This is not hyperbole: Seabury’s DMin program transforms lives, strengthens ministries, and leads students to ask, “Why didn’t I do this earlier?”
Recent interviews with two DMin students and one graduate highlighted the many ways the program has helped focus their careers and lead them to a deeper understanding of creating and maintaining dynamic faith communities.
The Rev. Morgan Ibe
Morgan Ibe is in his last year of the DMin program, a program he says has been “a shot in the arm” to his ministry. He was born in Nigeria, the son of an Anglican priest who was in charge of several congregations in the Nigerian countryside. His father had a little scooter that he used to go from church to church, baptising and giving communion. “I’d ride on the back of that scooter and go with him,” Ibe said. “I decided then that I wanted to go into the ministry.”
Ibe, who has served as rector of Church of the Redeemer in Oklahoma City for almost two years, was drawn to the Seabury program because of its flexibility, its use of cohorts and its faculty. Once enrolled, he found that the program offered much more than he anticipated.
“I’ve been a priest for 20 years now, but Seabury stands out to me because they help you see practical approaches you can use to grow your congregations,” Ibe said. “The DMin program is offered through a partnership between Seabury and Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkley, California. Sometimes I have to scrimp and save to get myself to California and Chicago, but I have found it really rewarding to me and the two congregations that I’ve served during this time.”
One class in particular has had a profound effect.
“The last class I took was in community organizing and to be honest, at the end of the class, I said this is what every seminary should be doing. And I wondered why it took me so long to come across such a class. It was such an eye opener. A big part of that class was the one-on-one interview technique. I never really knew that that could impact so positively on the relationships we have with people inside and outside our congregations, sitting with them and asking what they know and how they feel.”
Ibe said the class “was a turning point for me in my ministry.”
“We practiced that in class, and I went back and engaged people in the church and neighborhood; the impact has been astonishing. Some of the people I had not really sat down with before, and they were able to open up to me. Sometimes I have wondered why they didn’t participate, and I heard their stores and they told me why they do and don’t do what they do. That class was like a shot in the arm.”
Ibe went out and did one-on-one interviews in the poor community surrounding his church.
“I sat down with them and asked, ‘Why does it look like this church is not even noticed in this neighborhood?’ I was shocked by some of the answers I received. It was highly educational. I got to hear their story and got to know how they felt about this church from years back. And by my listening to them, they felt that this congregation is finally getting it. The guy who has lived next to the church for 24 years, he has never stepped foot in the church. After our conversation he said, ‘I’ll be there Sunday.’ Ever since that encounter he has been in that church. He felt someone finally cared enough to come and talk to him and listen to him.”
Ibe’s church is growing in numbers, from 20 people there on Sundays when he arrived two years ago, to about 50 to 70 people on Sunday mornings now. More importantly, he said, parishioners are excited about their ministry. Part of that, he said, is thanks to Seabury.
“Seabury’s program is focused on my needs in ministry and is structured in such a way that at the end of the day, my ministry is renewed and I’m renewed.”
The Rev. Joanne Engquist
Joanne Engquist is halfway through her DMin program. That’s probably the only context in which you can use the word “halfway” when talking about anything remotely related to her ministry.
In May 2011, when Engquist was called to be pastor of Gethsemane Lutheran Church, the oldest Lutheran congregation in Seattle, the church was in the middle of a $20 million, seven-story mixed use project that included expanded community services and 50 units of affordable housing being built above the church. She also had just gotten married in Massachusetts, her spouse had just graduated from Harvard Divinity School, and Engquist was just beginning her DMin classes at Seabury.
It was a crazy, busy time for her. Things haven’t slowed down much since.
“When I accepted the call they said the building was not the only change; the congregation was changing, too.”
And that’s where the DMin program has proven its value.
“There is something in every class that I’ve had so far that has been concerned with what we’re about here,” Engquist said. “I applied to Seabury when I was Cambridge, so a lot of our class conversations are not new to me, having been active in a seminary community for the past 15 years. It wasn’t the idea of academic work that was a draw; it was the application of these things to other pieces of ministry.”
Like Ibe, she found the community organizing class to be particularly applicable to her ministry.
“The community organizing class this spring became so helpful because I am convinced the connection to local community is an enormous part of what it is to be a church in the 21st century. It helps us decide how this church can become part of this neighborhood and not just lodged in the neighborhood. I think one of the exciting things is posing the question, ‘Are you serious about being a neighborhood church, a church in downtown Seattle, not just a destination church for people in the suburbs?’ We are trying to make a greater presence.”
The systems course also has had an immediate application to her ministry by helping Engquist look at the system of her church, its history, and how “what is bubbling up now is part and parcel of who we’ve been for 128 years.” As one example, she said the systems course helped her recognize that the seniors who have made the move out of their homes and downsized into condos or assisted living do much better with the changes in the church than do those who have not made that move.
“I don’t think I would have noticed that without the congregational systems class,” she said.
Gethsemane’s huge construction project was substantially completed a few months ago. Now, through her work at church and in Seabury’s DMin program, Engquist continues to explore how to use congregational development in partnership with community organizing to live out a new vision of the church being rooted in the neighborhood and serving as its center of hope.
“There are lots of dreams here, lots of exciting possibilities,” Engquist said. “I often think of it this way, that we’ve come to a big poker table and this little church has pushed all its chips in the middle and said, ‘We’re all in.’ They don’t know what the future is but they want to make a difference. There is a message of being in Christ, in the city to offer hope to the world.”
Seabury’s DMin program for congregational development changed the trajectory of Paul Nahirney’s career. A successful consultant in Alberta, Canada, Nahirney has more than 40 years’ experience working with non-profits on capital campaigns, organizational change, and congregational renewal and development.
As the result of his work in the DMin program, he changed course and is working only with congregations, and only those congregations interested in making fundamental changes to become more missional focused.
This has totally changed my professional life,” Nahirney said. “I made a major decision to walk away from the largest contract I had. I’m living on my savings now. I worry about it, but I’m confident that God is going to provide, that things will work out.”
In May 2012 Nahirney graduated from the joint DMin program offered by Seabury and Church Divinity School of the Pacific. His thesis involved work he had done with the Diocese of Edmonton in the Anglican Church of Canada.
“My priority is to totally focus my energy on congregations wanting to be more missional focused. What I did in my thesis laid the foundation, and ever since I graduated I’ve worked on how to put that into practice and make it the focus of my business.”
He hopes that in the New Year he’ll roll out a new approach for congregations seeking to become more externally than internally focused.
“Right now I’m spending my time trying to develop the stages we need to go through,” he said. “I’m meeting with different congregations and telling them what I’m doing and seeing if there is an interest.”
How did Nahirney, a lay person living in Canada, end up at Seabury?
“I was working with a congregation in Edmonton and trying to lead them in a major capital campaign. Sometimes you have to bring the preliminary news that ‘you’re not ready.’ They asked, ‘So what do we do next?’ And I couldn’t answer that question. A few days later I was having a conversation with a former rector, a bishop who is a friend and who was going to Seabury for an honorary degree. I went and looked up Seabury online and applied that next day. Unfortunately, that’s when Seabury closed its doors before reopening later.”
That dramatic move impressed Nahirney.
“Seabury is a perfect example of a church institution that had to take a cold, hard look at itself and reinvented itself in a year,” Nahirney said. “That’s an incredible story. It is an example of what needs to happen. It had a future, but it couldn’t do everything it had in the past, including the DMin program. The class I was in, we were guinea pigs, we were the first class to use the new curriculum, and I feel that’s a bit of what I have to do in my career.”
Lessons learned in DMin classes will be evident in his business.
“The very last course at Seabury was Asset Based Community Development,” he said. “We don’t go into a community looking for their needs. We go in and say, ‘What are the assets? How can we make them better?’ I also took a course in Appreciative Inquiry. It said for years, we looked at what’s not working, and we put our energy into what was not working. It says we should focus on what’s working.”