Fostering Innovation within Community

inncommThe SFTS M.Div. program gives students a palette of study

“Integration.” It turns out to be as much about expansion as coalition. By combining cultures, ideas, ages, interests—you name it—people grow in their understanding of themselves and others. Springing from that growth is a cooperative spirit that fosters innovation and a deep sense of community.

San Francisco Theological Seminary’s M.Div. program underwent an evaluation during the 2013-2014 academic year, resulting in a newly-structured course of study that integrates disciplines, faculty, styles, and students. Online classes, the tutorial format, and Interdisciplinary Lectures were designed to create a multi-faceted learning experience that grounds students in theology while giving them the latitude to express their Christianity though their unique gifts.

As a long-time faculty member at SFTS, Professor of Church History Dr. Chris Ocker finds online instruction not only extremely efficient, but “surprisingly refreshing and exciting. Translating courses to online versions and adapting to new media makes me aware of what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. I have to rethink everything I teach in order for it to fit new media,” he said.

Ocker’s research and online postings may serve double duty as the foundation for his tutorial classes, a new format of study at SFTS that hosts a smaller number of students than the traditional lecture hall approach. The tutorials foster dialogue, argumentation, and independent thought through small group interaction. “I find that I have a lot more time to get to know the students and how they’re learning, and it allows me to accommodate their goals and interests.

Everything is based on a small group conversation, so students are more present.” Once a week, the Interdisciplinary Lectures bring all learners together with faculty, staff, and the community at large to listen to and share ideas on a topic that centers on a theme. Last spring’s theme of “creation” had Rev. Dr. Eugene Park discussing Plato’s dialogue, Timeaus. In brief, the entire universe was created by the Demiurge, Park explained. “He had a huge bowl into which he put various elements from the forms of the universe. He mixed these and produced manifestations of the forms that exist in the divine world.” He paused before adding: “It’s a hands-on activity!”

A different story than the one learned in Genesis—or is it? “The students must make the connections in their own intellectual journeys,” said Park. Which is precisely the idea of the Interdisciplinary Lectures. And the tutorial format. And the online courses. By giving students a palette of study, they can integrate bits and pieces of knowledge into a well-informed body of theology.

SFTS has made significant changes in the last two years, which is just the beginning. Anyone seeking to deepen their education and faith teaching—future ministers, chaplains, spiritual advisors—can find a course of study to fit their desires. The Seminary strives to be a lab that emphasizes and integrates each student’s uniqueness, from which they emerge as their true selves in Christian service.

Originally published in the San Francisco Theological Seminary 2014-2015 Annual Report