Visions for seminary and beyond

The varied stories and aspirations of the newest MTSO students reflect the evolving role of theological education in preparing Christian leaders. Some feel the pull of traditional pulpit ministry, while others seek to make a difference in other forms of service and ministry.

Embracing new possibilities

In a series of service roles, Chaska Yoder discovered spirituality as a strength of persons in crisis with whom she worked. She was disheartened, however, to find spirituality’s absence in the structures where she was working. Interning at a domestic violence shelter in Virginia, working in a displacement camp in Iraqi Kurdistan, and doing crisis work with individuals and families experiencing homelessness in Pennsylvania, cemented her desire to merge faith and work more closely.

Yoder, who has received the Harding Scholarship, grew up in a conservative Mennonite setting and still embraces her roots, while identifying with more progressive Mennonite thought: “Experience aided my progressive theological shift. I experienced the grace of an LGBTQ friend and his faithful, unwavering commitment to God and to the church. I witnessed the power and truth-telling of female faith leaders and the necessity of multiple perspectives.”

Yoder’s theological shift brought a new possibility of pastoral leadership for her, and she is now pursuing a Master of Divinity degree. Blending leadership gifts with a passion for spirituality in her vocation, she said, “Chaplaincy seems to be the intersection where my gifts and passions collide.”

Compelled to be a voice for God’s people

Kelley Fox isn’t shy about seizing opportunities for ministry. She spent  the summer of 2017 working as an intern with Central City Church, a United Methodist church plant in the Columbus suburb of Grandview Heights. She had worked with the leaders of the startup previously and wanted to be part of the new venture, so she raised the necessary funding for her internship herself.

During her third year at Ohio Northern University, Fox lost a close friend to suicide. In the days that followed, Fox founded the university’s first Out of the Darkness Walk, which raises money for  the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

For Fox, an M. Div. student pursuing United Methodist ordination with the help of MTSO’s Legacy Scholarship, these two experiences shaped a call.

“I feel compelled to be a voice for God’s people, especially women, people of color, people who are bullied, and those who struggle with mental illness,” she said. “I feel that God is calling me to learn more about his word to show marginalized people that God loves them, no matter what.”

Called to work with young men of color

As a religious studies major at Gettysburg College, Jeffrey White’s desire to work in youth ministry began to grow. “God gave me the vision of taking youth ministry beyond the walls of a church building,” he said. Having been awarded the Burton Morgan Scholarship in Youth Ministry, he enters MTSO with a desire to “implement change in the community through service and mentorship of the minority population, specifically young men of color.”

Prior to entering MTSO as an M. Div. student, White had several experiences that have solidified his decision to work with adolescents. He spent three school years working as a resident assistant and five summers at a Christian summer camp and retreat center in Maryland. Additionally, he spent the fall of 2017 in Uganda working with youth displaced by the Rwandan genocide. In both of these experiences, White discovered “when ministering to individuals, the love of Christ must be shown before anyone will trust the message of the Gospel.”

Writing on White’s behalf, his academic advisor reflected on his campus leadership positions and his time in Uganda: “Through all of these experiences, I have seen his faith grow stronger and stronger, as well as his determination to work with people from backgrounds of marginalization and violence.”

Committed to listen to both sides

After two mission trips to Colombia, Ashley Wynn created a nonprofit to support the work of a  foundation where she had cared for, played with and taught children. She has since raised thousands of dollars through the nonprofit

Search.Love.Rescue, contributing  to everything from funding groceries to paying off the building.

In addition to completing United Methodist ordination and her Master of Divinity degree, Wynn’s long-term goals include planting a new church start with her husband, who is currently a provisional elder in the denomination’s West Ohio Conference.

Wynn, a recipient of the Barbara and Michael Cantlin Endowed Scholarship, is well aware that she is entering seminary at a challenging time. “In my lifetime, this is the most polarized political atmosphere I can remember,” she said. “This seems to have permeated the church. People want to argue, but they do not want to listen. I want to listen. I want to listen to those on both sides because when you listen to people then they are more open to you ministering in their lives.”

Seeking to experience diversity of thought

At a 2016 Ash Wednesday service, Ronald Marcoux asked God’s help in dealing with family medical issues and pledged to become more active within his Scipio, Indiana, church. In the ensuing years, he found himself chairing the congregation’s non-traditional service and making a decision to attend seminary and pursue ministry.

“I chose to apply to MTSO to be challenged academically,” said Marcoux, a John and Mary Alford Scholarship recipient. “I want to experience diversity of thought and a truly immersive learning environment that will equip me to fulfill my call. I am intrigued by how my theology will be challenged and shaped during my seminary experience.”

Before deciding to pursue his Master of Divinity degree and United Methodist ordination, he spent time talking with others who had completed the process: “Each graduate advised that the seminary experience is not learning about scripture, it is learning how to interpret scripture and apply it to real life. Each also stressed how challenging the work would be. In addition, each graduate told me the seminary experience was transformational, and they met many great people who would be lifelong friends.”

Bringing ecology to the rural church

Taylor Johnston envisions connecting her passion for the environment to working in the rural church: “I feel called to serve in a rural church setting. And I believe that connecting God and the environment is something that could be extremely powerful.”

After graduating from college with a degree in environmental science, Johnston traveled to South Africa in July as a delegate to the Global Young People’s Convocation. This United Methodist gathering ignited Johnston’s imagination about creating a network of partnerships to serve and support environmental efforts in the United States as well as in other countries.

Having received a John and Mary Alford Scholarship, she’ll pursue a Master of Divinity degree and seek United Methodist ordination. The school’s focus on ecology and justice was a factor in Johnston’s decision to attend MTSO.

 “I have a desire to seek out the needs of those outside the walls of the church, and as a church or team, determine ways to address and equip each other for success,” Johnston said. “What I seek to gain during my graduate studies is how to connect my pre-existing knowledge about the challenges in the environment to theology.”