Two Upstate New York graduate students striving to become ‘better pastors’
Upstate New York Synod Pastors Scott Hannon and Douglas Stewart are studying for DMin advanced-level degrees at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP) in order to become better, more relevant pastors in their congregational settings. But both serve in considerably different contexts.
Hannon, a Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary graduate, has been a pastor for four years at St. John Lutheran Church in Amherst, New York. In 2012, Amherst, Buffalo’s closest and most populous suburb, was listed by CNNMoney.com as 50th on the list of the 100 best places to live in America. In 2012, Amherst was listed as one of the 100 best places for young people to live by America’s Promise Alliance. Jamestown is Hannon’s original hometown. He studied sociology at the University of Buffalo. He and his wife, Kate, live about three miles from the congregation. “At St. John we have a meaningful approach to worship, faith formation, youth and family ministry, and social service, Scott said. In seeking his DMin, Scott said he is striving to grasp how to be a better pastor in today’s postmodern world, where the church is far less at the center of the culture than it once was.
Stewart, a pastor for the past 20 years, studied at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg. He is excited about the difference the congregation he serves, Incarnate Word Lutheran Church in downtown Rochester, New York, is making in the various ways it strives to meet the needs of people in a large metropolitan urban zone (population about one million). Poverty and violence are daily concerns. He serves in team ministry with his wife, Joanne, who earned her BA in Sacred Music from Lebanon Valley College. Joanne also graduated from Gettysburg Seminary and has served congregations in Pennsylvania and Connecticut as Minister of Music prior to attending seminary. She’s been pastor of two congregations in Pennsylvania after her 1992 ordination and before coming to Incarnate Word.
“We probably have the highest crime rate in the state of New York,” Stewart said. “We have shootings almost every day and at least 200 homeless people who daily do not have access to a shelter. Our downtown church takes seriously being ‘in the city for good.’” As their pastor I am taking this DMin study so I can acquire the tools to better serve and lead the congregation in our setting. We are trying to go a step beyond the band aid approach of caring for people experiencing poverty to the point where we can learn what it takes to advocate for them, how to deal with the issues systemically. We want to be a more relevant presence.”
“I got a really great education at Southern Seminary,” Hannon said, “one for which I am very grateful. “But I think I was prepared in some ways for a church that no longer exists in this time. I am trying to learn by studying for this degree how to be a better pastor in today’s world, how to better build an approach to worship and service, how to build a community of faith for all kinds of people, whether they may be 84 or in the 30 and under age bracket.”
Hannon believes that although today’s church is not at the center of the culture, more toward the margins, “Jesus did his best work along the margins, with the least of these of his day. I believe in 10 years we will see the emerging church experiencing a renaissance and new growth.”
Hannon is comparatively new to his DMin study and Stewart is in the midst of his fourth class in the initiative. Both expressed deep appreciation for the Rev. Dr. David Grafton, who heads up the seminary’s Graduate School, and with whom they were studying in January. “He is a remarkable teacher,” they agreed.
“We’re meeting all kinds of classmates from a variety of backgrounds,” they said. “We are grateful to be in classes that are so diverse culturally. We are learning a lot from each other. LTSP is a really great place.”
watch Pastors Hannon and Stewart In Conversation