As a former church organist and music director, Mary Gustafson, had heard many sermons throughout the years. Then came the day she realized she didn’t want to just listen to sermons any more, she felt called to preach them.
While attending seminary, Gustafson discovered that there were only a few required courses in preaching.
“Preaching is so important, yet those one or two courses are simply not enough,” she said. Thus, after ordination as an Episcopal priest in December of 2001, Gustafson came to Luther Seminary as a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) student in biblical preaching.
At her current parish — Holy Trinity in Southbridge, Mass. — she found overwhelming acceptance for her studies. “Despite the fact that my first residency (three weeks of classes and coursework at Luther) was within a month of my call acceptance, they were completely on board,” Gustafson said.
The program’s ability to connect learning with practical experience was an important element for the congregation. One core component is a parish focus group — a committee made of seven members of her church.
Susan Howland, 54, is a member of Gustafson’s parish group, and a fifteen year member of Holy Trinity parish.
“I was just tickled at her diverse choice of people,” Howland said. “She asked me, and a teenager, and an 82 year old lifelong member. What a diverse group of people with different faith backgrounds to respond to her sermons!”
Each month, the group meets with Gustafson to discuss what she has learned from her studies and how she might best apply that learning to an upcoming sermon on a chosen text. The group takes notes during the sermon itself, and provides extensive response. Following the sermon, the group meets with Gustafson again to discuss the congregational response.
“Being accountable to a group of people where you’re called is incredibly valuable,” Howland explained. “It’s a wonderful concept to use parish members to help her learn. We are part of the mentoring, growing process for Pastor Mary.”
In fact, continual learning in a parish context is one of the elements that makes Luther’s program distinct. “The program is highly contextual,” said David Lose, academic dean and Marbury E. Anderson Professor of Biblical Preaching. “Congregations will see the fruits of their pastor’s labor in the ministry and life of the congregation.”
The parish response group has already seen Gustafson’s studies bear fruit. “The world seems to be kind of a dark place these days,” Howland said. “Yet last year, during Advent, I heard an overwhelming message of hope. Pastor Mary’s sermon gave me hope when I most needed it.”
Find out more about Luther Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry degree in biblical preaching. Visit www.luthersem.edu/dmin.