D.Min. Questions & Answers with Fr. Sergius Halvorsen

by Fr. John A. Peck

Some time ago, I contacted Fr. John Behr at St Vladimir Seminary to ask about the dormant D.Min. program, and to inquire about the possibility of renewing it, maybe for a homiletics program, to which he responded, “It’s not dormant, it was terminated some time ago!” How happy I was to find out that SVS has indeed restarted their D.Min. program and have included a significant preaching curriculum. We contacted the director of the program, Fr. Sergius Halvorsen, and asked some basic questions to shed some more light on this program. Again, this program focuses on Advanced Preaching and Exegesis for homiletics as a part of the curriculum, so, of course, we are very interested!

Serge

Fr. Sergius Halvorsen

The SVS DMin program was dormant for awhile, and now is being re-established. Is the SVS faculty and dean supportive of this reworking of the DMin?

The DMin at St. Vladimir’s started in 1987 and was terminated in 2009 due to low enrollment. Quite simply, there were only so many Orthodox priests and chaplains within driving distance of our New York campus. In 2009, the faculty and dean suspended the program with the hope that it could be revived in the near future. When I was appointed to the faculty in July of 2012, Fr. John Behr our Dean, and Fr. Chad Hatfield, our Chancellor, expressed a very strong interest in reviving the DMin as a hybrid distance learning program.

In fact, at one of our very first meetings, they asked me to outline how the DMin could be offered using distance education.

So, this renewal of the Doctor of Ministry as a hybrid program has always been a priority for the dean and faculty of St. Vladimir’s. Over the course of the last year and a half, an incredible amount of work has been done by the Dean, the Chancellor, the Academic Dean, Dr. John Barnet, and other members of the faculty in order to obtain the approval of our accrediting body (the Association of Theological Schools) and to work out the numerous details of initiating a new program like this. They have been enthusiastically supportive and encouraging throughout all of this work.

What is the vision for this renewed program?

Our vision for the program is that it will strengthen pastoral ministry by integrating doctoral level academic work with applied pastoral praxis.

What are the goals for this new program?

Students who complete the program will: demonstrate an advanced competency in the practice of ministry in the Orthodox tradition; perform analytical and ministerial research in Bible, Patristic texts and contemporary sources; integrate advanced theological knowledge into their ministry in the local context; and communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ more effectively through all facets of their ministries.

How long is each cohort?

Each cohort will consist of 15 to 20 students who will complete the program in three years. This program consists of eight core courses and a final project. The academic calendar for the DMin has been specifically tailored to accommodate the responsibilities of parish priests. (link to proposed academic calendar) Students will complete roughly half of each course via distance learning and will complete the other half during one-week intensives at our New York campus.

What will this DMin allow the graduate to do with this degree? That is, what would you like to see graduates of this program go on to do and accomplish?

First of all, the DMin will help priests, chaplains and pastoral professionals to better fulfill their fundamental ministry of bringing the love of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who are suffering and are in need. More particularly, the DMin will help students to develop areas of expertise in pastoral ministry in order to serve as resources within the Orthodox Church and in society at large.

For example, I have spoken with one potential student who serves as military chaplain. He is interested in doing advanced work on an Orthodox Christian approach to spiritual and emotional healing for soldiers and their families who are suffering from the long-term effects of violent trauma and PTSD. Through work in the DMin program, this student could become an extremely valuable resource for others, and could share crucial insights through writing, blogging, preaching and speaking. My hope is that every one of our DMin students will develop his or her own particular area of expertise and will be able to share that expertise with others.

If someone does not get in on the first cohort, when will the second cohort begin?

The second cohort will begin as soon as we are able to enroll a minimum of fifteen students. Maintaining a viable community of teachers and learners is essential to the success of this program and that is why we have a minimum size for the cohort. With more than twenty students a cohort starts to become somewhat impersonal, and with fewer than about twelve it loses the dynamism that comes when students with diverse backgrounds and ministries work together. Our target number of fifteen ensures that even if a few students have to drop out over the course of the three year program, we’ll still end up with a viable cohort.

Are there PhD programs you would recommend for Orthodox clergy who wish to become expert teachers in Homiletics (as you yourself are)?

Students who are looking to become teachers of homiletics, could do very valuable work in our DMin. I am very hopeful that a few of our students will focus on homiletics in their final project. Having a DMin from St. Vladimir’s Seminary with an emphasis on preaching, would be a very good place to start if one was hoping to teach homiletics. If one is looking to do a PhD in homiletics, my best advice would be to look for a PhD advisor, before looking at programs.

The only thing more difficult than getting into a PhD program is getting out of one, and nothing is more important to the successful completion of a PhD than having an advisor you can work with. I had the tremendously good fortune to work with Dr. Charles Rice at Drew University for my PhD, but I found him through reading a book that he had written on preaching. So, to find a good PhD program in homiletics, read as much of the current literature as you can, find the scholar or scholars who are doing research in areas that interest you, and then apply to the PhD programs at their schools.

If someone has more questions, who should they call to talk to?

If someone would like to learn more about the DMin at St. Vladimir’s they can call me at 914-961-8313 x367 or send me an email at, shalvorsen@svots.edu

Any final comments you’d like prospective applicants to know?

To learn more about the program, please look at the program page on our website:

http://www.svots.edu/academics/programs/doctor-ministry

SVS Doctor of Ministry Program

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