Duke Divinity School

Neighborhood Seminary is an innovative new program funded by the Parish Ministry Fund, providing robust missional, spiritual, theological, and practical formation to equip lay people to minister in their home, neighborhood, workplace, and community. The pilot program is led by an integrated team of Duke faculty, staff, and alumni, community practitioners, and trained spiritual directors.


The Neighborhood Seminary aims to help participants open their minds and senses anew to the movement of God’s Spirit, empowering them to engage the people of God in their communities. The learning and formation that takes place in the Neighborhood Seminary is built upon the premise that God comes among us and dwells in our neighborhoods. 

The pilot program for the Neighborhood Seminary is in the Greensboro, N.C. area starting in September 2017. 

The Neighborhood Seminary is open to lay persons, 18 years or older, who have a desire to engage God's mission in the neighborhood.

This two-year non-credit program provides:

  • four team-taught courses per year with Duke faculty, staff, and graduates partnering as well as gifted local practitioners
  • spiritual formation throughout the two years with trained spiritual directors in large- and small-group gatherings
  • community engagement with innovative local practitioners and neighborhood ministries

The two-year program meets September through April with the following monthly format:

  • monthly Saturday sessions (food is provided)
  • meeting with spiritual formation small group (1-2 times per month)
  • participation in community engagement (once per month)
  • in person or online discussion about course readings (once per month)

Program Cost

The cost for the two-year program is $500 ($250 a year) plus the cost of books.

The application is free. Upon acceptance into the Neighborhood Seminary, applicants will receive an invitation to register. A $250 payment is required for the first year, and a separate $250 payment is required at the start of the second year. Some scholarship funding is available.


Participants in Neighborhood Seminary gather one Saturday each month from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Lunch and light refreshments will be provided at each session.

Fall 2017

  • Sept. 9
  • Oct. 14
  • Nov. 11
  •  Dec. 9

Spring 2018

  •  Jan. 13
  • Feb. 10
  • Mar. 10
  • Apr. 14
  • May 12 (make-up day in case of snow day)

Fall 2018

  • Sept. 8
  • Oct. 13
  • Nov. 10
  • Dec. 8

Spring 2019

  • Jan. 12
  • Feb. 9
  • Mar. 9
  • Apr. 6
  • May 11  (make-up day in case of snow day)


Teaching Team

Rev. Elaine Heath, Ph.D.
Dean of the Divinity School and Professor of Missional & Pastoral Theology

Elaine Heath

Dean Heath’s scholarly work integrates systematic, pastoral, and spiritual theology in ways that bridge the gap between academy, church, and world. Heath is the author of numerous books and monographs, including God Unbound: Wisdom from Galatians for the Anxious Church (2016) and Five Means of Grace: Experience God's Love the Wesleyan Way (2017). She is also the co-founder of the Missional Wisdom Foundation, which provides opportunities for clergy and laity to learn how to live in intentional communities and to develop missional communities and social enterprise in diverse social contexts.

Rev. Brandon WrencherBrandon Wrencher

Rev. Brandon Wrencher is the pastor and pioneer of a new inclusive and neighborhood-rooted faith community in downtown Greensboro, N.C. A provisional elder in the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, Brandon has served in a diversity of settings: Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Chicago, and most recently in Todd, N.C. His leadership has spanned higher education, local churches, and nonprofit sectors. As a mystic, prophet, and missional innovator, Wrencher nurtures the goodness and light within everyone to build Jesus-centered beloved community. 

Irving Allen

Irving David Allen is a lifelong Greensboro, N.C. resident who currently works as the fellowship coordinator for Ignite NC and a national trainer for Beautiful Trouble Network. He has worked to build community and youth coalitions both in Greensboro and throughout the state of North Carolina and has played a role in organizing initiatives such as the Citizens Review Board, which addresses police accountability in Greensboro, as well as the Teens Downtown youth program, and is one of the founding members of Black Lives Matter Gate City chapter. Most recently, Allen launched the Books and Black Youth program, an initiative designed to target and improve literacy rates of black youth in the Greensboro community by normalizing and incentivizing reading in Northeast Greensboro. He also serves as human relations commissioner for the city of Greensboro, was appointed to the Youth Advisory Board for the city of Greensboro, and is the member of Shiloh Baptist Church, The Fellowship of Reconciliation, Youth and Student Coalition for Police Accountability, and Guilford Votes. He also sits on the planning committees for Piedmont Together and The Wild Goose Festival. 


Dr. J. Warren Smith

J. Warren Smith, associate professor of historical theology, is interested in the history of theology broadly conceived from the apostles to the present, but his primary focus is upon the theology of the early church (AD 100-600). In addition to academic writings on Gregory of Nyssa, Ambrose of Milan, and Augustine of Hippo, he has authored a book for laypeople, The Lord’s Prayer: Confessing the New Covenant. Growing up the son of a Methodist minister and professor of Church history Atlanta, Smith is himself a United Methodist minister in the North Carolina Annual Conference. He lives in Durham with his wife, Kimberly Doughty, who is a school social worker and teacher, and their children, Katherine and Thomas. His passions outside of Duke Divinity School include playing with his English bulldog, watching his son and daughter’s soccer and gymnastics competitions, studying the American Civil War and 19th century British history and literature, and retreating to the mountains at Lake Junaluska.

Rev. Jeff Patterson

Dr. Jeff Patterson is a native of Gastonia, N.C.  He holds a B.A. in history and religious studies from Belmont Abbey College, a M.A. in religious studies from UNC-Charlotte, a M.Div. from Duke Divinity School, and a D.Min specializing in church renewal from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Patterson is an elder in the WNCCUMC and is presently the senior pastor at Wesley Memorial UMC in High Point, N.C. He has also served in High Point, Charlotte, Archdale, Franklin, Shelby, Kernersville. Patterson also served as the district superintendent of the Yadkin Valley District, and has served on many annual conference committees and as a delegate to the 2016 General Conference and 2019 General Conference. His interests include church history, biblical studies, and spiritual formation (specifically Benedictine spirituality).


Co-Directors of Spiritual Formation

Rev. Alice Kunka, Ph.D.

Alice Kunka

Rev. Alice Kunka currently serves as associate pastor of spiritual formation at Christ United Methodist Church in Greensboro, N.C.. Her passion is creating space and experiences that open people's hearts and minds to God's transforming grace. As an ordained deacon in The United Methodist Church, Kunka has served several parishes in the North Carolina and Western North Carolina Conferences.  For more than a decade she taught spiritual formation classes through Course of Study at Duke Divinity School, in addition to leading formation and training events and retreats with diverse groups, including the Latino community.
Pamela Blackstock
Rev. Pamela Blackstock is a 1979 graduate of Winston-Salem State University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in early childhood education. She taught in Western Rockingham and Guilford County Schools. She also served  as a recruiter for African American teachers, and worked closely with the migrant Hispanic population, as well as the mentally challenged. She served as president of the local North Carolina Educational Association, and received various honors and accolades such as Jaycee’s Outstanding Young Educator and Mary Kearn’s Outstanding Science Teacher. After heeding God’s call upon her life, Blackstock pursued a Masters of Divinity degree from Duke University. She was ordained as an elder at the 2006 annual conference of the United Methodist Church. She has served on community boards, such as Open Arms, WSSU Ecumenical Campus Ministry, Wesley Foundation serving A&T State University, and Schools Engaging the Community. She was also employed by Randolph Community College in its Adult Services Department, and was an active member of the Emmaus Community. She currently serves Union Memorial UMC in Greensboro, N.C.

Joseph Kim

Rev. Joseph Kim has a passion for helping leaders explore and express their pastoral identity and leadership identity through spiritual formation. Kim has found it a true joy to see how the tool of the verbatim can be used to awaken a person to God’s blessing in their lives. He has been trained in pastoral counseling and clinical pastoral education and has a deep heart for helping people find common ground that transcends racial and cultural diversities. Using a biblical basis, Kim has led seminars that help participants examine the definition of a loving relationship as well as facilitating better communication among people with different personality types. Rev. Kim is currently serving as a provisional elder in Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church.

Cheryl Skinner

Rev. Cheryl Skinner currently serves as the pastor of Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church in Concord, N.C. Her passion for spiritual direction focuses on helping individuals, groups, and congregations discern the movement of the Holy Spirit and envision new ways to follow its leading. An ordained elder in the Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, Skinner has served in a variety of church settings, including children’s and youth ministries, to which she brought a love of scripture and contemplative practices to young people.  As a former scientist, her interests include the interconnection between religion, faith, and scientific inquiry. 

Director of Neighborhood Seminary

Heidi Miller, Ph.D.

Heidi Miller

Heidi A. Miller is director of the Neighborhood Seminary and serves as a managing director in the Missional Wisdom Foundation. Her teaching and research interests focus on gathered worship, spiritual formation, and leadership development. A licensed minister in the Virginia Mennonite Conference, she is currently writing a book on the place of sensory embodiment, or gesture, in effective worship practice, and its role in forming and empowering Christian community. While serving on the faculty at Southern Methodist University she worked with corporate executives regarding the connection between theology and business vocation, and has consulted with congregations undergoing transition and trauma, as well as with persons working with refugee communities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do I need to attend all of the sessions for the Neighborhood Seminary in order to be a part of it?
A: Your presence and the formation of community is a crucial part of the learning and engagement of the Neighborhood Seminary. Missing more than two Saturday sessions in the year is not recommended.

Q: Will the Neighborhood Seminary be offered again in the Greensboro area?
A: As of now, Duke Divinity School and Northern Piedmont District are planning to invite a new cohort in September of 2018.

Q: What if I cannot afford the cost for the Neighborhood Seminary?
A: Upon acceptance to the Neighborhood Seminary, there is space for you to indicate financial need in the registration. The director of the Neighborhood Seminary will be in touch with you regarding your need.

Q: When will small groups begin for the spiritual formation component of the Neighborhood Seminary?
A: Small groups will meet within and outside of the Saturday session of the Neighborhood Seminary. On Sept. 9, we will have some time in small groups. Formal small group assignments will occur on Oct. 14.

Q: What do I need to bring to the first session of the Neighborhood Seminary?
A: Bring items that you use to take notes and a bible.

Q: Do I have to be a part of a Methodist Church to enroll in the Neighborhood Seminary?
A: Our funding partner requires that participants be affiliated, in some way, with a United Methodist Church in the Northern Piedmont District of the North Carolina Annual Conference.

How to Apply

Applications are no longer being accepted.

Neighborhood Seminary is open to lay persons who are affiliated in some way with a United Methodist Church in the Northern Piedmont District of the North Carolina Annual Conference.

The application for the Neighborhood Seminary is online. There are two steps to the application:

Step 1:  As part of the online application, you are asked to name and provide contact information for pastor or pastoral leader who can serve as a reference. You are strongly encouraged to have a conversation with your pastor or pastoral leader about your participation in the Neighborhood Seminary. An online reference request will be sent to the pastor or pastoral leader through an email address that you provide.

Step 2: Within the online application, you are asked to answer the questions listed below. Please know that you are not able to save the work you have done once you have started the application.

  1. How did you hear about Neighborhood Seminary? (Character limit of 150)
  2. What is your primary motivation or hope in being a part of the Neighborhood Seminary (two to three sentences)? (Character limit of 350)
  3. How do you sense participation in the Neighborhood Seminary would connect with your sense of vocation and/or call? (Character limit of 350)
  4. In addition to our once-per-month Saturday sessions (September-April), learning will also take place in the following ways:
    • meeting with your spiritual formation small group (one-two times a month)
    • participating in community engagement (once per month)
    • connecting in person or electronically about the readings (once per month)
      Are you ready, willing, and able to agree to this inward and outward journey, including the time commitment? (____yes ____no)
  5. Have you spoken with your pastoral leader about participating in the Neighborhood Seminary (___ yes ____no)
  6. Is there anything else you would like us to know? (Character limit of 200)

You will receive an email confirming that your application has been received.



Each session will take place at Christ UMC, 410 N. Holden Road, Greensboro, NC 27410. Parking is available in the church parking lot.


For questions, contact:
Heidi A. Miller, Ph.D.
Director, Neighborhood Seminary
Duke Divinity School
(919) 613-5332

Events In This Series

Saturday, September 8, 2018 - 9:00am to 3:00pm
Saturday, October 13, 2018 - 9:00am to 3:00pm
Saturday, November 10, 2018 - 9:00am to 3:00pm
Saturday, December 8, 2018 - 9:00am to 3:00pm
Saturday, January 12, 2019 - 9:00am to 3:00pm
Saturday, February 9, 2019 - 9:00am to 3:00pm
Saturday, March 9, 2019 - 9:00am to 3:00pm
Saturday, April 6, 2019 - 9:00am to 3:00pm