Practicing the Pivot: The Distributive Learning Option at EDS

By Joslyn Ogden Schaefer

The Distributive Learning option (DL) really chose me. I was trying to figure out how to honor my first vow of marriage to a partner whose job restricts where we live, my responsibilities as a mother of a young child, and my emerging call to ministry. EDS was the only Episcopal seminary that could accommodate my desire to keep my family living under the same roof as much as possible and receive the education and formation I will need for ordained ministry. [Watch video.]

I am the ultimate program hybrid: while continuing with DL throughout my time at EDS, I’ve also had the opportunity to live on-campus for two semesters—a result of my bishop wanting me to soak up as much of the Episcopal Church as possible. I've been on both sides of the screen in Simulcast classes. I've taken classes from my make-shift office in North Carolina, and I've been in the brick and mortar classroom with my colleagues beaming in from their homes or workplaces throughout the US. 

My education has been enhanced by the DL experience. I've made contacts throughout the US and have a deeper sense of the Church's diversity and regional variation. I've similarly benefited from being able to apply what I learn in class immediately to my local parish and then raise questions in the classroom based on my real life efforts. The DL presence helps EDS mitigate the insular seminary bubble that can easily emerge in an environment without frequent input from the outside world.

The bonds among DL students, in this regard, tend to be stronger than among those on-campus. EDS has numerous commuter students with other life obligations, and it is easy to take for granted neighbors you see every day. DL students, on the other hand, seem to have this deep hunger for being together, as though the monthly cohort meetings are oases that nourish the new ministerial identity that they have had the privilege to cultivate through additional education. With DL students you get the consistent sense that attending seminary is a privilege, especially for those who thought it would be impossible to attend until they discovered the DL option. That gratitude is strong and persistent and is an important aspect of the bond that holds DL students together. 

As the DL program grows, I look forward for EDS to find ways of further integrating DL students into campus worship life. The liturgies I attended in person enabled me to deeply appreciate and understand the gifts and ministries of staff and faculty at EDS.

Because I was able to transfer in previous seminary credits from another institution, I will graduate this May, two years after I started at EDS. I anticipate being ordained to the transitional diaconate in June 2013 and then the priesthood the following December or January. I'd like to find work as an associate rector initially, focusing on Christian formation and ministry with the growing Latino population in North Carolina.

The ability I’ve had to immediately integrate classroom learning into real-life parishes far-removed from the comfort of Cambridge will serve me well, as I’ve already had practice pivoting between the academic world of books and the daily work of pastoring—community-building, advocacy and sacramental ministry. The DL program was ultimately not only a convenient option but also a deeply formative one.

The Distributive Learning or the DL option consists of two ten-day residencies on campus a year and participation in Fall and Spring classes with on campus students via web cam. Learn more about this study option at EDS. 

Joslyn Ogden Schaefer lives with her family in Morehead City, NC. She is currently completing her field education work at St. Francis by the Sea and volunteers with various programs serving the Latino community in area. She will graduate from EDS in May 2013.