Meet Ashish Singh

Ashish Singh

Tell us about yourself: (degree/year, hometown, undergrad you attended, what did you do before seminary)

I currently live in Arlington Heights, IL, and I am a first year Master of Divinity student. I was born in St. Louis but moved to Chicago at the age of 5. I graduated from Loyola University in Chicago with a Bachelor of Business Administration in 2000 and a Master of Information Systems Management in 2002. Before becoming a student at Garrett-Evangelical, I worked for ten years at the Walgreen’s corporate office in a variety of positions focused on marketing and merchandising analytics.

What caused you to become a seminary student and change your career path? 

I grew up hearing stories about my grandparents who had converted to Christianity in India, even though they knew it would lead to persecution. My father also told me about his journey to become a pastor. Through these stories, as well as my own experiences, I realized the transformative power of the Gospel, and I was baffled by the idea that this life-changing message could mean nothing to so many in our society today. I felt God calling me to spend my life sharing the message of transformation and liberation that is made known in and through Christ.

What has been the most challenging transition from your career to being a student, and how have you dealt with that?

I can safely say that I didn’t read this much before coming to seminary!  In my career, many days I would be able to come home and turn my brain off from whatever projects I had going on in order to focus on things at home. Now I am being challenged at school with so many new ideas that I have not encountered before, so it is hard to stop thinking about school. I’ve learned that at some point you just have to force yourself to take a break from schoolwork and tend to the other needs around you and within you.

What do you plan to do after seminary and has it changed since you began seminary? If so, why?

I am currently in the candidacy process working towards ordination as an elder in The United Methodist Church and feel that I am being called to pastoral ministry. Although as I talk to other students and see how many different and unique ways there are to serve, I can’t help but keep an open mind. Over a year ago I would have laughed at the idea of being in seminary, so anything is possible!

Why did you choose Garrett-Evangelical as your seminary?

Being a United Methodist who lives in the area, I knew that I had to at least check out Garrett-Evangelical when looking at seminary options. I came here for an open house with my wife, and as we walked around campus and met other faculty and students we both felt that it was the right choice.

How has Garrett-Evangelical fulfilled or surpassed your expectations as your seminary?

The level of academic quality and personal care shown by the faculty has really surpassed my expectations. Faculty members want to make sure students finish the required coursework, and that what we learn helps to shape our future ministry in a significant way. The passion they have for training future leaders is very evident because that is what they are called to do and not just what they are paid to do.   

What has been your favorite class/biggest revelation during class and why?

Honestly I am not sure if I can narrow it down to just one class. After finishing my first semester, I am realizing that Christ is so many things to so many people. Reading a variety of authors and listening to lectures from different professors, it is amazing to see how different people from different walks of life have interpreted Scripture and tradition by viewing it from the lens of their own unique experience. Every time I think I completely understand something, someone introduces a new interpretation that challenges me. 

What do you do to find Sabbath during the hectic school year and managing family life?

Our VFCL class challenged us to create a Rule of Life to help us try to structure our lives so that we remember to take time for ourselves and with God. Adhering to some of the rules I created is helping me to keep from losing myself in the hustle of everyday life. When life gets really busy, I have learned how to find Sabbath within the activities I am already doing. That way, time I spend with my family also becomes a time of rejuvenation and a communal time with God. 

Do you have any advice for potential students who are considering Garrett-Evangelical for their theological education?

There are a lot of great options out there, but I can say that my experience here at Garrett-Evangelical has truly been an incredibly fruitful one. I would definitely advise visiting Garrett-Evangelical’s campus and speaking with some students and faculty. I have found the mission statement on the Seminary’s website to be very accurate in portraying the character of the school. I feel that when my time here is done, and by the grace of God, I will be a more effective witnesswherever I end up.

Meet Josh Larson

Josh LarsonHometown: Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Home church: St. Luke United Methodist Church, Sheboygan

Degree program: Master of divinity

Other degrees: Bachelor of business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater

My call to ministry: I first received a call to ministry during high school. However, rather than embracing that call right away, I put it aside for a few years. In January 2014, I accepted a job at Appalachia Service Project (ASP) to work in West Virginia. ASP provides repairs to substandard housing in Appalachia. While I was working for that organization, we were encouraged to understand where God was calling us to serve. I discerned that God (again) was calling me to ministry. Now I am at Garrett-Evangelical. I have a huge passion for housing issues and rural poverty, both issues I worked on at ASP.

My experiences at Garrett-Evangelical so far: I chose Garrett-Evangelical to pursue my call because of its commitment to provide bold, passionate leaders for the church. I am extremely grateful for the conversations Garrett-Evangelical is having about issues regarding the church. I also chose Garrett-Evangelical because everyone was so welcoming during my visit. As soon as I arrived on campus, it felt like home.

What has surprised me: My experience at Garrett-Evangelical so far has been amazing. It has been great to be in conversation with other students and professors about Christianity, church, and the broader world. The biggest surprise so far has been the diversity of ideas on campus. Having an amazing blend of opinions and ideas has allowed me to grow in my faith in ways I never imagined. I often find myself moved during the Wednesday Gospel chapel service, which has been a great place for fellowship after dinner.

My future plans: I am in the inquiring candidacy part of ordination, planning to become a deacon in The United Methodist Church, and I am working on discerning to what part of ministry God is calling me. My time working with ASP was very important to me, and while I am not sure exactly where I am being called in mission and service work, I do feel called to a connection to that type of service. I am excited to continue the discernment process next year during field placement.

Meet Ran Yoo

 MG 9936Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary is blessed by the presence, gifts, and experiences our international students bring to the seminary community. We recently sat down with Master of Divinity student Ran Yoo to hear about her exeperiences at Garrett-Evangelical.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I am from Seoul, South Korea.I graduated from Methodist Theological University in Seoul with a major in theology. I am affiliated with the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple as a ministry intern, and my home church is Jesus-Love Korean United Methodist Church in Skokie. I came to Garrett-Evangelical in 2012 with the intention of becoming an ordained Elder in the UMC. I am currently a certified candidate of Northern Illinois Conference of the UMC.

What made you decide to come to seminary, and how did you choose Garrett-Evangelical as your school?
I was born and grew up in the Methodist Church. Thus, I searched all United Methodist affiliated schools when I decided to come to America to study abroad. Among the thirteen United Methodist seminaries, Garrett-Evangelical seemed to be well balanced academically and in practical application. Lake Michigan and the incredible city of Chicago are other benefits of attending Garrett-Evangelical.

What has it been like to attend school in the U.S. after growing up in a different country? How have you had to adjust culturally?
I moved to the U.S. as a 26-year-old. I wanted to start the second quarter of my life in America. Starting a new life in a foreign country was certainly a difficult journey. Language barriers and cultural differences presented significant challenges. Even after being here for two years, I am still learning new things. Debra Shutter, a Garrett-Evangelical student who graduated in May of 2014, became my conversation partner and helps me with many of these difficulties. I call her my American mother because of the friendship we have developed through our classes together and our conversations.

What has made you feel most at home and welcome at Garrett-Evangelical as a student who is not from the U.S.?
At Garrett-Evangelical there are several people who sincerely care and support international students. I really appreciate their hospitality throughout my time here at school.  

What has been your biggest challenge you have faced in seminary, and how did you overcome it?
When I started my field education, I was really afraid of staring my ministry in a totally different setting. In my first year, I served in a Korean church before being placed somewhere new for my field education assignment. While I was nervous about serving in an unfamiliar context, I am completely satisfied with my current field site. I realize now that God’s plan is always better than mine, and I am learning a lot in my new assignment.

Do you have any advice for students who are currently considering enrolling in seminary and what they should look for in a school?
I think the most important part of choosing a seminary is knowing what they can provide you to prepare you for your future ministry. Do they provide good academics, internship programs, scholarship opportunities, and worship services? Decide what you need to build up for your specific calling and vision, and then you can search out what school will be the best for you as a bold leader of the church.

Meet Brian Smith

Brian Smith Dec. 2014Name: Brian E. Smith, Sr.

Hometown: Chicago, Illinois (Englewood Community)

Degree Program: Master of Divinity

Why did you choose Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary?
I chose Garrett-Evangelical because my congregation has a longstanding history with the institution and I was familiar with its practices and culture. I have a pastor’s heart and I appreciated Garrett-Evangelical’s emphasis upon practical ministry. Garrett-Evangelical trains students to become preachers, teachers and leaders in the church.

What are you planning on doing after you graduate from Garrett-Evangelical?
I am planning to serve as a pastor or assistant pastoral leader in the Baptist Church. I intend to pursue post-graduate education opportunities and I would like to serve with organizations that focus upon international ecumenical relations or economic development.

I have always had a keen interest in building cross-cultural and religious partnerships on an international level. I also come from an entrepreneurial family, which has sparked my interest in assisting with the development of both labor and business, especially in underserved communities. Garrett-Evangelical confirmed my passion and calling to tend to the full flourishing of communities both in terms of their spiritual well being and their socio-economic advancement.

Which of the three chapel services is your favorite and why?
I am perhaps biased towards the Wednesday evening Gospel service in terms of my favorite worship experience simply because it is one I am most familiar with. I love soulful music and worship. However, I also enjoy the Tuesday Word and Table service because Holy Communion is offered at every gathering. In my own Baptist tradition, communion is served only once on the first Sunday of each month.

What has been the most influential worship service you have attended Garrett-Evangelical and why?
I have attended numerous worship services but the most impactful service that I can recall is the Word and Table service in which Dr. Stephen Ray preached from the Exodus passage describing the moment when Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the Red Sea. This service was held in the context of the killing of Mike Brown. Dr. Ray’s message was profound and clear: Don’t take on the ways of your oppressor. Given the recent grand jury decisions not to indict the killers of unarmed black men, it is imperative for Christians to actively respond to evil without hatred in our hearts. This is not an easy task but Dr. Ray reminded us that we must always strive to reach our higher calling; to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

In what ways have you assisted in either the planning or taking part in the chapel services?
I have preached at a number of services and I have ministered through singing in chapel. Every experience is unique and informative, particularly in the traditional formats that are outside of my own worship style. I have learned to appreciate the variety of expressions and even incorporate some of those elements into my own worship practices. I am comfortable in a variety of settings and it brings me joy to know that I have an extended family in the body of Christ.

Do you have any advice for students who are currently applying to seminaries and going through the discernment process to find out which seminary is right for them?
I advise prospective seminarians to pay close attention to their passionate responses in life. Pay attention to the things that make you excited. Even your negative emotions provide clues in terms of your calling. Don’t underestimate your abilities or God’s ability to work through you. If you are an older established professional seeking a change in your career, recognize that God can and will use everything that you have experienced for God’s glory. Be patient with yourself and remember that God is never in a hurry. Remember that God is always present but quite often we are the ones who are absent from God.

Student Stories: A Cross-Cultural Field Education Experience

Kyle ReynoldsField education is a key component of the Master of Divinity curriculum at Garrett-Evangelical. It gives students the opportunity to discern, test, and refine their call as they apply their seminary education in real life ministry settings. While many of our students serve in traditional parish settings throughout the Chicagoland area, third year M.Div. student, Kyle Reynolds of Olathe, Kansas, decided to venture a little farther away from Chicago for his field education placement. This past summer, Kyle served at Wesley Methodist Church in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. He also participated in classes at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, where students from all over South Africa attend to become full-time ministers in the Methodist Church of South Africa. We recently sat down with Kyle to talk to him about his field education experience.

How did you decide to go to South Africa for your field education?

I was looking for something non-traditional to do as a field placement, and I knew I needed to do something over the summer. Garrett-Evangelical already had connections there, and I knew it was an opportunity like no other. The people at Seth Mokitimi were extremely welcoming and very eager to have me.

What was your involvement with Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary?

I spent two weeks with the students in what is called “vocational intensive.” Students basically learn all the things you need to learn for ministry that you don’t learn in a normal classroom setting. The entire student body learns together, and the focus of this specific session was missions. We learned what the Methodist Church of Southern Africa (MCSA) was doing on the larger structural level, what missions look like for the local congregation, and what missions look like for the seminary. I spent a few weeks attending classes like a normal student, which gave me a feel for what seminary students in South Africa were learning and a glimpse of what theological education looks like through a South African perspective.

Where did you do your practical ministry experience, and what were your roles?

I spent two weeks working in Wesley Methodist Church, which is a middle-class white congregation there in Pietermaritzburg. I preached, I attended and lead Bible studies, and I was a liturgist on Sunday mornings. In one week we were in five different schools, leading devotionals for staff, praying for students and leading devotionals for them too. The congregation was very proactive about being involved in the community, and that is something that really stuck with me.

If pastors in the U.S. would commit to taking on one public role (visiting prisoners, visiting firefighters, visiting teachers before classes start, going into a business area and leading a devotional over lunch), we would see a lot of change in our communities and in our churches. Pastors in South Africa were ministering wherever they could, wherever doors were open. Every time they walked through one of those doors, it seemed like two more opened.

What is something from your experience that you have found has really affected your classes here at Garrett-Evangelical?

My cultural awareness has grown significantly since I’ve been at Garrett-Evangelical. Becoming immersed in another culture and hearing critical opinions about the United States, even if most of them were true, were challenging and powerful experiences.  They gave me the opportunity to get a glimpse of the world through someone else’s lens, which has made me much more sensitive to culture and context in any conversation we have in seminary. It has also shown me the importance of being careful about making absolute statements about one’s understanding of God. I have learned to take a step back and reflect and realize the smallness of my context.

Has this affected your calling in ministry or your goals in ministry?

It allowed me to broaden my understanding of what the title of pastor entails. I don’t know that the people I met were doing anything totally different from what some are doing in the U.S., but I had never seen it before. All of the practical ministry experiences I had there broadened my scope of what ministry can include. It also built connections that I believe will last a really long time.

What is the best advice you can give to people who are currently looking at potential seminaries?

Learn everything you can about a school’s field education program. How flexible are they? What does a normal field placement look like? What are the requirements? What structure is in place? Are there churches and agencies they have long-standing relationships with? Are there new sites being added regularly? Can you go to a context that is not your own? That’s why I wanted to go to South Africa. I wanted to experience something completely different than what I have grown up in or what I may or may not be doing for the rest of my life. That’s also why I chose Garrett-Evangelical for my theological education. None of this would have been possible without the Seminary’s remarkable field education department and resources and for that I remain grateful.

UMC Logo Garrett-Evangelical, a seminary related to
The United Methodist Church, welcomes
students from a wide range of faith traditions.