Posted by: Christian Association | March 30, 2010

Where Public Theology Begins: the Experiences of an Emerging Public Leader

This is a post by intern Maria Fumai Dietrich.

At any given moment, the stack of books on my desk at home would confuse many in academia.  In what degree program are students required to be reading Pauline letters, financial accounting textbooks, the Bhagavad-Gita, and literature on the ethics of organizational leadership?  There is only one I am aware of – and it’s the one I’m enrolled in!  The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia began a new degree program in the fall of 2009, the Master of Arts in Public Leadership (MAPL).  This program marries theological study and public service such as non-profit/business administration or social work.  However rare the combination of books on my desk may seem to others in seminary and MBA programs, these are resources being called upon in many non-profit organizations.  The skill sets learned from these resources are the skills my internship supervisor, Christian Association’s Executive Director Katherine Primus, builds from daily.

The MAPL program seeks to develop public theologians through the marriage of an academically rigorous program and practical field education components.  Coursework includes seminary staples such as Biblical courses in the Old and New Testaments, courses geared towards leadership such as ethics, and a branch of courses at Temple University.  Students in the program choose a concentration of study at Temple such as social work or non-profit/business administration.  With my interest in the administration of higher education institutions, I decided to study at Temple’s Fox School of Business where I take MBA courses such as Quantitative Analysis for Business Methods and Conflict Resolution.

The practical field education component of the MAPL program is what interested me most about enrolling.  Having the opportunity to work in higher education with experienced persons in the art of public theology and public leadership is something I am very grateful for.  It seems fitting that I’d conduct my first field education assignment at the Christian Association as balancing the fields of theology and non-profit governance is part of the daily work of Katherine and the nature of the Christian Association as a non-profit organization associated with a university is a great fit for my educational and career goals.

As a member of the advisory board for the degree program since the summer of 2008, Katherine has witnessed and participated in the molding of the degree program. Having Katherine as a professional mentor has been a wonderful learning experience for me for many reasons.  Her expertise in strategic planning and fund development make her an exceptional candidate for internship supervision.  Her background in non-profit administration combined with her interest in continued education, faith-based work and service contribute to her wealth of experience and eagerness to depart some of her experience with me, her mentee.

Since working as a seminary intern for the Christian Association, I have had the benefit of learning the daily functions and mission-oriented work of a Christian organization within larger communities.  Katherine describes the work of the Christian Association and the environment of UPenn; “the University prides itself for being a non-sectarian institution, which provides an interesting challenge for an associated religious organization such as the Christian Association.”  This challenge can be met with many different approaches.  I’ve had the privilege of engaging with UPenn students and witnessing in their relationships with the Christian Association just how diverse the approaches to Christian fellowship and service can manifest.

Students work at the Christian Association as Federal Work Study employees, interns, and volunteers.  They cultivate projects and campaigns as individuals and as groups with the support of the Christian Association.  An example of such an organization is the Queer Christian Fellowship (QCF) – a student organized group under the umbrella of the Christian Association.  A great majority of the student involvement is organically conceived and developed, however a great deal of work is done in support of their involvement in terms of financial and physical support (such as the use of the amazing spaces within the “CA House” as the Christian Association’s building is lovingly called), emotional and spiritual guidance, and personal and professional development.  For these students, the Christian Association plays an immense role in their experience at the University.  This can be seen especially in the warmth and respect recent UPenn graduates feel for the organization.

Although I’ve only been a part of the Christian Association for two months, I can see many ways in which this organization makes an impact on the lives of learners in the communities of the University.  Personally, it is clear to me that the Christian Association is dedicated to the formation and learning of all of its constituencies.  For me, the environment at the CA House is one that encourages learning and dialogue amongst its seminary interns (of which there are four!), UPenn students, volunteers and staff members.  I’ve had the opportunity not only to engage in learning focused discussions with Katherine, but also to exchange with other Christian Association colleagues.  In my short time working for this organization, I have felt an impact on my personal and professional development.  I know the second half of my internship will be even more fruitful considering my ever-growing mentor/mentee relationship with Katherine and my enhanced involvement with the Christian Association.


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