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. Below are reflections of six incoming students.

Bhoke Mukami

Working to enhance the nonprofit she founded

Mukami earned degrees from universities in Tanzania and the United Kingdom and embarked on a successful career in investment banking. Yet she found herself continuing to reflect on powerful experiences in Tanzania.

As a volunteer with local children, Mukami was often told difficult stories of abuse and molestation: “I came to know that some of the girls had been sexually violated. It was really hard to comprehend and digest. It was during this time that I made a commitment to empower both boys and girls.”

In December 2013, Mukami founded the nonprofit organization Shield Our Watoto, employing a Kiswahili word that means children. SOW works to make Tanzanian children safer by equipping both children and adults with the tools and information to confront the silent but pervasive issue of sexual abuse. Now, with the help of the Flo K. Gault Scholarship, Mukami is seeking a Master of Arts in Counseling Ministries degree to enhance her work.

“My dream is to break the silence surrounding this issue by promoting dialogues, raising awareness and encouraging communication. SOW empowers children and adults through educational programs on how to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to childhood sexual abuse,” she said.

“I know with a MACM degree, I will be better prepared to lead SOW and fulfill my lifelong vision to work with people facing some of the most difficult issues to solve.”

Kevin Michael Rodriquez

A pursuit of ministry abandoned and rekindled

Discouraged by the changes in his childhood church and a faith-challenging first year at a conservative Southern college, Rodriquez abandoned early plans to pursue ministry. He returned to his home state to enroll in California State University Monterey Bay. After graduating magna cum laude, Rodriquez began a career as a mentor and tutor with the Community Partnership for Youth.

“This is where I had a true encounter with the living God,” he said, “through people who rejected xenophobia, islamophobia, homophobia and misogyny in favor of justice rooted in loving kindness.”

The experience rekindled Rodriquez’s interest in ministry. A Harding Scholarship recipient, he will pursue a Master of Divinity degree at MTSO.

“I know in my heart that I want to serve the impoverished as well as unhoused communities,” he said. “I feel a strong calling toward ministering to those who so often go unnoticed. As a person of color, I have a strong desire to help bridge the chasm of racial understanding.”

“While I am not certain any person can ever be fully and truly prepared to delve into the most profound and longing questions of the human heart, mind and spirit, I do know that I have waited long enough to try.”

Alexandra Petrey

Called to be a deacon engaged in counseling

After graduating from Ohio Northern University with a degree in youth ministries, Petrey earned a Master of Divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. While at Garrett, she immersed herself in Chicago’s downtown, serving in congregational children’s ministry. She also interned with a nonprofit in Detroit that provides transitional housing for homeless families.

“I felt myself torn between the needs of the local church for faith formation and the needs in the greater community for justice,” she said. “I enjoyed teaching and enjoyed working in the larger community. At the same time, I felt the need for strong elder leadership and the strong encouragement of other clergy to become an elder, but I felt within my heart the call for deacon.”

To merge her interests, Petrey, a commissioned provisional deacon in the West Ohio Conference, is seeking a Master of Arts in Counseling Ministries degree, aided by a Burton D. Morgan Foundation Scholarship.

“As a licensed social worker or mental-health counselor,” she said, “I am able to provide mental-health counseling and advocacy for justice issues beyond the life of the local congregation for the greater good of our communities. I hope to make poverty and mental illness both areas where our churches feel more equipped, and where disciples are able to minister to, with and for others.”

Emily Howard

Treating discernment as an adventure

“Discerning a call to ministry is a moment-by-moment adventure in connecting with God and integrating prayer with daily life. My discernment is a lifelong pursuit,” said Howard, whose pursuit has been wide-ranging.

Raised in the Church of God, Howard attended the College of Wooster, where she participated in a Quaker leadership development program, volunteered in an urban addiction recovery program and interned with a Presbyterian congregation. After graduation, she remained at Wooster as a campus chaplain for three years.

She sought out one more experience before making the commitment to enroll in MTSO’s Master of Divinity program: Leaving behind rural Wooster, she moved to Cleveland where she became a part of the ministry team at a new United Church of Christ church called Embody: A Community of Faith. There, she said, “I learned that ministry is not a total pouring out of self for others and God. Rather, ministry fills me up too.”

Howard, who received a Methesco Scholarship, feels certain this is the right place to continue her discernment: “God’s presence is alive and vibrant at MTSO. I felt it in the chapel and the classrooms, among students, faculty and staff. I want to be a part of that living spirit.”

Troy Scot Braswell

Transitioning from pulpit ministry to counseling

Despite serving as an ordained Presbyterian minister for the last 10 years and having a full family life with a wife and three young boys, Braswell finds himself longing to shift the focus of his ministry. The recipient of an MTSO Recognition Award, he will pursue a Master of Arts in Counseling Ministries degree.

Braswell plans to seek licensure as a professional counselor, “likely focusing on marriage and family therapy with a particular emphasis on questions of faith and LGBT issues.”

His focus on LGBT issues has taken root in the last few years: “More often than not, the church has been a locus of condemnation for those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. That experience is frequently accompanied by internal family conflict.”

Braswell has taken pastoral care classes in the past and employed what he learned. “But I still wonder how much more help I might provide to others once I have completed training as a counselor.”

“We all have questions,” he said. “The maddeningly challenging reality of God is that the more we explore the questions we have, the more new questions we are likely to discover. And that is ultimately what I hope to do with this degree: help others explore their own life questions.”

Andrew Burns

Moved by how music speaks to the soul

As a youth delegate to West Ohio Annual Conference in 2010, Burns first felt his call to ministry. He was captivated by the ordination service and still remembers how the strains of God of Grace and God of Glory filled Hoover Auditorium: “It was a feeling similar to how I imagine John Wesley must have felt when he wrote that his heart was ‘strangely warmed’ on Aldersgate Street.”

A couple of years later, as an intern with the West Ohio Next Generations Leadership Summer Internship program, he worked with two United Methodist churches near Dayton. “I was able to experience the rigors of several ministry areas, including music, event planning and creating a new outreach team,” he said.

Inspired by that summer, he returned to his sophomore year at Ohio Northern University and changed his major to music, with a minor in communication studies. When he began serving as a student pastor of Alger First UMC in July 2014, he relied on his communication skills in preparing sermons each week.

Yet as he enters MTSO as an M. Div. student and a recipient of an Alford Scholarship, it is in his music degree that Burns finds the most historical and spiritual connections to ministry: “Music gives a voice to the deepest part of the human soul. As a pastor, that is the part of the soul to which I desire to speak.”