Alumni and friends of MTSO are familiar with the education the school provides through its five graduate degree programs. Less well-known is MTSO’s role hosting the Course of Study School of Ohio.
The five-year Course of Study is prescribed by the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry for those seeking to serve congregations as licensed local pastors rather than ordained elders or deacons.
As one of the eight regional Course of Study schools, MTSO hosts four two-day sessions and one two-week intensive session each year. Classes such as Theological Heritage, Evangelism, Transformative Leadership and Preaching are taught by COS faculty, including some full-time MTSO faculty members.
A Course of Study education at MTSO can be a transformative process in the preparation of licensed local pastors. Bob Dister knows that first-hand.
“Methesco had the perfect fit for me,” said Dister, who is two years into his Course of Study education. He is a licensed local pastor appointed to Clayton and Rollin Center United Methodist churches, just west of Adrian, Mich.
Dister and his wife of 34 years, Pat, have two daughters, one of whom is a Master of Divinity student at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. His own entry into full-time ministry comes after years of education and nonprofit work experience, a wealth of education, and a gradual realization that this is his passion.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Miami University, followed by two master’s degrees, in education and school counseling. In southern Michigan, he co-owned and operated a Montessori preschool and daycare center, worked for Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the Boys and Girls Club, and served as executive director of the local Habitat for Humanity. He also became deeply involved at Morenci UMC “and literally held every position you can hold – including janitor,” eventually becoming a certified lay speaker.
During his time with Habitat, Dister realized the thing he found most “exhilarating” was serving as a fill-in preacher at a local church for six weeks. That led to his decision to follow his call to full-time United Methodist ministry.
Of course, that meant more school, and seeking a third master’s degree didn’t seem to Dister like the optimal path. He joked, “I thought, ‘OK, God, if you’d called me a little earlier I could have done my M.Div. from Methesco.’”
While the Master of Divinity wasn’t the perfect fit for Dister, it turned out MTSO was. He knew he would be taking classes while serving as a pastor full-time, and he wanted to maximize the time he spent on the job.
“I recognized for my congregations, it was important that I was there and available,” he said. When attending the two-day COS sessions at MTSO, he is able to spend Friday and Saturday in class and still preach on Sunday.
Dister appreciates the class time, particularly the engagement with the faculty and fellow pastors.
“I’m constantly amazed at how much they care about us and about our experience,” he said. “One of my biggest fears was that my preaching style would have to meet some standard I’m not comfortable with. It ended affirming that we each find our own voice, and we’re encouraged and supported in that.”
In addition, Dister has gotten to know his Course of Study classmates.
“After two years being in classes with folks time and time again, you develop friendships and you begin to care about one another. We pray for one another and lift one another up when we’re struggling.”
Dister has come to expect an uplifting environment on his trips south to MTSO.
“Yes, we have to get a grade,” he said, “and yet the experience is one of support and encouragement rather than critical judgment.”
“I find that everyone at MTSO’s Course of Study wants us to succeed.”