MTSO’s students, in their own words

They aren’t kidding themselves. The vocations for which they’re preparing will likely be challenging at best. Despite that reality, or maybe because of it, they bring energy and idealism to a place that will prepare them to make a difference in various forms of ministry and service. Here are the profiles of six promising new students, featuring quotes from their admissions essays.

Searching for the future of the church

“I think pastoral care might just be baked into my bones,” Kate McFadden said. “I am most alive when I’m doing the work of justice, speaking truth to power and oppression, and uplifting others.”

Currently, McFadden is working on a ministry and mentoring project sponsored by a grant from the Forum for Theological Exploration: “I will conduct a listening and discovery process inviting young adults, aged 18-35, from interfaith or no faith backgrounds to explore their spirituality, reimagine how we worship, pray and cultivate spiritual community.”

McFadden, the recipient of the Bishop Judith Craig Scholarship, plans to use the data to create worship, fellowship, and educational and spiritual practice experiences with Old Stone Church in Cleveland, where she works as communications manager. The project also informs her pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree from MTSO.

“This project is deeply connected to the work I am curious about pursuing in graduate school and beyond – what is the future of the church? I have the brain of an entrepreneur and the heart of a mystic. I am excited about how the project will inform my dreams about cultivating spiritual community rooted in Christian tradition in both practical and unimagined ways.”

Living the Methodist tradition

Jaylon Tasby has spent a lifetime in the United Methodist Church. As a 4-year-old, he would curl himself around the pulpit to feel the vibrations of his pastor’s voice during the weekly sermon.

“There always seemed to be a feeling of warmth and electricity flowing through my little body when the preacher spoke,” he said.

Following his freshman year at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas, Tasby spent the summer of 2017 working as a staff member at Lakeview United Methodist Summer Camp. It was there that he began to feel the nudge toward pursuing youth and children’s ministry: “My calling was affirmed, and my leadership skills were strengthened.”

The following two summers were filled with formative Methodist experiences. In 2018 he was selected as one of five U.S. college students to travel to Israel and the Holy Land with Young People’s Ministries, a part of the Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church.

The next summer he was chosen as an intern at the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. During this internship, he focused on social justice change and reform through the lens of the United Methodist social principles.

In addition to seeking ordination as a deacon, Tasby is pursuing two degrees: Master of Arts in Practical Theology and Master of Theological Studies.

“I am at the door of graduate school in order to study theology,” he said, “because I am driven to answer the quiet but massive call of God.”

Passionate to end human trafficking

Mark Kwiatkowski is seeking a Master of Divinity degree from MTSO after recently earning a Master of Theological Studies from Boston University School of Theology.

“My interest is rooted in a desire to help congregations, families and persons who are conflicted about sexuality, gender and faith,” he said.

For the past three years, Kwiatkowski has served as lay leader of LifeLine Church, a congregation in Toledo’s city center.

“Throughout my ministry to queer people both in Toledo and in Boston, it has become evident that there are large numbers of queer youth impacted by human trafficking,” he said. “I believe the church has a moral obligation to respond to this crisis.”

“Often there are not enough resources to meet the specific needs of queer youth who are being trafficked. These victims also tend to be dealing with addiction and housing insecurity.”

Studying with MTSO’s Yvonne Zimmerman, associate academic dean and associate professor of Christian ethics, is the foundation Kwiatkowski wants for his ministry.

“I agree with Dr. Zimmerman that far too often Christian movements against trafficking seem too interested in preserving a puritanical ideal of human sexuality and gender,” he said. “These outdated notions of sexuality and gender turn away many victims, especially queer victims, from receiving the help that they so desperately need.”

Transforming self in order to serve others

Molly Collier was in middle school when she became active in a Methodist church in her Georgia hometown. She participated in several short mission trips with her youth group. But it was during a year-long stint with the Mission Year organization, serving an Atlanta-area elementary school and daycare near the city center, that she discovered her passion.

“That year was a pivotal moment in my life and for my faith,” she said. “My eyes were opened to many injustices that plague the United States, from health care to resources and funding for public schools, public transportation and environmental justice.”

Collier deepened her understanding as she began to analyze her role and responsibility to those she was sent to serve.

“I realize it is a lifelong process to unpack my whiteness and what that means for service and work toward social justice,” she said. “I realized that I went into Mission Year as a 20-year-old with a white savior mentality, thinking that I knew how to help people. It has taken years to unlearn that, and I am still trying to figure out the best way to serve others.”

Collier, a Bishop Hazen G. Werner Scholar, is seeking a Master of Arts in Social Justice degree.

“I am excited to know there is a seminary that is inclusive and accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community,” she said. “I am excited to learn from a diverse faculty and diverse students.”

Devoting life to serving young people

La’Risha Gay has a deep passion for youth ministry. Although it would be easy to attribute her devotion to young people to challenges she faced as a young adult, that explanation doesn’t capture the depth and breadth of her plans for her future.

While in college, she mentored young people in Dayton, inspiring a decision that charted her educational and vocational path: “My experience introducing high school youth to God was really exciting. But not knowing how to help them with trauma and internal conflict led me to change my studies to social work.”

During her last semester at Eastern Michigan University, Gay lost her mother. Far from defeating her, a confluence of challenges she faced sharpened her resolve. “I got custody of my baby brother, graduated from undergrad and created a faith-based nonprofit organization for youth,” she said.

Equipped with a Master of Arts in Practical Theology degree from MTSO, Gay dreams of starting her own nonprofit dedicated to helping kids ages 5-18.

“My vision is to take a child and mold them into what God created them to be,” she said. “I want them to know that their mission is to find their purpose and who they are in God’s eyes.”

Gay believes that MTSO is the next step in her journey to a life of purpose.

“I am answering God’s call,” she said. “Sometimes that has been more challenging than others, but I have always stuck to my purpose. I am making sure I am making room for something new to know about myself and my purpose. And that’s always exciting.”

Creating space for those at the margins

“I often tell people that the church raised me,” Nicole Guthrie said. “Hanging out in the church building after school and lingering on Sunday, I developed a deep love for God, missions, social justice and spiritual practices with the help of the church and my mentors.”

These formational experiences spurred Guthrie to earn a Bachelor of Arts in religion and philosophy from Southwestern College in Kansas. Before coming to MTSO’s campus, she worked at Urban Abbey United Methodist Church in Nebraska, near the campuses of the University of Nebraska Omaha and Creighton University.

“I served as the director of community engagement, including campus outreach,” she said. “Serving as a living sanctuary in the heart of downtown Omaha, we are a hub for the community, supporting and collaborating with local nonprofits to advocate for social justice in a variety of areas.”

Guthrie, the recipient of the Flo K. Gault Memorial Scholarship, is focusing on a dual degree: Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Social Justice.

“I am eager to create space for those at the margins to experience the full inclusion of their presence and gifts,” she said. “I dream of a future ministry that envisions church in a new and refreshing way.”