Contextual Education is the broad term used at the School of Theology for the numerous ways students apply academic knowledge and classroom experience to ministry opportunities in a variety of settings.
For a seminarian, the phrase “practice what you preach” means more than it might to the rest of us—it is, after all, impossible to learn ministry without doing any ministering. Students at the School of Theology are lucky to receive an outstanding contextual education experience. In fact, according to a recent evaluation by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), Sewanee’s contextual education program is one of the seminary’s “distinctive strengths.”
Today, contextual education at the School is some of the most robust and enriching formation a seminarian can receive anywhere. Ours is a holistic approach where practical efforts cohere directly with classroom education and gives students “a sense of connectedness”—they know how every part of their training—both theoretical and practical—grounds their theology and ministry.
Contextual Education is the broad term we use at the School of Theology for the numerous ways students apply academic knowledge and classroom experience to ministry opportunities in a variety of settings. This includes classes in leadership and parish dynamics, internships, Clinical Pastoral Education, cross-cultural experiences, and other extracurricular activities. Contextual education takes place alongside your classroom experiences.
CLINICAL PASTORAL EDUCATION (CPE)
CPE usually takes place in the summer between junior and middler year, offering students the chance to develop experience as pastors to people in crisis. Often in a hospital or hospice setting, although other settings are possible as well, students work with a supervisor and a colleague group to better understand their own gifts and strengths, fears, and points of resistance, while working in an ecumenical and interfaith setting. The School of Theology provides financial support for this degree requirement along with focused reflection before and after the summer intensive.
During the middler year, students spend eight to 10 hours a week directly involved in a local congregation—local extends from the quiet rural areas around the Domain to the urban centers of Chattanooga and Nashville, Tennessee, and Huntsville, Alabama. Working with a parish priest who serves as the mentor, students spend time weekly outside the placement setting to reflect on the actions of the week. In the Advent term of their senior year, students will continue their field education in a parish or community ministry setting with the expectation that there will be a specific responsibility or focused program that will continue to build leadership skills while actively supporting ministry and community engagement.
Several core courses are aimed at practical preparation for ministry. Along with field education, students take courses on congregational dynamics, as one learns to read and understand a congregation's history, reality, and future mission; on congregational leadership, as one begins to develop the skills, habits, and imagination of a parish priest; and on community and organizational leadership which continues to reflect on the work of leadership and the foundation one needs to manage and lead an institution.
At the School of Theology, we are committed to developing habits of reflection and lifelong learning. To instill this habit while in field education, students participate in small colloquy groups with other students in a variety of field placements. This allows each student to reflect on their own unique experience and ministry setting while affording them the opportunity to learn from the experience of others.