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

Student Engagement: Using Technology to Increase Communication

My privilege this term is teaching students in the entering class using both face-to-face video conference technology and online course modules. The eagerness, inquisitiveness, and energy of both new and returning students in the Introduction to Ministry course is palpable. Student engagement with learning clearly witnesses to their faithfulness, to their calls, and to their commitment to sound preparation for diverse ministries.
In the days of traditional classroom teaching, I used to see students for a few hours each week, but now the students and I are typically in communication all week and in different ways. By email and in passing conversations, students tell me about their reactions to course reading assignments, which range from topics such as ministry identity of pastors to the practice of Christian spiritual disciplines. I hear about students being moved to tears, discovering new things about themselves, and seriously wrestling with what it means to called by God.
The blended video conference and online modes of delivery of theological education bring two different kinds of student interaction to the course. During the video conference class sessions, students in Saint Paul classrooms at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS, and at Oklahoma City University in Oklahoma City, OK, interact with each other and with Rev. Dr. Victor T. McCullough and me, as he and I bring a teaching presence to each campus. In spite of the distance, the learning community works together to share devotions, process questions, hear presentations, respond to video clips, and talk in small groups.
When we meet online, students have the opportunity to engage in class devotions, read essays, listen to narrated presentations, and watch videos in preparation for online discussions and other activities. One grand surprise this semester is that students sometimes write three times (or more) the required work in online discussions—and with depth of insight!
Whether online or in video conference, students practice Christian disciplines in Spiritual Formation Groups. The groups meet face-to-face during video conference sessions, but use video chats to meet when we hold online sessions. The video chat and online sessions have accommodated even those students traveling out of the U.S. and away from campus during online class weeks.
The dedicated engagement of both faculty and students evokes a semester-long learning community. Dr. McCullough and I are a strong presence in each class session, whether video conference or online. The blend of teaching formats assists in meeting student learning needs and promises to create a life-long, supportive, professional relationship among a new generation of church leaders.
Dr. Nancy R. Howell,
Professor of Theology and Philosophy of Religion
and Oubri A. Poppele Professor of Health and Welfare Ministries

Rev. Casey Sigmon to Serve as Visiting Professor

Casey SigmonSaint Paul School of Theology welcomes Rev. Casey Sigmon as a visiting professor.

Thanks to the Vanderbilt program in Theology and Practice, Sigmon will be serving on the faculty in a year-long professorship. “With this Ph.D. program I am able to immerse myself in a place of higher education and truly learn to teach,” she said. Ms. Sigmon will be going to faculty meetings, serving on committees, going to worship, and teaching. “It’s such a gift and I’m so excited to be doing this at Saint Paul,” she said. Sigmon will co-teach a preaching class with Saint Paul preaching professor Dr. Mike Graves this fall and a course entitled, “Preaching in the Digital Age” based on her dissertation research this spring.

Both Rev. Sigmon and Dr. Graves are Disciples of Christ pastors which was a major draw for her to come to Saint Paul for her Ph.D. work. Sigmon is also a process theologian so she is interested in working with Dr. Nancy Howell. “Saint Paul School of Theology has a legendary trajectory of faculty. I have treasured the books of wonderful, powerful, theological educators such as Dr. Eugene Lowry and Dr. Emilie Townes,” she said.

Sigmon has a true spark in her eye when speaking about her research. “I’m really interested in the ways we can frame the preaching ministry beyond just the moment in the pulpit and the pew. People no longer have to wait until Sunday to learn how the church will respond to the news of the day. We are moving past that.” She looks forward to teaching seminarians about how to be effective pastors in the age of social media. “Younger students know nothing but social media. I want them to feel that does not need to be a separate part of their lives. Social media can complement Sunday worship and the ministry of Gospel proclamation.”

Casey appreciates a balance in life and shared that she has a love for comedy. “I did some improv work while working as the House Manager of a Comedy Club in North Carolina before hearing about my acceptance to the Ph.D. program,” she said. “I’ve learned that you can use some of the same skills in preaching and worship. Anything can happen at church and having a spirit of improv can help you to speak on your feet.”

Inside Out: an Invitation to Christian Mindfulness

Post Author: Dr. Amy Oden, Professor of Early Church History at Saint Paul School of Theology

“Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God … You’ll be changed from the inside out.” – (Romans 12:1-2, The Message)

“Take your everyday, ordinary life and place it before God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” Click To Tweet

Dr. Amy OdenThis sounds like a great description of Christian mindfulness. As a church historian who is currently writing the book, Right Here, Right Now: The Roots of Christian Mindfulness (Abingdon Press, 2017), one common reaction I get is, “Mindfulness, you say? That’s not Christian, it’s Buddhist.”

I’m always shocked when I hear people say that mindfulness is not a Christian practice, given its powerful and persistent role in Christian faith over the last 2000 years. The call to be mindful of our lives “placed before God” rings through every Christian century. As I write this book, I’m struck by the epidemic of Christian amnesia, the fact that many Christians don’t know our own history, and, as a result, miss out on what God has been up to.

For too many Christians, the timeline of faith looks something like this one. It begins with Jesus as the dot on the left followed by a dot next to it for the Bible. A long, blank gap follows, with a final dot on the right end labeled “me,” as though the 2000 years of history in between the Bible and me are truly devoid of God’s life.

This view of history is a form of functional atheism, a belief that God has been impotent or on a cloud somewhere or simply absent from history. Or, perhaps our amnesia is merely the triumph of the world’s message of individualism. In this view, it is only my own life that matters so that all of history God was just waiting in the wings for me to be born so He could get back to work. Ouch.

The Lord of Life might be surprised to learn that that His mighty acts over the last 2000 years don’t matter.

One of our central Christian teachings, the Incarnation, expressly proclaims that God insists on acting in history, most notably in Jesus Christ. Further, Jesus promised the ongoing presence of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, our teacher sent by the Father (John 14:26). To hear some Christians today talk, Jesus is wrong and God hasn’t been up to anything for 2000 years.

The good news is that our God is the Living God, alive and well, at work in every age. Our history as Christian people is the history of God’s mighty acts of redemption. You know this in your own life. As a Christian believer, you experience the work of the Holy Spirit in your life every day. It’s not hard, then, to grasp that God has also been at work in the lives of others in previous centuries. We inherit these gifts from the communion of saints and squander them at our peril.

The Kingdom: God’s Presence In and Around You

AltarNow to mindfulness as a Christian practice.

Christian mindfulness is simply paying attention to our lives held within God’s life. As the Message says it, “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God.”

This is not a complicated prayer practice, but it can be a difficult one. Mindfulness disciplines us to stop our frantic lives and pay prayerful attention to the present moment in order to attend upon God. Christian mindfulness cultivates what Jesus calls “eyes to see” and “ears to hear” the Kingdom of God at hand in our lives. Jesus calls us to pay attention to the present moment where the reign of God is, in the here and now. It’s almost as though Jesus were saying, “Have eyes to see and ears to hear this present moment, the reign of God, right here in and around you!”

As a church historian, it’s been fun to discover the many ways Christians have practiced mindfulness, from Evagrius in the desert to nepsis in Eastern Orthodox practice to the divine offices in monastic life to prayers of recollection to Wesleyan watchfulness and beyond. My book will trace these prayer practices that turn our gaze to God, that put our minds on Christ, that focus our awareness on the work of the Spirit concretely, in the actual experience of this moment.

All these different prayer forms share a common foundation in the focus on the experience of God’s presence with us, here in this moment. Mindfulness of our Lord is the taproot of prayer. Without such mindfulness, prayer can become a noisy gong, a flurry of words, empty and self-absorbed.

To be sure, Christian mindfulness has its own distinctive characteristics and is not exactly the same as mindfulness practice in other religious and non-religious traditions. I devote a section of my book to this.

For now, I hope Christians will become more curious about what God has been up to for the last twenty centuries. You will find a treasure trove of witness, saints, ways of loving God and neighbor, ways of being God’s people. We have a deep well of theologies and spiritual practices. And it’s important to add that we have taken wrong turns and learned to repent, again and again. Yet throughout it all, God has been mindful of us. God reaches out to all peoples in all places with an invitation to relationship.

We are hungry for it and in practicing mindfulness of God’s presence here, now, we learn to have eyes to see and ears to hear the kingdom of God in our midst.

Dr. Amy Oden is Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality at Saint Paul School of Theology at OCU. Teaching is her calling, and she looks forward to every day with students. For 25 years, Amy has taught theology and history, pursuing scholarship in service of the body of Christ.

Rev. Mark Holland – First Recipient of Hamilton Award for Leadership and Vision

Rev. Mark R. Holland (DMin ’09) is the recipient of the first Adam Hamilton Award for Leadership and Vision.

Adam and MarkThe award was announced at a celebratory dinner by the Saint Paul Board honoring Pastor Adam Hamilton for over twenty years of leadership on the Board. Acting President Nancy Howell then presented the award to Pastor Holland for his exemplary leadership as Senior Pastor at Trinity Community Church, a United Methodist Congregation in Kansas City, Kansas. It is one of the most multicultural United Methodist churches in the area.

Rev. Dr. Holland has a passion for God, for the church, and for the community. He is a powerful preacher, teacher, and pastor with a vision for a church that truly has Open Hearts, Open Minds, and Open Doors. In addition to his role as Senior Pastor, Dr. Holland serves the community as the 28th Mayor of Kansas City, Kansas and the 3rd Mayor/CEO of the Unified Government.

Mark and AdamHolland focused his doctoral work at Saint Paul School of Theology on the concept of “holy conferencing” an early Methodist principle set forth by John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. Wesley believed that “holy conferencing” — Christians conferring together for the sake of peace and truth seeking — was a “means of grace.”

“Holy conferencing is essential to the structure and polity of our church,” Holland explained. “It is so important to our church that all essential decisions regarding bi-laws and elections are done in group conference settings.” Holland believes that collaborative theology is the theology of the church.

As a final project, he held a holy conference with the ten United Methodist Churches in KCK. They talked about how the churches could work best for the Wesleyan witness in Kansas City, Kansas. They spoke about ideas for change and collaborative opportunities.

After that meeting, Holland’s congregation decided to take that model of collaboration and own it. “We wanted to put community in the center of all that we do.” Soon they were hosting groups such as Head Start, Wyandotte Mental Health, and PACES program for at-risk youth. They also began collaborating with the Red Cross so that they are now the Designated Volunteer Report Center for natural disaster in Wyandotte County.

The church also cast a vision to be a multicultural congregation that reflects the diverse cultural, economic, political and cultural neighborhood where it resides. “Kansas City Kansas has no ethnic majority right now,” said Holland.

Mayor Mark HollandWith a grant from the Kansas East Conference they in the process of creating a United Nations model where each service is interpreted into various languages and people can dial into the language that they need. “The spirit of our church is so strong. We have a great group of leaders who have helped us get these initiatives started,” he said.

While Mark finds collaborative ministry in church to be essential, he also realizes that the community can’t get anything done without it either. He cited many upcoming projects with one of the largest collaborative efforts in Kansas City Kansas being Healthy Communities Wyandotte. The initiative began as a response to the 2009 Kansas County Health Rankings report, which listed Wyandotte County as having the worst health in the state. Concerned that residents were dying too young and suffering from too many chronic diseases, civic leaders convened residents and representatives from more than 50 organizations and neighborhoods to brainstorm solutions. The countywide coalition aims to help Wyandotte become the most improved county for health in the state of Kansas. “Collaborative efforts like this are not only the right thing to do but they are essential,” said Mayor Holland.

Renewed in Love – Guest Post by Dr. Henry H. Knight III

Author: Dr. Henry H. Knight III

Henry KnightIn the last two months we’ve looked at faith and hope as two of the marks of a transformed heart. Now we come to the most important mark of all: love. John Wesley fully embraces the words of the apostle Paul who said of the Christian life “now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:13, NRSV)

For Wesley, to be renewed in love was the whole point of salvation. It’s what salvation is.We were created in God’s image, and God is love. Wesley believed the goal of salvation is to restore us to that image, so that we love as God loves. Christ came that we might receive this new life as a gift. This restoration is a work of the Holy Spirit in us, and begins when our hearts are initially renewed. We then grow in love until it fills and governs our hearts.

Charles Wesley gives expression to this yearning for a renewed heart in this way:
O for a heart to praise my God,
a heart from sin set free,
a heart that always feels thy blood
so freely shed for me.
A heart in every thought renewed
and full of love divine,
perfect and right and pure and good,
a copy, Lord, of thine.

John Wesley notes that the “necessary fruit of this love of God is love of our neighbor, of every soul God hath made, not excepting enemies…(The Marks of the New Birth, III.3)

Not only does Jesus tell us to love others as we love ourselves, but to love others as we have been loved by Jesus. Jesus has loved us to the uttermost, even unto death on a cross.

To love God and our neighbor are what Jesus identified as the two greatest commandments. Sometimes we think that we can never love in this way. Maybe it’s an unattainable idea, or maybe it means we should just try harder. But this is to miss the point that this new life of love is a gift. The key is not effort but receptivity to what God offers us.

What happens when our hearts are renewed in love? Love begins to be the motivation for our action and the well-springs of our desires. It becomes the disposition of our hearts. This means that our loving God and others does not depend upon our always feeling loving. We may feel love from time to, but we can always be a loving person.

So how do we receive and grow in this new life of love? We do it through experiencing God’s love for us in Christ. That occurs through means of grace: reading scripture, praying, worshiping together, receiving the Lord’s Supper, and caring for others. As we do these things with open and receptive hearts, the Holy Spirit continues to renew us in love, and then more and more our lives reflect God’s love into the world.

Saint Paul Faculty Write Commentaries for

Saint Paul faculty members Dr. Amy Oden, Professor of Early Church History and Spirituality, and Dr. Israel Kamudzandu, Associate Professor of New Testament Studies and Biblical Interpretation, have contributed numerous commentaries to the popular website for preachers,

Dr. Amy Oden

Amy OdenDr. Amy Oden is a faculty member at the Saint Paul: Oklahoma City University campus location of Saint Paul School of Theology. She teaches using video teleconferencing with students on both campuses. Her areas of special interest and publication include early Christianity, hospitality and women’s contributions to church history.  Her most recent book is God’s Welcome: Hospitality for a Gospel-Hungry World (Pilgrim Press, 2008).

Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Oden’s commentary on Esther 4:1-17

Esther is an unlikely heroine. As a mirror image of the Hebrew people in exile, Esther is herself an orphan, without the security, identity, and rootedness of family. She appears to be rescued when she is taken in by her cousin, Mordecai, who becomes her foster parent. But even this respite is short-lived when she is tapped for the king’s harem, and taken from the safety of his home in Susa, and thrust into the intrigue — both political and sexual — of the Persian royal court.
Read Dr. Amy Oden’s full commentary at

Dr. Israel Kamudzandu

Israel KamudzanduDr. Israel Kamudzandu is a faculty member at the Saint Paul: Church of the Resurrection campus location. He teaches students and laity in both locations as well. He is the author of Abraham Our Father: Paul and Ancestors in Postcolonial Africa (Fortress Press, 2013), and Abraham as a Spiritual Ancestor: A Postcolonial Zimbabwean Reading of Romans 4 (Leiden: Brill, 2010), as well as numerous articles.

Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Kamudzandu’s commentary on Hebrews 9:11-14

All these theological themes are captured in one phrase, Jesus, “the eternal Heavenly Priest, according to the order of Melchizedek,” (Hebrews 7:1-9:28). Although the Western church has read, interpreted, preached, and taught this canonical book, I doubt whether they grasp the theological meaning and implications of the symbolism of Jesus’ blood. Yet, Christian practitioners from the Global South or Third World countries are quick to make theological connections with Hebrews’ symbolism because blood rituals are a common feature within their cultural worldview.
Read Dr. Israel Kamudzandu’s full commentary at

Preaching Professor Mike Graves Talks About Multimedia in Sermons

The following is a guest blog post from Saint Paul Preaching and Worship Professor Dr. Mike Graves.
His personal blog is called Pulpit & Pew and can be found here.

Multimedia in Sermons?

Mike-Graves-Profile-Photo (Custom)In my introductory preaching class at the seminary this semester I decided that one of the three required sermons need not be preached “live,” but could be a video of a sermon preached in a ministry setting. I had good reasons for offering this option, but when watching these sermons I was struck by something unrelated to it being on video. Or maybe not.

What I couldn’t help but notice is how many of these grand old sanctuaries with their beautiful woodwork and grand organs now had projectors and screens as well. They were hard to miss. But if preaching classes use technology like a video recording of a sermon preached elsewhere, why should I be surprised that these churches embrace technology too?

Students in class and clergy in workshops often ask my opinion on using technology in worship, and more specifically in preaching. Typically I stammer for a few moments, trying to articulate what I believe. It’s not that I don’t know, but it’s complicated. If I start with skepticism, they think I’m a Luddite, opposed to technology for whatever reasons. If I start with endorsement, they assume I support it wholesale. Neither is quite right; the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Consider this my attempt to be more articulate, even while acknowledging the complications.

Two words come to mind: use and diffuse.

By the first term, I’m thinking about the decisions to be made about its use at all in church. This is complicated, so hear me out. I remember a sermon by a really gifted Disciples preacher who at one point in her sermon was describing our tendency as fickle believers to flip-flop as followers of Christ. Sometimes we are faithful, and sometimes not so much. You get the idea, I’m fairly certain.

Flip FlopsOnly the preacher wasn’t so sure, so she had inserted a PowerPoint slide with the picture of a flip-flop, you know, a sandal like you wear to the beach. There’s the obvious problem that the idea of flip-flopping isn’t about the poolside shoes at all, but even beyond that, don’t most folks know what flip-flopping means without a picture? If the sermon had been about something that happened at a beach resort on vacation, we probably wouldn’t need a picture of a hotel or beach either.

The church has been using paper for a long time now, centuries in fact. And we have that down pat, how to use paper. We print bulletins with the order of worship on it and announcements crammed in as well. Of course in this green age of recycling, some have wondered about that practice. In which case, the use is guided by ecology. I bring up the use of paper, because we are still new at using screens. Very new. It will likely take us many more decades before we figure out their use. In some places it feels like an awful lot of money for clip art and preacher’s outlines.

The second term, diffuse, refers to what happens when we visit a museum and are overwhelmed with too many images. Next time you venture into a museum of art, try this experiment: Instead of trying to take in the whole museum, pick out one image and stick with it. You don’t even have to know which image ahead of time. But find one painting, one piece of sculpture, and once you do, ponder it for a long time. Sit on a nearby bench if possible. Why did you settle on this one image? What do you make of it? What sticks with you long after leaving?

Church MultimediaToo often preachers project too many images, too many pictures and slides. As a result, none of them get our full attention and we drown in a sea of slides. Diffusion. I know a Presbyterian pastor who chooses one slide each week, just one. Most of the time it’s the image of a painting, portraying the biblical story on which the sermon is based, Jesus feeding the multitudes, or walking on water. Just the one image. It stays up the whole time and becomes a visual portrayal of what he describes verbally.

I have heard confessions from preachers in which they admitted to spending more time on their PowerPoint images than their study of the text or finding stories for the sermon. That seems to me a poor use of their time and could lead to a very diffuse sort of existence as minister. So what do you think?

For the original posting and more, please visit Dr. Mike Graves blog: Pulpit and Pew

Dr. Knight Receives Exemplary Teaching Award From GBHEM

Dr. Knight and Rev. Dr. Kim CapeRev. Dr. Kim Cape, General Secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) of the United Methodist Church, came to Saint Paul School of Theology to congratulate Dr. Henry H. Knight III and present him with the 2015 Exemplary Teaching Award. Dr. Knight is the Professor of Wesleyan Studies at Saint Paul.

Each year GBHEM provides an Exemplary Teacher Award. The Exemplary Teacher Award recognizes a faculty member who “exemplifies excellence in teaching; civility and concern for students and colleagues; commitment to value-centered education; and service to students, the institution, and the community.”

Dr. Elaine Robinson, Interim Vice President Academic Affairs and Dean and President H. Sharon Howell nominated Dr. Knight for the 2015 Exemplary Teacher Award which includes a $500 stipend and certificate.

They wrote:

“Dr. Hal Knight exemplifies excellence in teaching and represents the best of Saint Paul School of Theology. The students and alumni/ae of Saint Paul speak with deep appreciation of his teaching, class preparation, engagement in the classroom and his care for them as students and alums beyond the classroom.

Dr. Knight’s commitment to study is noted and the many guest practitioners he invites into his classroom is a reflection of his understanding of collaboration. We are grateful for his faithful service to the seminary and the church.”

Dr. Knight humbly accepted the award. He later noted on Facebook,

“John Wesley’s theology remains as exciting now as it was when I began teaching it 30 years ago.”

Hoeft to be Installed as Town and Country Ministries Chair

Dr. HoeftDr. Jeanne Hoeft has been named to the Franklin and Louise Cole Chair in Town and Country Ministries. A gift from the estate of Franklin and Louise Cole in 2009 led to the naming of the chair for Town and Country Ministries which has been a historic commitment and focus of theological education at Saint Paul School of Theology.

Dr. Hoeft’s teaching and scholarship in the area of rural ministries with a focus on pastoral theology and pastoral care is praised across the Heartland.

In her most recent book, Practicing Care in Rural Congregations and Communities, Dr. Hoeft along with Dr. Shannon Jung and Dr. Joretta Marshall share some rural church ministry best practices. They write that rural areas have particular challenges and have unique and useful insights into what it means to care for one another.

Dr. Hoeft’s installation service will be Tuesday, September 22, 2015 at 11:00 p.m. in Wesley Chapel at Church of the Resurrection.

Please RSVP as lunch reservations are required for guests.