Student Perspectives
Why San Francisco Theological Seminary is the place for me:

Ian Vellenga


Following his father's footsteps both spiritually and academically
“I am very happy that Ian is interested in ministry and happy that he chose SFTS,” said David Vellenga (M.Div. ’71). “I always thought I got a good, solid education at SFTS.”

>> Read Full Story

Ian Vellenga seems to be following in his father’s footsteps both spiritually and academically.

The son of a tentmaking pastor, Vellenga has felt called to ministry since he can remember. Just as his father attended College of Wooster in Ohio as an undergraduate and later San Francisco Theological Seminary, Ian is traveling down that same path.

“I am very happy that Ian is interested in ministry and happy that he chose SFTS,” said David Vellenga (M.Div. ’71). “I always thought I got a good, solid education at SFTS.”

For the past 25 years, David Vellenga has juggled part-time pastoring with a career in technology. He is currently the stated supply pastor at Nutbush Church, a congregation of about 40 members near Henderson, N.C.

Ian Vellenga, in his second year at SFTS, is equally resourceful, financing seminary thanks to the G.I. Bill. The former Marine has already served two tours in Iraq with a tanker company before coming to San Anselmo for seminary. In addition to his responsibilities as a tank driver and gunman, Vellenga was a lay leader for the 100-plus Marines in his company.

“There are no atheists in the combat zone,” Vellenga said. “While I was in Iraq, there were a lot of religious issues – people who had a lot of questions. A lot of people I know got more spiritual over there.”

Deployed to Fallujah outside Baghdad and northwest Iraq near the Syrian border, Vellenga quickly found out that the Marines are more interested in praying than participating in Bible studies or church. The experience also revealed that he’s drawn to chaplaincy. Vellenga even tried to enter the Marines’ chaplaincy program, but due to his tanker training and expertise, the Marines decided it was in their best interest to keep their lay leader in the battalion.

“I think Ian has a lot to offer,” his dad said. “Having been in the Marines and served two tours in Iraq makes him part of a very important minority in our country, people who are actually bearing the risk and cost of these wars that most Americans prefer just not to think about anymore.”
Once his four years of military service were complete, Vellenga began deciding where to attend seminary. He had applied to Columbia Theological Seminary in Georgia while he was in the Marines so he could be close to his family in North Carolina, but his father steered him to SFTS instead.

Leaving the South, just like joining the Marines, has proven to be a positive move for Vellenga. He says he has grown from the diversity of views on the SFTS campus and his faith has been shaped by the differences he has encountered.

“I’m not sure where I am, but I am sure where I’m not,” Vellenga said. “It has helped define who I am.”

Vellenga majored in Religious Studies at College of Wooster, which maintains ties to the Presbyterian Church. His favorite course so far at SFTS has been Systematic Theology taught by Dr. Gregory Love.

He does not plan to reenlist in the Marines even though they finally told him he could pursue chaplaincy after his four-year commitment had ended. But he is keeping his options open and is considering enlisting with another branch of the military after he graduates from SFTS.

“When people bring to the ministry an experience in another calling, whether the military, or any other kind of non-church work, it gives them a good perspective,” said David Vellenga. “It helps them see how their ministerial work relates to that world of work, which is after all the place most church members are.”

 


Matthias Peterson-Brandt


Feels called to work with homeless and immigrants
“Ministry is not glamorous work most of the time. Ministry has to be holistic. We can’t just talk about the Spirit knowing that you’re hungry. At its core, ministry is an experience of the resurrection, of giving life and having your own life enriched through the experience.”

>> Read Full Story

By Evans Presley-McGowan

Matthias Peterson-Brandt is a PK2: both his parents are pastors, making him a pastor's kid times two. His mother is a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) pastor while his father is ordained Lutheran and teaches.

He grew up in the church, being active in the youth group during high school and involved in campus ministry in college. He double majored in English and Spanish at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Through Americorps, Matthias spent a telling and important year after college serving the homeless and others who visited the Chicago-area soup kitchen run by a group of Franciscans. He loved the formative experience, feeling God's call to serve the homeless and immigrant population.


There was "a deep, through and through sense of fulfillment in the daily interactions and a tangible sense of doing something for and with these people," Matthias said. "It was not about the gratitude but simply doing the work that needed to be done." 

One might say Matthias follows the simple servant model of ministry: "Ministry is not glamorous work most of the time," yet something about it resonates deep within, nurturing his spiritual well-being. 

"Ministry has to be holistic," Matthias said. "We can't just talk about the Spirit knowing that you're hungry. At its core, ministry is an experience of the resurrection, of giving life and having your own life enriched through the experience."

The SFTS San Anselmo campus attracted Matthias not only for its beauty and location, but also the warm welcome he received from the Seminary's enrollment department. He was drawn also to the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley for its interdenominational variety. He is currently taking a class at the Pacific School of Religion on sexuality and spirituality. "As ministers we need to be aware of how we think and what we believe about sexuality."

Since his arrival at SFTS in 2008, Matthias has enjoyed the "awesome" community. It's small enough that you know everyone, and has a home-like feel, including the professors and staff." 

He enjoys his classes, particularly theology since it has the most discussion: "I learn better from discussion than lecture. It can be a safe environment to debate and offer each other how we think about God."

His personal spiritual practice often includes reading the Psalms, which are "rich with emotion" and "expressive of a relationship with God."  Matthias is an avid reader, preferring fiction and poetry, and often has at least one book outside of class that he is reading. He enjoys outside activities such as Ultimate Frisbee, biking, camping and canoeing with his two younger brothers and dad at least once every two years.

This past summer Matthias completed his Clinical Pastoral Education credit in Los Angeles near his girlfriend, Valerie, a fourth-grade teacher who "helps me understand myself." He became more comfortable with being a pastoral presence amidst pain and suffering. "People look at you as a chaplain with religious authority, whether you want them to or not. We should deal with that [authority] responsibly."

One of the driving questions for Matthias is "How do we live out the gospel? Many of Jesus' teaching and injunctions were to care for those in need." Matthias is well on his way in living out this call.
 


Elizabeth Campbell


Always on the run from youth ministry to praise band
"I've been really inspired by our professor Annette Schellenberg. She is very engaging. She has been a neat academic professor and role model. Ideally, right now, I would love to become a pastor at a church. I really enjoy worship renewal and working with families." Ultimately, Elizabeth hopes to earn a Ph.D.

>> Read Full Story

Reprinted from Spring 2008 Chimes

First-year student Elizabeth Campbell has been inspired multiple times over since entering San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Whether it is her courses, her work as a youth director at Sleepy Hollow Presbyterian Church in San Anselmo, or her training for a half-marathon, Campbell believes her first-year experience has been rewarding and fulfilling.

Pursuing a master of divinity degree has been something the New York native contemplated for a long time. When she was 14, Campbell attended a Federated (Methodist-Baptist) church in New York. Her pastor suggested that she become a pastor herself someday. At the time she wasn't sure about it, but the idea stayed with her. It wasn't until age 17 when she participated in the Youth Theology Initiative that she became extremely interested in theology.

Campbell chose SFTS for its M.Div. program because it was a good fit. "I felt like it was a really balanced program," she said.

So far Campbell has really enjoyed her coursework, particularly systemic theology and Old Testament. "I've been really inspired by our professor Annette Schellenberg," Campbell said. "She is very engaging. She has been a neat academic professor and role model."

One of Campbell's favorite things about SFTS so far is getting to know people and living in a community environment. She wanted to go to a school where she could interact with other students, and she found that at SFTS. In fact, in May she will be running a half-marathon as a tribute to a friend who was recently diagnosed with cancer. She has raised more than $2,200 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society through a local Team N' Training program.

Campbell has also discovered a new interest in spiritual direction. Although she did not come to SFTS for its spiritual direction program, a few classes have intrigued her to the point of considering an SFTS diploma program in spiritual direction. And ultimately, she hopes to earn a Ph.D.

But one goal at a time.

"Ideally, right now, I would love to become a pastor at a church, doing many different positions," Campbell said, noting that working as an assistant or associate pastor might be the best path. "I really enjoy worship renewal and working with families."

As a triplet, Campbell has always had a strong bond with her sisters and family. Though she misses them and her home back East, she is thrilled to be in California and at SFTS.

"I love it out here," Campbell said.
 


Arnolfo "Bong" Bringas


Finding God in his Filipino-American church family

It has only been six years since Bong Bringas came to know the Lord as his Savior, but in that short time, his faith and passion for God have grown immensely. In his first SFTS class, Introduction to Ministry, "I felt my call was affirmed, and I understood why I was in seminary. That's where I began to build relationships with other classmates, to understand where they are coming from and their reasons for coming to seminary."

>> Read Full Story

Reprinted from 2008 Winter Chimes

It has only been six years since Arnolfo "Bong" Bringas came to know the Lord as his Savior, but in that short time, his faith and passion for God have grown immensely.

Bong, 45, is extremely active in the Filipino Community Presbyterian Church in Eagle Rock where he is Clerk of Session, an elder, a member of the worship team, Bible study leader, Sunday school teacher and occasional preacher.

Because of his eagerness to serve God, his church encouraged Bong to attend San Francisco Theological Seminary in Pasadena and become a pastor.

During 'Introduction to Ministry,' one of his first courses at SFTS, Bong felt assured he was in the right place. "I felt my call was affirmed, and I understood why I was in seminary," he said.

Bong looks back on that course as his favorite class. "That's where I began to build relationships with other classmates, to understand where they are coming from and their reasons for coming to seminary," he said.
Bong admits that coming back to school after 15 years is not easy, but he is excited about everything he is learning at SFTS.

"I don't learn just by attending regular Bible studies," he said, adding that what he enjoys most about seminary are the "in-depth discussions on different aspects of the Christian religion."
In addition to his part-time class load, ceaseless service for his church and full-time job, Bong is also a husband and father of two.
"It's difficult and very challenging," he said, adding that juggling numerous responsibilities makes the challenge exciting.

Bong and his family immigrated to California from the Philippines six years ago. "It wasn't an easy decision…but by God's grace I believe I am doing OK," Bong said.

Bong is adjusting well to life in California with the support of his family and hopes to graduate from SFTS in 2010. His passion for Christian education and desire to humbly serve will undoubtedly only become stronger.

"I am in seminary because I want to learn how to explain theological ideas to regular people," Bong said. "Not everybody understands the teachings of the Bible in the same way. Most people understand the teachings if you make them simpler. My goal is to become equipped in making the teachings of God simpler and more appealing."

 


Natasha Hicks


Seeing the world in Jesus' embrace

Born and raised on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation in Auburn, Wash., with Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Irish, German, Dutch and Welsh ancestral ties, it's easy to understand Natasha's commitment to diversity. This was imperative in Natasha's decision to attend SFTS, as she feels one cannot build whole leaders for the whole church if the foundation is not built on Jesus Christ. "As I read the biographies of some of the professors at SFTS, I was encouraged that they bring real, practical ministry experience to the world of academia."

>> Read Full Story

Reprinted from 2009 Spring Chimes

Natasha Hicks embraces all ethnic groups like they're her own. Considering she was born and raised on the Muckleshoot Indian Reservation in Auburn, Wash., and has ancestral ties to  Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Irish, German, Dutch and Welsh roots, it's easy to understand her commitment to diversity.

The junior at SFTS Northern California even fondly refers to herself as "chop suey." And it's this kaleidoscope of cultures and ethnicities that help drive Natasha's passion for the church to engage in God's work throughout the world and for it to represent the diversity of God's beloved creation.

Natasha has already started her outreach, working part time for Faith Network, an organization in Oakland that builds community support for underserved schools throughout the East Bay.

A few years ago while serving as an intern for Mission at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, she co-taught a seminar based upon an exercise called Conocimientos, which means "body of knowledge." The opportunity to both lead and participate in this exercise has been formative in Natasha's journey to SFTS, revealing deeply embedded cultural values that have served as a guide in her discernment process toward seminary.

At the beginning of the class, each participant was invited to share the origins of their name and what it means. Participants also disclosed their birthplace and where their parents and grandparents were born. Some experienced recollections of great joy, but for others it triggered deep sadness or anger. The conversation moved into questions of value, what had and had not been passed from generation to generation.

"It was a moving experience to hear the depth of what people shared and to also have a space to share my own formative experiences," Natasha recalls.

Natasha's spirituality has also been shaped by her grandmother. It is believed that her grandmother was left by Chinese immigrant plantation workers in a sugarcane field on the Big Island of Hawai'i. She was later found and hanai'ed (adoption) by a Hawaiian woman.

"This practice of hanai is one that has been ingrained in my family and a value that I can only hope I pass on to the next generation," Natasha said.

For Natasha, hanai, is about inclusion, allowing people to feel at home, accepted, loved, valued and nourished no matter what circumstances they find themselves. This cultural value is foundational in Natasha's understanding and approach toward ministry.

She explored her passion for mission and culture by living in Romania, working alongside a Romanian pastor to develop a youth program. She later served as a youth director in Hawai'i, while volunteering with a nonprofit that worked with children of incarcerated parents. She also spent time working at World Vision before embarking to the Bay Area to heed calling to pastoral ministry.

Although Natasha has roots in the Assemblies of God church, she has come under the care of PC (USA) following a two-year internship at First Presbyterian in Berkeley under supervisor and SFTS alumna Mary Ellen Azada. She considered four other seminaries, but chose SFTS after visiting campus on a Friday morning and talking with current students and faculty, as well as being immersed in the absolute beauty of the campus.

She was impressed by the sense of community she found at lunch and by the accessibility of faculty that set aside time for her to ask questions, to look at a class syllabus/text, and shared with her their own journeys to SFTS. What further intrigued her was the array of experiences that faculty possess, including being pastors, missionaries, chaplains and spiritual directors.

"As I read the biographies of some of the professors at SFTS, I was encouraged that they bring real, practical ministry experience to the world of academia," Natasha said.

Another attribute of SFTS that caught Natasha's attention was the diversity of the student body, represented in age and ethnicity, as well as values and theology.

"I think it is so valuable to hear a wide array of voices while studying, both in leadership and in peer relationships,'' Natasha said. "I felt like I could find this at SFTS, as well as through its extended connection to the Graduate Theological Union."

Not least among her decision to come to SFTS was the centrality of Jesus Christ. This was imperative for Natasha, as she feels one cannot build whole leaders for the whole church if the foundation is not built on Jesus Christ.

 

 
 
 

Quick Links

SFTS Library
Admissions Department
Field Education
Wedding & Facility Rental
Continuing Education Opportunities

Educational Programs

Master of Divinity
Master of Arts in Theological Studies
Doctor of Ministry
Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE)
Program in Christian Spirituality

Contact Information

San Francisco Theological Seminary
105 Seminary Rd
San Anselmo CA, 94960
Phone: 415.451.2800
email: info@sfts.edu