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Finding seminary where you are

by the Rev. Nate Preisinger

Boston Starbucks - Creative Commons license

(Creative Commons)

If you asked me to give you a tour of the seminary I attended, I’d bring you to the Starbucks on Delaware Avenue in Buffalo, New York. I’d show you the large black table where I would spread my theology textbooks and Greek New Testament book. I’d point out the power outlet that played such an essential role in my study sessions. I’d introduce you to George and Peggy, my non-matriculating, unintentional classmates. And I’d tell you that if you really wanted to understand my full seminary experience then you should order a small bowl of oatmeal and a grande blonde roast.

I consider this Starbucks in the north end of Buffalo my seminary because I completed my Master of Divinity through a distributed learning (DL) program. Sometimes when I share this information I am met with suspicious glances from clergy who took a more traditional and— in their minds — better route. But the truth is, I wouldn’t trade my seminary experience for anything. In a lot of ways, I think I was better formed for ministry through my “Starbucks classes” then if I had just gone to a campus for four years.

I’ll admit I didn’t choose to enroll in a DL program because I thought it would be the best educational experience. I pursued a DL MDiv because it was my only choice. I was serving as the pastor of Parkside Lutheran Church in Buffalo, New York. My wife was pregnant with our first child in the midst of completing her master’s degree at the University at Buffalo. And the nearest Lutheran seminary was five hours away. My candidacy committee made it quite clear that I needed to complete a master’s degree in theological studies. Furthermore, I knew that I needed this degree in order to better serve the people of Parkside and in order to better serve the church as a whole.

So, I worked out the details and began taking online classes through Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa. I quickly became a regular at the Starbucks near my house as I spent my mornings pouring over theological texts and biblical commentaries while sipping my blonde roast. While eating my small bowl of oatmeal, I’d login to the online forum, type out my thoughts, and then read the posts from my classmates in Illinois and Wisconsin and Michigan.

And you know what happened? I learned all this material really well. Even though my classroom was a Starbucks and my classmates weren’t even in the same state, the process of reading and posting and responding to my classmates forced me to learn the material in a way that I never would have in a traditional classroom. The DL program taught me how to think theologically and how to carefully express my thoughts in writing. And, even more importantly, the DL program allowed me to really learn the art of translating my theological musings into my everyday life. When your seminary classroom is a Starbucks, you can’t help but learn to see the Gospel in your day to day interactions.

As an institution committed to Public Theology, the thought of students studying theology from within their own context just makes sense. And so I’m very excited about the launch of this new educational pathway. I’m excited for the ways the DL MDiv program will allow students who never thought it possible the chance to pursue their call. I’m excited to see students discover all the ways the DL program isn’t just convenient but is actually a dynamic way of learning. And I’m excited to hear stories from students as they discover and establish their own “Starbucks classrooms.”

If you are attending Spring Convocation, be sure to attend Nate Preisinger’s presentation:

Tear Down that Wall Happy Hour with the Rev. Nate Preisinger

“We’re going to build a wall!” is a phrase that is being uttered quite a lot these days. In contrast to these inflammatory statements, Associate Director of Admissions Nate Preisinger wants to tell you about the ways that LTSP is tearing down the walls in order to make seminary education accessible for more and more people. Join him for a drink and a short presentation on our new Distributed Learning Master of Divinity pathway.

Nate Preisinger talks about the Distributed Learning Master of Divinity pathway

The Rev. Nate Preisinger is Associate Director of Admissions at LTSP

 

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