Imagine seminary without midterms or finals, without a sermon to preach in York Chapel the same day your 20-page paper is due….
Imagine a week at divinity school spent in self-directed study—sitting in on classes, meeting with faculty, exploring Duke’s libraries, attending worship, and strolling through Duke Gardens. Toss in 2.0 hours of continuing education credit and a total cost of $500, which covers four nights’ accommodations, a meal allowance, access to the campus gym, and temporary library privileges.
Thanks to the Center for Continuing Education, this scenario become possible in fall 2002. Since then, 46 people have spent a week at Duke through Study Leave for Ministry Professionals. Participants have included a clergy couple who found the program’s flexibility met both of their needs, individual pastors from a variety of denominations, and faculty from religion departments at peer institutions.
A number of pastors have returned for a second Study Leave, including Donna Thompson D’00, pastor of the Mount Zion/Wall's Chapel United Methodist charge in the Rockingham District near Rockingham, N.C.
During Study Leave, Thompson explored the intersection of religion and art, which has been a lifelong interest. She visited the Duke Museum of Art, which has an extensive collection of religious paintings, and worked on her own oil painting—a still life of a statue of Jesus blessing the sacraments. The recently completed painting began in an art class at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
In contrast with high-tech PowerPoint productions on overhead screens, Thompson looks forward to bringing her paintings into worship. Though her formal training is relatively recent, she has been invited to exhibit her artwork at the North Carolina Annual Conference June 9-12.
“Study Leave gave me an opportunity to spend quality time in devotion, as well as to explore the art museum and to paint,” says Thompson, whose project the previous year was “Worship as Performance.” “It’s a gift not to have to worry about the daily calendar.” Thompson also met with Therese Schroeder-Sheker, a vocalist and harpist with dual careers in music and palliative/pastoral care who taught spring semester at the divinity school in collaboration with the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life. “Study Leave is an opportunity to study those areas that were not part of the regular curriculum at divinity school,” says Thompson.
Joseph Awotwi D’98, another Study Leave participant, returned to Duke in the spring of 2003—and again in 2004—to explore the connection between spirituality and Christian witness. “I’m trying to find out if there is a connection between spiritual maturity and a willingness to share one’s faith,” said Awotwi, pastor of St. Mark U.M.C. in Baton Rouge, La. “This has turned out to be too complex a question to be answered in a short time.”
Awotwi came to the U.S. after earning a medical degree in his native Ghana. He completed his residency in pediatrics in New York and a fellowship at Tulane University in New Orleans before being called to divinity school.
The reticence of many Christians—those in his local church and the congregations of his fellow pastors—to share their faith baffles him. In Africa, where Christian witness brought him closer to the grace of God as a young teenager, “perhaps people are more willing to talk about Jesus,” says Awotwi.
He does not think the problem here is fear or shyness. “I’m interested in what factors contribute. Is there a correlation between a person’s growth in the Lord and his or her eagerness to witness to others?”
Outreach ministry alone is not enough, he says. “If what we are offering is a meal, is that alone good enough? Are we willing to have these same people we serve meals become part of our worshipping community?
“I think if we believe that Jesus is the way of salvation, then we ought to offer more,” he says. “The early Christians conversed about Jesus—they gossiped about Jesus. Why don’t we?”
During his recent Study Leave, Awotwi researched spirituality and met with several faculty members, including Professor Peter Storey and Senior Associate Dean Willie Jennings. He departed at the end of the week with new insight but no firm answers, says Awotwi, who plans to continue his inquiry. He especially appreciates the self-directed nature of Duke’s Study Leave, which allows for such individual projects as his own.
Many participants report that the opportunity to participate in worship led by others—whether by students or faculty in York Chapel or at the variety of services in Duke Chapel—is a gift.
Study Leave convinced George Walker D’94, operations director for the Washington, D.C., Center for Community Change, that a week’s retreat from routine is critical to the self-care that allows for effective ministry. “Returning to Duke reminded me of the need to take care of my spiritual self, and to feed my intellectual curiosity.”
For an application or more information, visit Learning for Life at www.divinity.duke.edu or contact:
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