Pastoral Care in the Classroom and Beyond

In the rhythm of the academic year, this is the first week after the end of the fall term. The last few days of a semester are always filled with students, staff and faculty scrambling to tie up loose ends and meet all the deadlines.

Although I spend most of my time serving as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Academic Dean, I continue to teach the required course in pastoral care. Much of teaching pastoral care involves engaging case studies of real life situations, either through discussion or role-plays.

This semester the class encountered a dying man, a struggling family, a victim of assault, a combat veteran, and many more. As students imagined themselves caring for these people they began to see the complexity of human beings and realized that pastoral care is not about learning a series of techniques. Pastoral care is a disposition, an art, a way of thinking and being.

There is rarely, if ever, one right way to attend to people who are suffering. Healing and transformational care involves a relationship between human beings who each brings with them their own unique person and life-history. When done well, both caregiver and care receiver are changed in the process. Throughout the semester, more than whether or not they do the “right” thing, I am interested in how students engage in the process, how deeply they can reflect on the complexity of the situation, how able they are to open themselves up beyond their preconceived notions and engage in compassionate practice.

I currently have an electronic stack of final papers to grade over the holidays. While I do not enjoy putting a grade on each paper, I do look forward to reading them. Students were given a choice of two case situations, one about a single man living with loss while parenting a teenage son and another about a family living with domestic violence.

Students were asked to write about how they would approach the situation and provide care. They begin with placing the whole situation in the context of the church’s ministry and God’s love. Students will articulate where they see God’s presence and activity in the situation, including signs of sin and hope. They will discuss possible interpretations of what is happening within and between persons and consider the impact of sociocultural realities. Then, given all these reflections, students will propose a way forward toward healing.

As I read the papers I will have the joy of seeing the commitment and passion my students bring to their seminary education and to ministry. I will seek to make my grading an act of care.

Dr. Jeanne Hoeft, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean, Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Care, and Franklin and Louise Cole Associate Professor in Town and Country Ministries

Saint Paul Oklahoma Fellows Program Provides Enriching Learning Experience

Michael Carpenter had much on his mind after graduating with his civil engineering degree from Oklahoma State University. How did he envision his future? Recently married, his wife had applied and been accepted to medical school. The young couple also hoped to start a family. If he followed his heart to go to seminary and become a pastor, could they afford it?

According to a recent article in The Atlantic, the average Master of Divinity graduate accrued more than $40,000 in educational debt and five percent accumulated more than $80,000 in debt. Meanwhile the U.S. department of labor states that the median wage for a pastor is $43,800 — not a salary that lends itself to paying off high-end loans.

Carpenter was especially drawn to Saint Paul at Oklahoma City University after hearing an announcement about a newly established Oklahoma Fellows program. Recipients would receive tuition, a church placement, and ministry mentor. Carpenter was elated to later receive the news that he would begin seminary in 2015 as a Fellow. He was also welcomed into the fold at Oklahoma City based, United Methodist Church of the Servant.

Michael began his internship by simply observing ministry and later took on more leadership roles. “I view all of the clergy here as mentors,” said Carpenter. “They are all experts in their fields and open to sharing. It’s a wonderful church.” Michael turns to one pastor for academic questions, another for pastoral care advice and another for advice when working on Sunday sermons.

Now into his third year as a seminary Fellow, Michael has grown through his multiple experiences around the church. He has enjoyed planning worship for the early-morning chapel service and preaching in both traditional and modern worship settings. He currently leads the young adult ministry and focuses on the church’s hospitality and follow-up ministry with guests.“One of the things I appreciate is that this 1500 member church remembers that they have grown through personal relationships, one member at a time.”

Carpenter has learned so much from the congregation and his church leadership mentors — all while keeping up with his seminary studies. “Saint Paul has been incredible in readying me for real-life ministry. In every class the professors discuss how we can use what we learned not just for our own edification, but also for building God’s kingdom on earth through our ministries.”

Randy Shrauner, Church of the Servant Executive Pastor and clergy mentor sees the collaborative program as a win-win situation. Together the church and seminary are raising up young, high-caliber clergy for the state.

“I have no doubt that Michael’s acumen in the classroom will make the short jump to the local parish intact and energized. We are grateful for his ministry among us and look forward to a life invested as clergy colleagues.”

Saint Paul at OCU student Michael Carpenter and his wife Rachel were pleased to welcome a baby boy to their family in May.