Our hope at The Seattle School is to be led by our alumni and their stories. Jay Briggs graduated from The Seattle School in 2014 with a Master of Arts in Theology & Culture (MATC). We are grateful for the opportunity to have a conversation with Jay and to learn how his graduate studies at The Seattle School prepared him for his current work as an artist, educator, and nonprofit administrator. 

What drew you to The Seattle School and to the Master of Arts in Theology & Culture degree?

It’s a really unique program. There are not a lot of programs in the country that have all the elements that The Seattle School brings. There are lots of places where you can have an arts focus while you’re in seminary, but there aren’t a lot of places that couple it with the personal work that is a trademark of The Seattle School. 

I had enrolled at a different school, in fact, when I had a conversation with a friend of mine from my childhood youth group days, actually, another alum named Andrew Bauman. So Andrew and I go way back. We had reconnected over social media, and we were finding that we had a lot of things in common. Through re-engaging in conversation with him, I discovered The Seattle School. At that point, I think it was actually Mars Hill [Graduate School]. 

When I was putting this other program in conversation with The Seattle School and trying to make that decision, I realized (which was affirmed in retrospect) that while the other school would’ve really challenged me academically, not that I didn’t find rigor at The Seattle School as well, it wouldn’t have asked me to do as much interpersonal work. Especially given the field that I was coming from and that I’ve found myself in, I think the interpersonal work is just as valuable as the intellectual work. And so when I had to decide where I wanted to spend my resources of time, energy, and money, that was a big deciding factor for me.

What were your expectations and hopes when you started the MATC program?

People come to The Seattle School in a lot of different places personally, theologically, and spiritually. And I would say that when I came in, I was in want of reconstruction. At least during my time, there was a lot of deconstruction happening for people. But I had already done that. I grew up in a really conservative evangelical family and had been through a period of time in my spiritual life where I had walked away from a lot of what I had been taught growing up. At the time that I came to The Seattle School, I had framed it as a way to reclaim a spiritual life because I knew deep down that there was truth in what I had grown up believing. I was trying to find the fragments that still felt true to me while putting aside the things that did not. And The Seattle School was the ground zero for that reconstruction. And so that was my hope for coming through The Seattle School, and I think it delivered that for me.

Vocationally, I was trying to figure out how to integrate what I do as an artist with a larger sense of purpose in the world and a sense of identity and personal meaning. And so this is another place that the Seattle School is unique: I felt like there was just a lot of freedom at The Seattle School to be able to explore my discipline and put it in conversation with the theological and psychological approaches that are the intersections that happened there at the school.

What was your experience like as a student?

It was great. There are moments that are intentionally challenging but you come out on the other side transformed. And I think that is the whole point and purpose of the process that the leadership has laid the groundwork for. So there were people in the school, both faculty and colleagues, who fostered my creativity. Paul Steinke was huge for helping me to come to a wider understanding of what community is, which has been a big part of my work going forward. On a theological side, working with Chelle Stearns and being in conversation with her about both the arts and the theological approaches was foundational for me. And then Ron Ruthruff was also very important for me in thinking about how I take my art from not just a personal contemplation but giving it a sense of action and building our personal endeavors into doing something that is towards the good of the world and the good of God’s work in the world.

How has your time at The Seattle School shaped your vocation and your life journey?

We’re back on the East Coast now. Greenville, South Carolina, which is where I currently am, has always sort of felt like home to us. It’s where my wife’s family is, and my family is only about 45 minutes away up in North Carolina. 

I’ve been continuing to work in the theater. I’m the Director of Education and Community Engagement at a small professional theater here in Greenville called The Warehouse Theater. And I also direct plays. So that’s my artistic side. I’m an artist, administrator, and educator, And The Seattle School has had a lot vocationally to do with that path. While I had done some work in arts education prior to coming to graduate school, The Seattle School really was instrumental in shaping my understanding of pedagogy and how education can be not just an academic endeavor but an embodied and transformational one.

The Seattle School talks about fostering a vision for hope in the world: I would say that is my thesis as an artist. What I’m trying to do is create a reality, even if it’s just for two hours, within a theatrical space, where people can imagine the world differently or imagine the world as they would hope it to be. And sometimes that’s in contrast to what they see on stage. Sometimes we have to perform the anti-hero as well, but it’s all in conversation with a hopeful construct. And my understanding of hope was entirely shaped by the work that I did in Seattle. So that’s been super-foundational for me. 

And then on the personal side, I honestly don’t know who I would be today without my time at The Seattle School. I would just be a vastly different person. I think my marriage is different. My ability to parent is different. My ability to relate to my family of origin is different. I don’t know who I would be. It’s hard for me to imagine that and it’s all for the better. So there are times when I think about the investment of money and resource and energy, especially the years that we were in Seattle, where it was away from our family and across the country. And as much as I wrestle with that, I always come back to the idea that I just don’t know who I would be if not for that. And I don’t really want to. So for all of its sacrifices and challenges, I just can’t imagine things differently. 

More about the Master of Arts in Theology & Culture (MATC) at The Seattle School

Our Master of Arts in Theology & Culture offering has been updated since Jay Briggs graduated in 2014, and The Seattle School now offers three degree programs: 

Classes are held in an online learning environment with four residency gatherings over two years of studies. Students apply coursework in their local communities.

Learn more about our MA in Theology & Culture at an upcoming admissions event or talk with our enrollment team.