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Courage, Insight, Camaraderie, Leadership: DMin Program Continues to Galvanize and Enrich Ministry

Sure, it can be challenging and thought-provoking to pursue a doctor of ministry degree (plus you get an extra title!), but does it have any meaningful influence on day-to-day ministry?

Recent interviews with three Seabury DMin program graduates suggest that their DMin experience has had a profound and lasting impact on the direction and execution of their ministry.

Maribeth Conroy photoThe Rev. Dr. Mary E. Conroy, DMin in Congregational Studies, 2009

More than anything else, Maribeth Conroy says her DMin from Seabury Western gave her a courage she didn't know she had.

"Mostly, the DMin has made me very brave," said Conroy. "I think the DMin program took away any fear I had for needing to be perfect or having it all figured out. It helped me to take risks."

Conroy is rector of St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Coral Gables, Florida, and is a member of the board of directors of the Bexley Hall Seabury Western Seminary Federation and the Anglican Theological Review. The Williamstown, Massachusetts, native has a BS in business from Marymount College, an MS in religious education from Fordham University, and an MDiv and DMin from Seabury Western. She has served churches in Colorado, Massachusetts, Texas and Arizona.

"I'm not afraid to try new things," Conroy said. Those "new things" run the gamut from serving champagne on high holy days and wearing her Red Sox cap and socks during the World Series to accepting a call to ministry she never thought she wanted.

"I never wanted to be a rector," Conroy said. "My thesis project was about the joys of being an associate rector. I had told myself that I'm going to be happy being an associate. I can be the one everybody loves, the happy-go-lucky associate. My DMin program made me realize that if I found the right place, I needed to agree to be rector."

She found that place at St. Philip's, a congregation of about 400, where she had been the interim and then priest-in-charge from 2009 until being installed as rector in 2012. It's unusual for an interim to become the rector of a church, but as the bishop of the Diocese of Southeast Florida, the Rt. Rev. Leo Frade, said at the time, "When you throw out your line and get a big catch, you don't throw it back."

Conroy said although it was something she never thought she wanted, becoming rector at St. Philip's was the best thing that could have happened to her.

"When I got here, after about six months or so, the parish was asking if I could become the rector. My line has always been, 'I'm your rebound girlfriend. You'll fall in love again because there is someone wonderful coming down the road.'
"In the abstract I didn't want to be a rector, but I really wanted to be their rector."

John Kitagawa picThe Rev. Canon John Kitagawa, DMin in Congregational Studies, 2005

John Kitagawa was ordained a priest in 1978 and has been rector of St. Phillip's in the Hills Parish, Tucson, Arizona, since 2001. He said Seabury's DMin program has had a big impact on his ministry, especially in his recognition that it is more important to act than just react.

"One of the main things I learned is you can sit there and let things happen to you and be at the mercy of events and react. Or you can do things to affect the outcome. It's a great source of empowerment as you build consensus with community and develop a culture that is mission-oriented. You don't have complete control but you can guide it.

"The process of building consensus and how to understand things more from a systemic point of view...all those were things we talked about in the DMin program and built projects around."

When he arrived at St. Philip's, he found a corporate-sized parish exhibiting the characteristics and dynamics of a much smaller parish. His DMin thesis focused on how to reorganize the parish for mission in the twenty-first century.

"One of the things I valued the most about the DMin program was being in a learning community with a group of practitioners. Anything we read was grist for the mill, and we all got into long discussions on how that had practical experience on what we were doing. It made for great discussion and great learning experiences.

"So I think, at the very least, it was a question of getting focused on congregational development, that it was possible to do some things that would be proactive and helpful rather than reactive all the time."

Kitagawa was ordained priest and deacon in 1978 in the Diocese of New York. He earned a BA at Hobart College, an MDiv from Union Theological Seminary and then a DMin from Seabury. He is a member of the Standing Commission on Anglican and International Peace with Justice Concerns, is a vice president of the board of Habitat for Humanity Tucson, and works closely with interfaith clergy in Tucson.
He was canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Maryland when called to St. Philip's in 2001.

"I'm still having a lot of fun," Kitagawa said of his ministry at St. Philip's, which has about 1,500 members, and his DMin experience continues to have an impact on his ministry.

"Fairly frequently, the knowledge I gained from the DMin program helps me to explain ideas to the vestry or the staff. It provided me with the language I needed."

Carol Pinkham OakThe Rev. Dr. Carol Pinkham Oak, DMin in Congregational Studies, 2003

Carol Pinkham Oak, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, Maryland, is passionate about the formation of the next generation of church leaders, a passion that was fed by her DMin studies at Seabury. While an associate rector at Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, she helped develop a program and established a process to help with the leadership formation of clergy during their first two years in a parish.
"My DMin absolutely enabled me to build that Transition in Ministry program," said Oak, who served as an associate at Christ Church for six years before becoming rector of St. John's in 2006.

"Twenty-one new clergy have been through that program, and I was there for 14 of them. The outline of the program is based on the concept of a medical residency, that when a medical student goes into a teaching hospital, the resident is treating you, but there are other doctors who are overseeing the process.

"The concept is that new clergy would go to a congregation that could offer a wide range of experiences and provide good clergy mentors. The newly ordained person would spend two years going through an intensive rotation in ministry."
Oak said her DMin thesis on the Transition to Ministry (TIM) program, which was funded by the Lilly Endowment, Inc., helped her appreciate what was needed to create models of success for newly ordained clergy.

"I began to understand that the congregation really has a lot to teach and a lot to share, and there's a lot of formation that occurs with the priest. How do you enter a system well and how do you leave a system well?"

Mentoring the next generation of clergy leaders and developing lay leadership for the church continues to be Oak's guiding passion.

"Before the TIM program, people could get a bad start, or there were conflicting expectations," Oak said. "There are statistics that within five years of parish ministry half of the people quit. That says the church has to do a better job in formation."

In addition to her DMin from Seabury, Oak holds a BS in environmental studies from the University of Colorado and an MDiv from Yale University. She served for nine years as rector of St. James Church in Goshen, New York, prior to serving as an associate at Christ Church and then being called to lead St. John's Church and St. John's Parish Day School. The parish has about 1,800 members.

The TIM program Oak developed has taken new form and continued as the Ministry Resident Program, a collaborative project between the Virginia Theological Seminary and six congregations in the dioceses of Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

Oak said her DMin degree has enriched her ministry.

"I think for me, who did my DMin in the second half of my ordained life, it told me how important it is to be generative with my ministry, to be someone who does care for the generation behind me. It opened for me a side of my vocation that I otherwise wouldn't know was important to me."

Learn more about the Bexley Seabury DMin program and apply in January to begin in June.

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