Few students who complete a Master of Divinity graduate program at The Seattle School remain unchanged. A natural consequence of a program that integrates theology with psychology and culture, our students become uniquely equipped to enter communities with greater depth and understanding of who they are in the story of God, how to practice faithful presence, and how to lead others with integrity and compassion.
Earlier this year we spoke with Jana Peterson (MDiv ‘21) to learn more about why she chose to pursue a Master of Divinity degree and her vision for ministry post-graduation. Keep reading to learn more about what Jana encountered in her courses and her Integrated Project—an in-depth dissertation each theology student completes as a culmination of their studies.
What initially drew you to The Seattle School’s Master of Divinity graduate program?
Having encountered traumatic themes in my personal story, I believed a deeper relationship with The Seattle School and The Seattle School community to be the next step toward healing. I was inspired by Dr. Dan Allender’s approach to trauma work as well as Dr. Dwight Friesen’s vision for doing church in the context of the local neighborhood. Coming from a conservative background, I thought that meant I could not be a pastor. So while I had a thirst for a fresh relationship with the Bible, I applied to The Seattle School as a counseling student. My first healing choice once accepted and in the building was to enroll in the appropriate program as a Master of Divinity student.
What have you been surprised by in this MDiv program?
I knew that studying toward a MDiv would mean learning the languages and cultures of the Biblical text, but I did not quite realize that I would also have to learn to read my own culture and my own (English) language in a more in-depth way. I feel more prepared to interact with current events because of my MDiv studies, which is something I did not expect going into the program four years ago.
In what ways has your story impacted, shaped, or inspired your studies?
The Seattle School gives students ample opportunities to reflectively respond to the material they learn in class. We do not simply learn facts and figures. Instead, we are invited to respond to, push back on, and wholeheartedly interact with class content. Because of this, I have a deeper understanding of the themes of my life story, how these themes shape my understanding of vocation and feel empowered to relate to my world in a more embodied way. My story (past) has deeper meaning since it has been given space to inform my story (future).
Tell us about the Integrative Project. What topic did you choose and why? What did you learn from the process, and how have you applied it to your work?
In my Integrative Project, I attempted to create a new hermeneutic, particularly for white Americans, that is both inclusive and anticolonial. As my classes at The Seattle School helped me better understand the themes of my own life that contributed to the trauma I hold in my body, I began to realize the wideness of harm wielded throughout history by those who claimed to speak in the name of God. I believe we have a choice in how we interpret our sacred texts and that it is possible to read them unto the flourishing of all people rather than to perpetuate harmful hierarchies. Throughout the process, I gained a deeper appreciation for the unique intersectional and interdisciplinary ways each person approaches the text. Our individual experiences are invaluable as we read together in community.
What are your hopes, dreams, and desires as they relate to your future vocation?
I hope to continue the work I began at The Seattle School, to step into a vocation that empowers others to discover their voice in the way that The Seattle School has helped me hear my own. And I long to be a part of a faith community that values the multiplicity of voices and experiences. With graduation still in the recent past, I’m still discovering the particulars of what this means for me, but I’m okay with that!
How has your time at The Seattle School prepared you for what’s next?
In a field that is still male-dominated, my MDiv degree in and of itself is a stepping stone toward my future work. Beyond this, the way The Seattle School uniquely teaches at the intersection of theology and psychology makes space for unique kinds of learning that I don’t think I would have received elsewhere. As I leave The Seattle School, I am more grounded and have tools to be personally more faithfully present to myself and to my world than I had four years ago. I’ve learned to attune to my own heart and, in the process, have grown in my ability to give that gift to others. It’s a process and the learning continues after graduation, but I could not do the work I am doing now without the training I received at The Seattle School.
What drives you to continue in ministry?
My hope lies in my belief that death is never the end and the promise of life abounds. We see this in creation almost anywhere we look. I see it in the saplings that grow up around the tree in my back yard that died in the wind storm last summer. I see it in the way composting gives us nutrient-rich soil. This is the earth’s witness of the life Spirit is birthing in our world. In addition to this, it is helpful to know that I am not alone in this work. I formed deep relationships during my time at The Seattle School with people who will always be colleagues.
What advice would you give someone who’s interested in our Master of Divinity program?
Getting an MDiv at The Seattle School is a life-changing proposition. You and your community will be challenged as you do the work asked of you in your classes. Your relationships will not be the same ~ in a good way. The work is hard. It is personally and emotionally challenging. But I would do it again in a heartbeat. The benefits of this program go far beyond learning a new way to engage Bible to learning new ways of living with others in mutual, collaborative community. Rest into the work ahead of you. Trust the learning process created for you by professors who love you. I hope these years of play lead you to incredible discoveries.