran pastor in Baltimore, Jason offers a model for this moment.

Embrace the digital age and to use another “re” realign.

I love this creative approach which does not lessen faith, and does not allow the negative creep.

Missional Leadership as a DMin concentration at Pittsburgh Seminary is eager for these ideas, desiring practicing pastors and ministers in various settings to think together for a few weeks a year.  The point is to return to your context, having shared ideas, stretched your theological muscles, engaging with faculty steeped in disciplines they love.

As I prepare to move into a new venue of call and work at the end of July, I am hopeful for the ongoing opportunity the DMin offers:  A degree at this seminary of substance, companionship, challenge, and change.

Change while daunting in a world we cannot it seems control our tendency is to hunker down, to dismiss change for the steady state of the gospel story.  This I’ve always thought is counter to the gospel itself.  The underlying faith is the call to belief through practice, a posture to deepen over a lifetime.  The gospel is radical, able to adapt to context.  There would be no church without this adapting and readapting.

A DMin provides space for rethinking the why of it all and an acknowledgment that along with why is a necessary how?  The why does not change—the how does.

Consider a DMin at Pittsburgh.

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Summer and Sabbatical and Being Blessed

Several new focuses began in June 2015:  Missional Leadership, Urban Change, Reformed Theology a collaborative program with New College, School of Divinity, Edinburgh.

For June 2016:  note that a new Eastern Christian Focus, meeting at Antiochian Village,

A Christian Spirituality Focus, meeting in Pittsburgh, and a SYI Doctor of Ministry for those pastors who were at one time participants in the Summer Youth Institute, meeting in Pittsburgh.

The goal of the DMin program at Pittsburgh Seminary is to be attentive to the changing opportunities of and for ministry.  Vocational shifts which have opened space beyond the traditional pastoral role, though that remains important, to chaplains, church planters, nonprofit leaders, and college and university leaders.

As director, I am beginning a long awaited sabbatical July 1 through November 29, 2015.

Please note that Ramona Spencer, administrative coordinator for the DMin, will be available to answer questions, and will contact me if needed.

I am grateful I have this time to step away.  Who knows what adventure awaits in the next few months.   As a wanderer by nature, I look forward to new experiences, lots of writing and reading, and the mix of rest and renewal.

Please do not, I repeat, hesitate to contact the DMin office for questions and guidance on any aspect of the program.


Susan Kendall

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Doctor of Ministry

Missional Leadership

Reformed Theology:  as contemporary narrative

Eastern Christian:  Orthodox in the present

Parish:  Engaging Ministry and Pastoral Leadership:  Eckerd College, Florida


Urban Change

Science and Theology


BEGINS WITH…a decision about daily living habits, practices and ways of thinking and acting, do become vitally important, not as an individualistic response, but as a centered set of actions.  We decide at some point to put it another way if we will grow up and be an adult or if we will simply coast along and continue settled ways, content to spin around and around in a circle in our individual canoes (or kayak) refusing to learn that there might be another opportunity to learn to row in such a way that we stop spinning and head down the river, or out to sea.

That being said, there is no program which provides answers to grow churches, or redevelop them, or bring about change on its own.  Nonetheless, there is a vision I have for learning, for a form of community drawing together those connected by a vocation or calling to forms of ministry.

The concentrations offered at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary:

Missional leadership—if you seek to be immersed in the discipline and practice beyond the four walls, big steeple.  Meeting people where they are, as they are

Reformed theology:  contemporary themes in a changing world, involving travel between Edinburgh, Scotland and Pittsburgh, PA., a shared collaborative effort with Scottish pastors

Urban Change:  addressing the urban realities of the present and future; both in Pittsburgh and more broadly taking into account a global view; travel to London and Pretoria

Science and Theology:  a carefully crafted dialogue between theology, science, and implications for faith, belief and human life

Spirituality:  practice informed by belief.  What do we believe; what accounts the integration of the narrative scripture and the life of prayer in a do-it-yourself view of life?

These are the current offerings of the Doctor of Ministry Program.

Recruiting Now for Reformed Theology, Urban Change, Missional Leadership and Eastern Christian


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Science and Theology

“To not participate in these narratives is to miss a vibrant and interesting human endeavor which is both spiritual and formative.”

There are those who adamantly preach that there is no bridge between science and religion, let alone theology and any narrative constructed is a mere mirage, a false engineering project, an illusion of smoke and mirrors.  I get this:  and it remains an interesting source of study for me.  At the same time, I direct a focus within the practice-based degree, (Doctor of Ministry) which provides a kind of borderland space in which science and theology is the subject (object?) of study. It may be audacious, it may be naïve even, and it may fail to address what scientists consider important, or what skeptics consider silly, and even what some but thankfully not all theologians consider irrelevant.   For those who listen, for those who pay attention to the everyday lives of people—those who are in ministry as a calling and profession—it is relevant all the time.

My point is not to argue (the point); my theme is to highlight the opportunity shaped by a very long series of narratives which have become tangled and twisted, debated and discarded, revived and co-opted to stir ongoing dialogue and discussion.  To not participate is to miss a vibrant and interesting human endeavor which is both spiritual and formative.  In my ninth grade biology class with Mr. Fink, I began to consider Genesis 1:1 which up to that moment had been the only narrative of biology I knew.  We boarded a yellow bus for a field trip to study frogs in mountain streams and woods of Southern Oregon.  What I mean is that Mr. Fink did not quote from scripture, he quoted from science, and we did experiments based on scientific method.  I was not asked to draw conclusions between God creating and frogs in ponds.   It was left to me to sort out.  It never occurred to me that there was a conflict until in history class we studied the well-known Scopes trial, which remains a somewhat sclerotic set of themes.

At the end of January, the cohort of the Science and Theology Focus of the Doctor of Ministry Program of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary will gather for two weeks of study in Scottsdale, Arizona.  They will discuss, write and perhaps debate.  They will be part of a new lecture series at Pinnacle Presbyterian Church featuring physicist Paul Davies and a response by Ron Cole-Turner of the seminary faculty, to which the public is invited.  It will not be about rigid and settled themes—it will be about reclaiming a conversation in the wider culture; it will address wonder, mystery, possibility.  In will engage the narrative of science and the narrative of the divine.  It will not result in answers though it will foster a platform for deeper understanding of our place in a wider view of life within the universe.  Lawrence Kraus, who is also a physicist at Arizona State, with a decidedly less kindly view toward theologians and philosophers in general than Paul Davies, says, “Lack of comfort means we are on the threshold of new insights.”    He is right.  And he says one more thing with which I like (and I do read his books because he does have much to offer):  “Nature comes up with surprises that far exceed those that the human imagination can generate.”  This is for me the beginning: one I discovered on a high Oregon hillside long ago while studying frogs.

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An uncommon calling . . .

remains vital.  To put it simply and clearly.  The DMin program of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary will in the New Year offer:

  •  Urban Change, to begin January 26, 2015
  • Missional Leadership, to being June 15, 2015
  • Reformed Theology:  Contemporary Understandings for a Changing Church and World, June 8, 2015  (A new collaboration with New College, School of Divinity, University of Edinburgh)

Consider this calling to join these forward thinking focuses to be an outstanding opportunity to think deeply, laugh heartily, consider widely.  Ministry as a calling may be changing in certain ways, though the pastoral heart and skill set in my view remains constant:  ministry is about listening, being present, ever discerning the present moment of the Divine Initiative:  God is already present in the world, calling deep unto deep.

There is no doubt that ministry will remain a vital and uncommon call; the task is one of crafting a life, the honing of a call, reaching toward the wisdom source which lasts at the intersection of thought, word and deed.  We have taken to calling this “habits and practices” as if it were a whole new concept. It isn’t.  It is rather ancient and part of the narrative upon which we stake our lives and work.

Let me know of your interest and of your questions!

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Defining Religion While Thinking Of the Difference between Change and the New

At the 2014 American Academy of Religion, David Morgan, of Duke University offered an excellent presentation on religion and media, suggesting that over the past two decades the intersection of religion and media have altered definitions.  Religion is less about  “systems of ideas to which believers assent” and more about “embodied practices that cultivate relations among people, places, and non-human forces—nature, spirits, ancestors, saints, gods—resulting in communities and sensibilities that shape those who participate.”   (Paper, “Religion and media:  A critical review of recent developments,” presented at Religion and Media preconference event, November 21, 2014, AAR, San Diego, Ca.)   Media is no longer understood as channels for targeting receivers in order to deliver messages “to shape opinion or achieve certain effects,” rather, media is “technologies of sensation, as embodied forms of participation in extended communities joined in imagination, feeling, taste, affinity, and affect.”

I do agree with the shift in definitions Morgan provides, very much so.  Does this change Christian faith and belief?  Does it account for shifts within institutions which seek to embody communities of faith and practice?  Probably not, though what these definitions open up is a way of understanding what is taking place on a wider scale and how then it brings confusion.  Together, these redefined actions have caught faith traditions, belief systems, and institutions off guard.  We’ve not been prepared for this kind of change.  And so seminaries, churches, communities are seeking to catch up, to find a new equilibrium..   Though I am for change when it is needed and I am for openness to new approaches and to what is defined as being willing participate in adaptive change more than technical change, I do have a theological reflection to share. What is important, theologically, is to participate in these shifting definitions not for the sake of change itself, but because we are in an ongoing narrative which invites us to the new, to the creative edge, to the ever fresh reality of life.  In other words, change for the sake of change does not necessarily result in transformation, or in the new life always before us to which we are invited, called, challenged.  And at times, I fear that we settle for change and consider it as theologically “new” when it isn’t.  Change is constant; the new is transformative, deep, life-giving, and brings to mind the term re-newal.

We are invited to a life of redecorating thought beneath and above it all we are invited to a life of discovery of whole new rooms. (St Teresa of Avila)

We can wander around in the wilderness for a very long time, upset because we haven’t found the change we were or are looking for.  This powerful biblical story is less about change and more about being open to a new way, to a new understanding, to a new form of trust.

It may be easier to wander around and search than to stop and pay attention.  Recall the early monastics, who rushed to the desert to prepare for the end—that change they so wanted.  Years passed, stillness, rhythm and pattern set in—a set of practices, an adaptive approach to food, water, sleep, and deep listening.  The change, that is, the new faith, was within them.  I believe as do many that we are in an indefinable moment.  I see possibility possible in this liminality; that is to experience the new because it is being offered to us.  This is the heart of a life of faith.  My prayer is not to be so focused on change to miss the deeper voice calling forth a whole new thing.

The DMin Program of Pittsburgh Seminary seeks to be open to the new sense of faith to the real thing; to call; vocation; ministry.  If this appeals to you, tugs at your heart, taps into your longing—this is an invitation to consider—seeing the new through the thicket of change; the fog of the ordinary; the addictive pace of change.

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With Whom and To Whom Are We Accountable?

On the face of it this is a rather straightforward answer, is it not?  If you are in ministry, doesn’t the answer come quickly and easily?   Not a hard sermon to preach, or column or blog to write and yet, I want to suggest we wait, take time, live, in other words, with the question.

Accountability is necessary, but not easy.  David Ford writes about congregational understanding of ministry, membership, and community in “Religious Giving and New Metrics,” in Insight.  (

We do not find in scripture:  thou shalt be accountable; though shalt have an accountability matrix for your church, your congregation, and yourself.  It is there though and not perhaps in the ways we might wish it to be—through power, position mandate, command and control.   And therein is both the beauty and the purposefulness of spiritual formation (or what faith is in practice).  Accountability is a practical term, a practice evidenced by action.  For institutions, it takes the form of reports, tax information, and strategic planning; for individuals, it takes the form of paying bills, and keeping care of things, and seeking to live your life from a centered purpose and clarity of your gifts and vocational calling.  It is the constant momentum of change which gets in the way of the straight forward linear thinking that it all begins at point A and neatly comes together or results in point Z.  And while there is a technical side to accountability, without an ongoing openness to seeing, thinking, behaving differently, adapting is the word I am looking for—we get in deep and wide ruts.  We get bored, anxious, fearful, and at times depressed.

Here is my answer to the above question:  to ourselves first of all. It begins with us (though it is so tempting to say it begins with “them”) as persons.  It takes a life time of developing self-awareness because what awareness is about and who we are and who we become over time, changes as the years go by; our sense of self changes when tragedies happen, when we receive education, when the restless energy of despair or boredom serves as a prod luring us to deeper maturity, new challenges, greater creativity.  In looking for example, at the work of Raymond Williams, and his study of key words, (

I find an intriguing and dynamic challenge.  Words are not static—or outside context and culture, said Williams, and I agree.  I say that the major issue of religious identity, of faith and even the word truth remains a primary source of frustration.

This is why study is of value; why a return to study and conversation on particular topics is of value.  It is a calling in and of itself.

Come join in this call:  reflect, practice, read, study, write, discuss, and be renewed.

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Peace of Christ

I sent a quick note to a student.  In his response was, “peace of Christ and his name.” Not a new phrase for certain and one I often receive. At times it is shortened to simply peace. I’ve been (our world too has been) without much peace as of late, and while this is an ordinary greeting or sign off for many, today it struck me with particular force. I use the word “force” intentionally—as in that phrase from Star Wars—”may the force be with you”—not to reduce what the peace of Christ is or means, but rather to indicate the power of such a phrase. May a particular formative peace be with you. This in itself is not a mere set of words; it is a life-shaping stance. But for what and why?

Much conversation within seminaries resolves around the themes of formation and practice. This is not an entirely new conversation; this is simply a new iteration of an old theme stirred to life by the vast changes of technology. Technology unleashes an entire set of challenges and changes and at the forefront is the inability to claim primary control of information and ideas and news events. We are found out through video, texts, photos taken in the moment of an incident. Words take on a power often because we lack taking time both of discernment and our unwillingness to understand the source itself of what we feel and what we do.

I and colleagues discuss whether things are as bad as they seem, or is it simply that we have access to so much more information and news, and there is a search for anything which stimulates our neurons—especially those of fear and flight? It is hard to know at this moment, given the narratives of the past. It is always more clearly seen after the fact.

I grew up in a “peace” church. I grew up shaped by a primary theology in which pacifism was paramount and central to Christianity and therefore was the single shaping orientation for relationships, personal and family (even my siblings were to be treated with this ethic in mind, a true test), and as adult in my professional life and in the politics of everyday. This was the primary formative ethic of my faith. As an adult, I quickly learned this formative stance was hard to practice; it was the subject of ridicule and distain. And at times, I did not know what to do with the feelings of anger and confusion. I discovered my grandfather had spent time in prison for his views in World War I; and a great-grandfather had been tarred and feathered in Kansas for his stance. For them, it was clear. I was not always so brave or so I thought. I also discovered while living in Germany and Japan, near military bases, that there were many fine people who understand the formative practice of peace and pacifism differently. These were people I respected and admired; people I worshiped with and worked alongside. What might it mean to sign or greet one another, the peace of Christ be with you, as a habit and practice? With those whose views are so different from mine on a number of vitally important issues. As a culture and society, as a church and institution, there is a critical lack of peace. As with most themes of this sort, we differ on what it means in terms of our vocation or calling; of our willingness to defend against evil; on our study of ritual and practice and community. What gathers the disparate fragments we have made in our own interpretive strategies about not only the peace of Christ, but the meaning of Christ as a primary shaper of our intentions and practices and habits is that unseen force which remains as real as this keyboard I’m typing on and yet as elusive as the cloud in the clean blue sky on this sunny day.

I have failed to practice what this peace means. I have come to understand that it does not mean giving up or becoming passive or withdrawing from the world simply because it is too hard to make sense of things. Though it does not mean that with Christ all is immediately well; it does not get me off the hook from claiming that the formative vision and narrative of my childhood faith is the wrong one or a naïve one at best. What do I know of formative language of peace now that I am old enough to have a tiny grandson? That this peace matters, the peace claimed in a name called Christ shaped my ethical stance, though I fail at it all the time I remain formed by what it promises in the real and everyday way of seeing and relating to the world.

The D.Min. program offers the opportunity to consider what formative practices may mean for us and for the people with whom we minister. Some of us are chaplains, military, hospice, hospitals; some are non-profit employees, some are church planters, or intentional interims, or pastors of congregations formed long ago. We’ve much to examine, absorb, and learn these days. Here at Pittsburgh Seminary is a gift of time and space for such a task.

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Why a Doctor of Ministry Degree: because you will have space, and a place for honest dialogue for the sake of our present and future.*




*For the quick read, skip to the last paragraph.


This morning at 5:30 am, I received an email from those I know in Israel, in Gaza.  I received two photos of two children, one in a hospital bed, and another of a child playing with a balloon amid the rubble from a missile, a bomb, meant to do one thing and one thing only, shatter, take apart and destroy.  I then watched the New York Times docu-narrative of a boy in Brazil, who flies kites.  He makes them, glue and paper, string, and stick.  He says:  “I think everyone should have wings just like the birds and since we don’t have wings, I fly kites.”  These children are the heart of the matter.


Someday these children might reflect on the innocence of these days, innocence so easily shattered.  What would we have to do to provide protection and space and nurturing presence and wholeness for the children of the world?


Of course, for some the answers are simple:  kill or be killed.  For others, the answers are some form of a savior which marks the centerpoint of their faith and belief; for others, it is the work of medical research, the development of medicines, for others it is a set of laws, clarity of right and wrong.  A leading researcher on AIDS, died in the plane shot down in route to an international conference.


These narratives of suffering, death, destruction leave little room for breathing space; little room for comfort.  We assume that to fly high in the sky will take us always from home to wherever it is we are going and then back home again.  We make plans; we expect to find and keep an even keel.  And then we don’t any longer.  We give up, retreat to the narrow confines of our belief, our settled upon answers, our guns, our intellectual reasoning, our prejudices, and forego the unpleasantness.  Because we do not have answers that seem to provide a way, we have become polarized, split in two, grasping for an ideology which at least offers some sort of solid ground, but it doesn’t, not really because it creates exclusion and inclusion; fear of anyone not like me.


Every generation seeks to find answers, to prepare to offer the world the gift of an end to violence.  The news cycle becomes addictive, the wordiness of editorials, blogs, columnists become predicable.  Analysis is unending, updates constant, and answers few and far between.


*Here is what I know:  dialogue helps, being in conversation with others is most important, and accountability to what we think and what we say vital; acquiring listening skills, necessary.  That is why a Doctor of Ministry is a good idea for those in ministry, both pastoral and specialized.  This degree gives room for the both/and of points of view; gives room to be changed, provides companions from all over the nation (and increasingly the world) so that we might have courage, we might continue to live in hope for here and for now; and through faculty and students together, creates a climate for learning.


Link to New York Times Kite Fight:

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