Recently I had the joy of chatting with Dr. Aaron Perry on the Wesley Seminary Podcast he hosts; our conversation ranged from theological education to vocation to Wesleyan Accent and global Methodism to leadership and gender. He is a regular contributor to Wesleyan Accent, providing a hearty voice from the academy, and teaches at Wesley Seminary where he is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology and Leadership.
The Wesley Seminary Podcast, “seeks to provide relevant content to those in ministry while addressing questions of faith with intention and thought. Centered around audience interaction and listener feedback, the podcast provides an outlet for questions…and also serves to minister to those who need encouragement within their ministerial journeys.”
This was recorded before the world went on lockdown; a few mid-quarantine postscripts are included below. Click the play button to listen here:
Wesley Seminary is affiliated with Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana. Founded in 2009, it offers a variety of Master’s degrees as well as a Doctorate of Ministry degree, highlighting online accessibility.
Wesleyan Accent is unique: our site is a hub featuring voices from a variety of Wesleyan Methodist denominations, in a time when institutional silos tend to run deep. United Methodists might be surprised to learn that 85% of Wesleyan clergymembers don’t have a Master’s degree, while Wesleyans might be surprised to learn that ordained United Methodist elders don’t have to wonder if a particular congregation will provide health insurance and pension.
Theological education in North America is prone to the same pressures undergraduate institutions or liberal arts programs endure; debates about accessibility vs residential programs, in-person classroom discussions vs online engagement, bang for education “consumer” buck vs holistic development, and job preparedness vs academic rigor will surely re-emerge in the eagerly awaited post-quarantine world. Perhaps these straining values will be thrown into sharper relief as false dichotomies; likely, future debates will resound with fresh insights gained from the massive shift to remote working and learning.
Whether or not we can collectively master our moment (a deliberate higher education pun), surely our current circumstances force our attention to certain realities:
- Modern online technology can no longer be considered an optional add-on; the internet should be approached as an essential utility.
- Congregations, nonprofit organizations, and academic institutions that are nimble and had already integrated into online existence well have had fewer hiccups adjusting to remote living.
- There are deep inequities in accessing the internet and owning the technological tools to utilize it, from rural areas to urban areas.
- Economic stability is fragile; many congregations and academic institutions will be affected for years to come, and some potential students weighing student loans now consider theological education from a new economic footing.
- Theology matters; pastors and chaplains with robust appreciation for theology are well-positioned to engage with the massive wave of deep questioning on the nature of suffering; death and dying; the value of the body; missiological contextualization and the Sacraments; uncertainty and addiction, substance abuse, and trauma; Divine sovereignty and human free will; and more. Theological education isn’t a luxury; it’s essential.
- Some things that pastors and academics thought the church (broadly speaking) in North America does well, were in fact things that organizations did well as long as circumstances were ideal; some things that pastors and academics questioned about the church in North America have proven stronger or more resilient than expected. So it goes with crisis: revelation ensues.
- Leaning into the global nature of the broad Church is always a strength: it helps highlight our blind spots and provides insight we simply don’t have. Early in the pandemic, an American pastor asked for leadership advice from a pastor from the Congo, who had led church members through significant upheaval, including public health crisis. He gave excellent advice. North Americans don’t know everything; and we need to know that.
Are you a layperson, pastor, or professor? What dynamics of church life are you grappling with? If you’ve been to seminary, what’s been one of the most valuable elements of your theological education during the past few weeks? If you grew up outside the U.S., wherever you live now, what are your observations about theological education, infrastructure, church life, quarantine, and leadership?