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June 23, 2021

By The Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Ph.D., Dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary

Ministry in Context

"But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers …” (James 1:22)

Hamma Librarian Elli Cucksey recently came across a short news release in the Columbus Dispatch. Dated December 11, 1927, it read:

Students to Get Practical Work

A new plan to give the students of the Capital University Evangelical Lutheran seminary practical experience in the active work of the ministry has been incorporated in the curriculum of the department.

In the middleman or second year, and in the senior year, each student will be required to stay with a minister and go through his entire routine work for a week. This will include the preaching of sermons at the congregation which he visits as well as all of the other duties of the minister.

Almost 100 years later, our commitment to learning ministry in context continues, although the structure of that learning has changed quite a bit since 1927. We also think about context – and the integration of learning and practice – much more broadly today.

On the same day Elli shared the news clipping, I stumbled across an article by the Rev. Dr. Stephanie Paulsell, Swartz Professor of the Practice of Christian Studies at Harvard Divinity School. (“Choosing a Seminary,” The Christian Century, May 6, 2008) Her reflections offer a powerful vision of the whole world as a context for learning and living the faith:

A learned minister is a minister who knows how to learn in a variety of contexts – churches, hospitals, classrooms, prisons, shelters, poetry slams, dance studios. A learned minister ought to be able to think critically with the knowledge produced in a church about the knowledge produced in a classroom and vice versa. … Ministry is the most deeply human work there is. What can we possibly learn that cannot be taken up and used in such work? Whatever human beings have discovered, wondered at, created, loved, studied, translated or puzzled or prayed over cannot be alien to the minister.

She concludes, “Our convictions about the formation of ministers have everything to do with our vision of Christian life itself. The minister who eagerly learns wherever she is, the minister who deems no knowledge irrelevant to her pastoral vocation is, I strongly believe, the minister we most need. For she reminds us, in the living out of her vocation, that our faith excludes nothing of what it is to be human, that there is no dimension of our loves that is irrelevant to our life with God.

The Rev. Kathryn A. Kleinhans, Ph.D.

Trinity Lutheran Seminary forms leaders for Christ’s church at work in the world.