Contextual Education

The contextual education program at the School of Theology provides an avenue for dialogue between the heritage and disciplines of faith and the congregations and people served.

In the contextual education program, students apply classroom education and theory to a particular ministry context and then reflect on that experience in the classroom—in colloquy groups and in on-site meetings with a trained clergy mentor. Learning occurs most effectively within a systemically balanced program of study, action, and reflection. This balance is a critical part of the formation of clergy as a “wholesome example” to the people of God. The education harvested will set a pattern for a balanced and faithful commitment to prayer, study, and action in the student’s future life and ministry. 

The contextual education program of the School of Theology includes the following opportunities:

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE)

Clinical pastoral education provides professional interfaith education for ministry, bringing theological students and ministers of all faiths into supervised encounters with persons in crisis. Out of an intense involvement with persons in need and the feedback from peers and teachers, students develop new awareness of themselves as persons and of the needs of those to whom they minster. From theological reflection on specific human situations, students gain a new understanding of ministry and develop skills in interpersonal and inter professional relationships.

Field Education

Field education provides a safe and accountable practice field for the student to learn and exercise skills of ordained leadership.

Field education is designed to expose the student to as many aspects of the congregational life as possible under the supervision of a trained and experienced priest, a certified School of Theology clergy mentor. Students also have the opportunity for field education partnerships with a variety of other institutions and organizations in consultation with the director of contextual education.

If you would like to explore some of our field education sites with whom we are currently partnering, see below:

Upper Alabama Region

Chattanooga Region

Nashville Region

Sewanee Region

Other Regions (to consider for field education elective credit in a summer immersion opportunity)

Theory and Practice of Ministry Courses

Theory and practice of ministry courses encourage students to form an understanding of human nature and a theology of lay and ordained ministry. 

An action reflection model of learning is used in the M.Div. core curriculum for contextual education. Students develop skills for a comprehensive range of pastoral responsibilities through opportunities for the appropriation of theological disciplines for deepening understanding of the life of the church, for ongoing intellectual and ministerial formation, and for exercising the arts of ministry. As resources and interest allow, students also have the opportunity to take elective courses in a variety of areas for the theory and practice of ministry.

Cross-Cultural Experience

The cross-cultural program helps students begin to reflect on their ministry in a post Christendom era by seeing the world and their racial, religious, and social group from another culture’s perspective.

Before graduating, all students are encouraged to participate in a cross-cultural experience in which the student is directly involved in ministry with people from a culture other than their own. A student may have the notice of participation in a cross-cultural experience added to his or her transcript when it has been engaged with an approved domestic or international cross-cultural field education site. The director of contextual education can be a resource and it is recommended that you begin planning for this opportunity as soon as possible.

Missional Engagement Initiative

The Missional Engagement Initiative strives to effectively increase parishes' capacity for transformational lay leadership and mission development, and to enable parishioners to live more fully into their baptismal covenant. We seek to build bridges between seminary students and the world in which they will serve in order to better facilitate the empowerment of parishes and their communities.
The School of Theology’s Missional Engagement Initiative (MEI) is a collaborative partnership between the School of Theology's contextual education program, clergy, lay leaders, and their communities to develop spiritual leaders for God's dream of a just and reconciled creation. MEI strives to enable us all to live more fully into our baptismal covenants.

MEI is a nine-month learning lab where teams based in churches, schools, or other organizations learn the fundamental practices of collaborative leadership and Christian discipleship. Through organizing a mission-focused project, teams are coached to engage in an action-reflection model where they plan, act, evaluate, and celebrate. In addition to the regular meetings and events, teams participate in a Taste & See discernment event; three Saturday trainings; regular coaching sessions with an experienced guide; and a program conclusion and celebration.  Students currently or previously enrolled in the “Transforming Congregations & Communities” elective course (MNST 562) have the opportunity to serve on Missional Engagement Initiative teams with participating field education congregations.