Bomba: Andrew, I’ll start by asking if you could give us some insight into why you chose a path of education/teaching.
Andrew: Oh, wow. You know, this is my third career. I was a physiotherapist and then a pastor, and now a professor. I realized some years ago that it didn’t matter what work I was doing; I always shifted towards the education side of things. I think there’s something about my calling that always ends up having to do with teaching in one way or another. And so, as a physio, it meant I ended up doing lots of work with patient education. A teenager is not going to do their exercises unless they understand how their knee works. And as a pastor, I had the privilege of doing quite a lot of preaching and training in the church. And now this work at CMU. So, I think there’s something of my own sense of who I am that tilts towards teaching.
And then there’s the other side of it, which is that an opportunity came at just the right time. There are those things in timing that we can’t control. And when things line up, you say, “Wow God, this is a wonderful opportunity.” I was pastoring part-time and working on a doctoral degree when an opportunity arose with MB seminary at CMU. So I had a chance to draw on other things I’ve done in my life, not just my education but also my experience with people in the church. I had this opportunity, and I’ve been very grateful to be able to do this.
Bomba: What would you say is the most rewarding aspect?
Andrew: I teach a course every other year called Supervised Ministry Experience, but it’s essentially a practicum course where students do ongoing ministry work and meet with me every two weeks. We meet as a group, four to six students each time, and we’re processing, doing case studies, and paying attention to what the Holy Spirit is doing in people’s lives. They either do it for eight months or twelve. And somewhere around six-seven months, I often start hearing a shift in how students talk about their ministry. They start being calmer. They’re more patient. They rely more on God and not on accomplishing everything themselves. They ask better questions about their ministry and themselves. I’ve seen it happen repeatedly, and I’ve watched how most of those folks are now in some kind of ministry. That’s one of the highlights.
Bomba: What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced?
Andrew: Creating courses. I’ve created ten or a dozen courses since I’ve started here. Each time, I try to think carefully about what’s a good focus? What should people read? What kinds of assignments will be helpful? What am I going to talk to them about? How do I draw students in? Because one of the things I’m committed to is that I’m not just here to lecture to students. There are lots of places where they can get information. But how do I help them process what they’re learning? How do I hear from students? That’s the challenge of teaching. It’s a good challenge. When they get their course syllabus, I often tell my students that the hardest work for me was writing down the main objectives for this course.
Another challenge that’s come up a little more over the last few years is realizing that I need to expand the resources that I’m introducing in my courses so that students can engage a greater diversity of writers. So I need to make sure that they’re not just reading men but also women authors and listening to women’s voices. I’m also thinking about how to draw on Indigenous people as resources for my students. So this is part of my learning curve right now.
Bomba: Wow. That’s amazing. How would you describe the student experience during the pandemic?
Andrew: I tried to create more forums where a student posts a case study on Saturday. On Monday, the others in the class ask questions of clarification. The student responds Wednesday. Then the class starts analyzing and offering proposals and affirmations. By Friday, the student says, here’s what I’ve learned from your feedback, which creates a week-long process. And then the next week, it’s someone else’s turn. Some of those conversations went to deep places and significant conflicts that students had in their ministry, or to challenges they were facing. Maybe it’s because students had more time to reflect. They were in their own space, in their own context. They didn’t have to rush with an opinion. So I watched and guided. There have been upsides in the pandemic.
Bomba: Right. What are the demographics of the majority of the students that you end up teaching?
Andrew: Late twenties, early thirties into early-mid 40s, that’s probably the bulk of students, age-wise. They’ve nearly all got a bachelor’s degree when they come into the seminary programs. The majority are already doing some kind of Christian ministry, so they’re mostly studying part-time. Whereas when I went to seminary, I moved with my family, and we went for two years, I did a two-year degree, and we moved on. But my students—whether they’re single, married, sometimes with young children or even teenagers—are fitting their studies into their life and work.
Bomba: What makes the Mennonite Brethren track (MB) unique? If someone is thinking of taking some courses, or maybe they’re just getting started with exploring those options, what would you say to them?
Andrew: Three things. First, we’re a very flexible program. In seminaries that are bigger, they’re able to say: you have to take this course, this course and this course. These courses are offered every year to fit into the stream. Whereas we’re a smaller school. So we say: you can choose which courses you take as long as they meet specific categories. You need a certain number of Bible courses. You need a certain number of theology and history courses and a certain number of ministry courses, but you’ve got a lot more flex. So we’ve developed that into a strength: students can customize their program to match the needs of their calling.
A second benefit is that we’re really affordable. We’re half the price of many seminaries (not all). And the third advantage of this MB track is that every student who wants to do a full program with us will be required to take a certain number of courses with MB profs. In that way, if they sign up in the MB track, we’ll make sure that there’s mentoring or engagement with the conference or church events outside of school. We’re interested in the non-formal or non-academic parts of ministry formation, not simply that you did all your degrees and got your credit. So you’re going to get some MB profs, you’re going to take courses where you’re studying about Mennonite Brethren. You’re going to have engagement with profs by way of your advising, and you’re going to be invited into non-academic ways of getting familiar with the Mennonite Brethren Church in Manitoba. So those would be three key features of this MB track for students.
Bomba: Is there anything else that you’d love to share with anybody that’s reading this right now.
Andrew: Well, if I were doing a commercial, I’d add that students can do this in several different ways. Some students just want to pick up a course here and there, kind of like continuing professional development. Others want to take a program, so they want to get either a certificate or a degree out of it. That’s a different way of studying where the student then fits into a program. Still, others students just want to audit. For example, some students want to improve their preaching. They don’t want to do it for credit, but they want to come to all the classes as a kind of enrichment. So there are a variety of ways they can engage with us.
Bomba: Ok, I have one more question as we close off. I’m aware that you are a phenomenal musician, so I assume you listen to a lot of music. Is that accurate?
Andrew: I have music in my office, probably three-quarters of the time.
Bomba: Ok, what song would you say is the best soundtrack for this season of your life right now?
Andrew: Wow, it’s funny you ask. I’m giving my faith story in chapel on Thursday. I actually chose three songs, so I’m just going to name them. One is “This I Believe (The Creed)”. So that would be a praise and worship song. Then I chose a more meditative, contemplative song from the Taizé Christian Community in France. It’s “Christ the light of the world”. It’s repetitive. It’s prayerful. You can get past the words and offer your prayer while you’re singing. And the third one is a slightly older hymn, “How can I keep from singing?” Through all the stuff in life that’s difficult, how can I keep from singing? It’s like Peter said to Jesus, ”You have the words of eternal life. Where else are we going to go?”
Bomba: That’s incredible. Well, this is great Andrew. Thanks for taking the time to chat. I appreciate this.
Andrew: Thanks for your interest, and I appreciate that we’re doing this for the MB Church of Manitoba.