How Detroiters are finding a higher calling through higher education

heological education: It’s often been described as the longest master’s degree program around, and it certainly sparks dissension in the ranks, presenting a tension between the haves and the have-nots. In an arena that is all about reconciliation, there is a tension when it comes to clergy and seminary education.

In the last decade, more black clergy have master’s degrees now than ever before -though they’re still less likely to have a master’s degree than their white clergy counterparts. And like in secular education, black women have outnumbered black men in enrolling in seminary, but seminary students are more mature, waiting until after age 40 for ministerial pursuits.

In most mainstream denominations, a master’s of divinity – or MDiv for short – is a requirement for ordination and to serve as a pastor. While not a requirement, other areas of ministry, such as chaplaincy, counseling or education, require theological education as well. But when programs can range from 80 to more than 100 credits (in comparison, the average liberal arts master’s degree is 30-36 credits), what is the motivation to attend?

“God gave me the desire to start this advanced degree in ministry,” said Detroiter Gloriane “Rev. G” Hymon Wiley, who is pursuing her MDiv at Ecumenical Theological Seminary in Detroit, one of the region’s most influential seminaries. “I believe that he will give me what I need to finish. I am working toward the dream job of pastor and chaplain; I can remain in the same community with the associations I love as I prepare for God’s greatness to overtake my life.”

Hymon Wiley, an ordained Baptist minister, entered the ministry full-time after an extensive career in finance. “It is a waiting process as well as a faith-building process,” she says.


Shonagh Chimbira, who previously worked as a scientist, is also undergoing a mid-life career change. The Ann Arbor resident is pursuing a MDiv at Ashland Theological Seminary, an Ohio-based school that operates a satellite campus in Southfield, and notes that the academic journey has been full of surprises.

“Seminary education is not at all what I imagined,” Chimbira says. “One does take classes on the Old and New Testaments, but the majority of the classes are designed to lay a solid foundation in one’s understanding of the Christian faith and its practices.”

Others may likewise assume that formal theological education is limited to reading and understanding the Bible. Actual coursework, however, includes church history, ethics, missions, theology, worship, pastoral care and counseling, preaching, spiritual disciplines and evangelism.

“This education is more than Bible study,” Hymon Wiley says. “It is being exposed to current trends and other kinds of theology. It gives you the resources you need to be able to define your worldview, and to have a greater awareness of others.”

Adds Chimbira, “Although the classes are designed to equip graduates to lead and teach others, seminary education first involves a thorough dismantling of previous belief systems, thorough inspection of them, and then reconstruction into a much more solid, open-minded and knowledgeable framework.

“As you are taught by, and attend, classes with people from different theological and denominational backgrounds, you are exposed to a wide range of viewpoints which serves to broaden yours and also teach you crucial skills in being gracious to those with very different beliefs to yours.”

Unspoken outside the classroom, though, is tension between clergy without graduate degrees and those with them. A common belief is that one needs only to rely on divine instruction as a product of their relationship with God. Others hold true to standards that if professionals in other disciplines receive formal training, clergy should as well.

“I need to know and understand and be confident in my life’s work,” Hymon Wiley says. “This credentialing is a personal investment into oneself. I want the respect of others, but I need to be able to go into any ecclesiastical setting with boldness and knowledge.”

Although the focus is on training those who will serve as pastors and other congregational leadership roles, it is not the sole vocational path for seminary grads.

“The majority of my fellow students are currently serving as pastors and ministers, so they already have jobs in ministry and are simply seeking to become better equipped,” Chimbira says. “A number of others are training in order to work as chaplains in the military, hospitals, hospices and schools or universities. The world has changed and is continually changing. Seminary education helps ministers keep up with the changes.

“And additionally,” she says, “once, experience was seen as the most valuable criteria when looking for a job – most professions require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. The attraction of a seminary education is that it broadens your options for ministry. The main attraction is becoming fully trained and equipped with all the skills you need to do ministry competently and serve others from a solid foundation.”


Seminaries in Metro Detroit:

Ashland Theological Seminary – Detroit Center
24901 Northwestern Highway, Suite 600, Southfield
Affiliations: Brethren Church, Inter/multidenominational

Ecumenical Theological Seminary
2930 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Affiliations: Inter/multidenominational

Moody Theological Seminary – Michigan
41550 E. Ann Arbor Trail, Plymouth
Affiliation: Nondenominational

Sacred Heart Major Seminary
2701 Chicago Blvd., Detroit
Affiliation: Roman Catholic

SS. Cyril & Methodius Seminary
3535 Commerce Road, Orchard Lake
Affiliation: Roman Catholic

All accredited by the Association of Theological Schools

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