New students, fresh perspectives

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 beyond the church walls.

Drawn to counseling with a spiritual component

Having spent the last four years at Muskingum University studying psychology and neuroscience, Maggie Hale is convinced her career must merge her faith and counseling.

She became disenchanted with the traditional psychological theories she studied as an undergraduate. “I am a very hopeful person, and my views on humanity are much more optimistic than many theories I have learned in my courses,” she said. “I really struggled trying to envision myself counseling and implementing therapy using methodology from the perspectives I had learned.”

“Unfortunately, in the battle to be considered a legitimate science, psychology has widely rejected the fact that humans are inherently spiritual beings.”

Hale is pursuing two degrees: Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Counseling Ministries. She plans to focus on addiction counseling. At MTSO, Hale sees an opportunity to realize her goal of merging her faith with her vocation.

“I’ve always had the intention of becoming a counselor,” she said. “I could not commit myself to a career of counseling broken individuals in a traditional sense that did not involve talking about Christ. I realized there is no other option that would fulfill me more than to approach counseling from a Christian point of view.”

Embracing the Gospel as a tool to enact change

Noah Mitchell comes to MTSO with 13 years of experience in ministry. As an undergraduate at John Brown University, he was licensed and ordained in the Baptist church. Currently, he serves as the director of Christian education at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Columbus.

“I have the privilege and challenge of engaging a congregation of over 1,500 members,” said Mitchell, who is seeking a Master of Divinity degree. “There is no doubt that this has sparked a deeper desire within me to one day pastor a congregation.”

Prior to moving to Columbus, Mitchell taught Bible classes in a private high school in Arlington, Texas.

“In 2012 I wrote and published a book titled Face to Faith: How to Own Your Faith in College,” he said. “As a teacher at a private school, I knew that my students had no idea the challenges they would really face when they left the comforts of their homes and were on their own. I wanted to begin the process of challenging my seniors to own their faith.”

Mitchell is excited about his future as a church leader. “I know there is great work to be done,” he said. “And I want to be an active participant in using the Gospel to enact change.”

TV reporting led to a new path in a new country

Julie Nyangoro, who is seeking a Master of Arts in Counseling Ministries degree, began her career as a news anchor and producer for Tanzania’s Independent Television Channel. While working on a weekly program, Nyangoro was often assigned interviews with women who were in difficult emotional and financial situations. Even more trying were the stories of women in physically abusive relationships.

“I found myself being drawn to their life stories beyond my role as a television producer,” Nyangoro said. “I ended up offering emotional support to these women the best way that I knew how at the time. Wherever I could not personally help, I connected the women with individuals and organizations that were able to help.”

Immigrating to the United States did not change Nyangoro’s desire to work with women who are struggling. She has worked in Columbus with a faith-based group that serves residents of battered women’s shelters.

“Growing up in a Third World country and in a family of seven children, I learned very early on that in order to function in a community, one has to be involved in it,” she said. “My engagement in various programs that are focused on the health and well-being of women has solidified my passion for helping women.”

During Course of Study, inspired to attend seminary

Nicolas Berlanga’s path to professional ministry has taken nearly 40 years. He grew up Catholic and planned to pursue the priesthood. However, “I left college with new dreams; dreams of a career, dreams of a wife and children. It was an extremely difficult decision. There was feeling that I had turned my back on God.”

In the ensuing years, he became increasingly involved in United Methodist congregations, which led to  a life-changing moment in 2012.

“I can’t say I heard actual words, but it was as if someone was talking to me directly,” Berlanga said. “I heard, ‘I called you once, but you wanted a wife and children. I gave them to you. So I’m calling you again.’”

Berlanga responded by enrolling in the Course of Study, an educational track in the United Methodist Church that culminates in licensure as a local pastor. His Course of Study classroom experience whetted his appetite for a more rigorous theological education. He’ll pursue a Master of Divinity degree and seek Methodist ordination.

Berlanga now feels that the journey he started 40 years ago is headed in the right direction: “I am doing what I felt I was called to do as a young man.”

Wants the church to recapture its roots

Jason Young’s journey to ministry was dramatically influenced in high school, with conversations at lunchtime and after school. “My friends did not pull out their Bibles or quote scripture by chapter and verse to me,” he said. “Instead, they spoke God’s word in a way I could hear, and my interest in God began to develop.” He began attending church with friends and, shortly before going to college, was moved to profess his faith.

Following a 15-year career in pharmaceutical manufacturing, Young “became active in living my faith” and took on a number of administrative roles at Southport UMC in Indianapolis. His work in the church led to district lay leadership positions and, eventually, the decision to seek ordination as an elder.

“I feel called to continue to work through the United Methodist denomination to recapture our roots as a Christian movement,” he said. To that end, he’s excited about seminary and frank about the area where he hopes to grow.

“While I feel confident in the practical side of ministry, I sometimes have doubts about my theological understanding of the church Jesus desires,” he said. “My ultimate goal for seminary is to build up and then marry my theological and practical understanding of sharing the gospel.”

Lenten meditation led to “a gracious invitation”

Despite a successful and rewarding rewarding career in library sciences, Wendy Bartlett believed something was missing from her life, and she became intentional about figuring out what.

“I designed a very deep and deliberate Lent for myself – went off social media, canceled all social engagements and church meetings, and used that time for reflection, spiritual journaling, meditation and prayer,” Bartlett said. “Near the end of Lent, seated at my dining room table, I got my answer. Not exactly a burning bush on a mountainside, but certainly no less powerful to me.”

“I was surprised, and yet not surprised, to find out that being called felt more like a gracious invitation that was mine to either accept or reject,” she said.

Bartlett’s acceptance of the invitation means pursuing a Master of Divinity degree at MTSO and ordination in the Unitarian Universalist church. When she told family and friends, she said, “No one was surprised; apparently, my call to ministry was only news to me.”

“My goal is to become a parish minister,” she said. “Because I was raised in a very small Universalist church, I know that a small group of committed people can make an enormous difference in their community. I would love to help congregations to do that.”