Monday, May 17, 2010

A New Chapter in my Education

For several years now I planned to finish a second graduate degree after seminary. In 1996, with the encouragement of my then pastoral colleague Dr. Charles Gieschen, I entered the STM program at Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne. Unfortunately, after but one course he took a call to CTS and my duties changed as I assumed the senior pastor's position for the next four years at Trinity - Traverse City. Spare time for such educational ventures vanished.

Then came another child and with the other two growing and expanding their activities, new roles were assumed that recaptured my time again. Not that I regret this in any way. Taking time with your children remains a critical priority for me. However, with one over half way through college, the second one entering his second half of high school (with a new job in tow), and but one in the elementary level, the time again seemed right.

So back in February, after spending much time and effort exploring the myriad of options available to me, I decided to apply to the STM program at Nashotah House Theological Seminary, usually known as simply "Nashotah House," or "The House," the oldest chartered educational institution of higher learning in the state of Wisconsin (founded 1842). The criteria for my decision included: within a 4 hour drive of home, an accredited institution, relatively conservative in its theological approach, and a program I could later use in future teaching or other church work, affordable. One person who was very helpful in assisting my deliberations was the Rev. Gaylin Schmeling, president of Bethany Lutheran Theological Seminary, the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod. In doing random searches on Google I stumbled across his name and biography at the seminary's website (linked above in Schmelling's name) and noticed that he had earned an STM from Nashotah House. After contacting him he was gracious to return that contact with a personal phone call and much helpful insight into the institution and its possible strengths for a Lutheran pursuing an advanced degree.

Although we have two great seminaries in our synod, I also realized that many of our pastors and teachers found value in exploring their education at institutions outside the system. Dr. Arthur Just initially pursued a STM degree from Yale. Dr. Gieschen initially earned a Th.M from Princeton, as did Dr. Wenthe the seminary's president and the holder of a doctorate from the Catholic institution Notre Dame. One value of Nashotah House is that despite their relatively small size, they are known to bring in well respected and known scholars from other institutions to compliment their own faculty. This summer, for example, they are bringing in Dr. Walter Kaiser, who was the former president of Gordan-Conwell. I will, however, always value my education at CTS, and still consider it one of the premier seminaries in this country, and possibly abroad.

Although I still need to write to the dean and formally accept my entry into the program, I have been approved (as of this past week), and now all that remains, as they say, is the paper work. My plan is to take at least one course this summer while commuting on the weekend (thus the value of my four hour limit in distance!) This degree is built on the intensive course concept, so I will not need to relocate or leave my present position. I am hoping, as well, to complete it within a three year time frame. The degree is 24 credits, total, with the last 6 being a thesis. If my prior course transfers in and I take at least one class this summer, I will technically be one third of the way finished with the course work.

The campus appears to be beautiful, and I am looking forward to the rich Anglican worship and meditative atmosphere that Nashotah House offers. In some ways going to Nashotah House is as much about find a "retreat" away from the usual responsibilities of ministry and being able to take some much needed time in prayer and reflection, as it is about academics. Luther understood this well: Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio, these are what make a theologian, he said.

So, a new adventure begins. Undoubtedly the readers of this blog will see updates from time to time as I enter into this experience. I graduated from the seminary 23 years ago this month, and it's been at least 14 years since I last took formal post-graduate coursework. Thus, at almost half way to 50 this is going to be an adjustment. Yet I am eager to jump in and be challenged.


Rev. David M. Juhl said...

Keep me posted on your thoughts. I've thought about graduate work (D.Min) at Nashotah. I've visited the campus many times. It's beautiful. They have a good bookstore too!

Don Engebretson said...

Their D.Min. program is relatively new at Nashotah House, but it seems very flexible and allows you, I think, to take the same course work as those in the STM. The biggest difference, as with all D.Min work, is the final project where they are looking for something more practical in terms of its application to the parish setting. I've vacillated over the years between these two options, and even considered St. Louis' D.Min. in homiletics about a year ago.

I will definitely keep posting to the blog on my experience at Nashotah House as I work my way through their system. Glad to hear they have a good bookstore. Now I know where to spend my extra leftover cash ;)

EM Wiedmann said...

Best wishes to you on your educational journey. I know you will be up for the challenge. The drive seems to be kind of long though. I do not think I would care for that. Safe Journey