At Princeton Theological Seminary, field education takes students out of the classroom and into the community to test their call and gain ministry skills not just in churches but also in hospitals and social service environments. The benefit for students is clear. But if you ask Reverend Bonnie Orth, pastor at Mayfield Central Presbyterian Church, she sees the benefits going both ways.
Mayfield, a 160-member congregation established in 1792 in the southern Adirondack Mountains in New York state, has hosted a variety of Seminary students over the years, from all backgrounds, faiths, and cultures. “Each student is unique in their own way, and stretches in their own faith journey,” says Orth. But, in turn, these diverse visitors also stretch the congregation, she says.
Take the example of Sheena Cameron, MDiv ’16, an African American dropped into this predominantly white church, where she was a Pentecostal Christian ministering to Presbyterians. An unconventional pairing, Cameron decided on Mayfield because she wanted a challenge, and both student and congregation reaped the benefits.
“Sheena and her fiancé, now husband, decided to get married at our church, and it was an amazing wedding,” Orth says. “They didn’t have any family that were going to come to the wedding, so they considered us their church family. We married them, and they jumped the broom, so our congregation got to learn all about why someone would jump a broom,” a custom that has become a common tradition at African American wedding ceremonies.
The relationship between student and congregation continues and, in fact, Cameron has gone on mission to Guatemala several times with Mayfield.
“Each student is unique in their own way, and stretches in their own faith journey.”
Indeed, field education students and their host congregations form a special bond. In 2017, Victor Doe, MDiv ’18, arrived at Mayfield. He hails from Liberia, and had a dream of returning to his home country to start a Christian school in one of its poorest communities.
“What I try to do with my field education students is find out where their interest is, and find something that will help them reach their goals,” Orth says. “So, I called a local school.” As it turns out, the school was developing all new curriculum and throwing out its old materials. “I told them Victor’s story and plans, and they said he can have anything he wanted,” she adds. Before long, Doe was set up with a curriculum he could customize for his future students.
Once the congregation found out about Doe’s plans, they wanted to help. They started raising money and buying school supplies. Recently, the church filled a 5-by-10-foot trailer with supplies to send to Liberia.
Making these kinds of connections has been immensely rewarding, says Orth. “It’s a great experience for the students, but it stretches the church in new and unique ways, especially when we host students from different cultures and denominations,” she explains. “It would benefit any congregation, and it helps a student grow. You can’t learn church from a book.”