January 23, 2024

Kate Common, assistant professor of practical theology

Bringing a designer’s eye to the church

It’s possible you’ve seen the work of MTSO’s newly elected assistant professor of practical theology without knowing it. Until a few years ago, Kate Common was designing attention-grabbing ads for distribution to the 2.5 million customers on the email list of the clothing retailer Marshalls.

At the same time, she was finishing a Ph.D. in theological studies from Boston University School of Theology to go with her master’s in theological research from Andover Newton Theological School and her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in visual communication design from Kent State University.

Common is no stranger to MTSO. She is in the fourth of four academic years teaching here as a Louisville Institute postdoctoral scholar, during which the institute provides her salary, benefits and travel expenses.

“Thanks to the Louisville Institute, Dr. Common and our school have had several years to learn that we really work well together,” said MTSO President Jay Rundell. “I am grateful for everything Kate brings to our shared work and look forward her teaching and leadership in the years to come.”

Common, who lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, with her wife, Kysa Nygreen, their two children and three dogs, teaches primarily remotely, coming to campus in person for significant events throughout the year.

Growing up in rural northeastern Ohio, Common learned a lot about herself during high school: She aspired to be a graphic designer; she was good enough at softball to be recruited by Division I universities; and she was gay.

Raised by conservative Christian parents, “I had grown up in an environment thinking that being gay was a sin.”

She attended Kent State during the turn of the 21st century. Struggling to reconcile her faith and her sexuality, she delved into gay theology books and also connected with a warehouse-based church community that she found welcoming despite its conservative theology. Eventually, she chose to declare herself ex-gay, to the delight of her church: “I became a poster child.”

But then, she said with a chuckle, “As things happen, you end up meeting someone. And I met a woman who was set to become a campus minister. After a few months we realized, ‘Oh, this feels like more than a friendship. Well, we’ve gotta tell our ministry teams.’” The ministry teams responded by shutting both women out of leadership roles.

After college, Common moved to Boston, joined an open and affirming church, and rose through the ranks of a design firm, eventually managing multimillion dollar accounts. “It was a great career. But I couldn’t get theology out of my head.”

Now, two graduate theological degrees later, she is finding innovate ways to blend her vocational passions as a member of MTSO’s faculty. Among the courses she teaches is Transformational Leadership by Design.

“If you think about design,” she said, “you work on a project, you hang it up, you get feedback, and you go back and work on the same project.”

“A big part of it is not assuming you know what the problem is. Like, ‘There’s not enough youth in our Sunday school.’ Is the problem with the youth, or is there some something bigger? Is the problem that you’ve created an isolated community so that it’s not welcoming for people with young families?”

Common’s first book, Undoing Conquest: Ancient Israel, the Bible, and the Future of Christianity, will be published by Orbis Books in February 2024. It argues that archaeological discoveries across Israel and Palestine reveal a liberating origins story of ancient Israel that contradicts conquest-based interpretations of its history. Her next book project is Imagining Utopia: The Four Marks of a Queer Feminist Church.

Common is excited to be doing this work through a school in her home state.

“I really like being connected back to Ohio,” she said, “because that’s where my roots are, and that’s where my real heart for ministry and wanting to create change in the church emerged from. It’s really coming full circle to be in Ohio teaching folks that are in ministry and are in many ways still dealing with some of the issues that I dealt with 20 years ago.”

Methodist Theological School in Ohio provides theological education and leadership in pursuit of a just, sustainable and generative world. In addition to the Master of Divinity degree, the school offers master’s degrees in public theology, social justice and theological studies, along with a Doctor of Ministry degree.


Danny Russell, communications director
drussell@mtso.edu, 740-362-3322