Student Stories

Opportunities to Learn, Grow, and Flourish

Erica Thomas

Meet Erica Thomas (G-ETS 2022)

Degree Program

Master of Divinity

What is your hometown and educational background?

I live in Ishpeming in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but I’m from the central coast of California (Arroyo Grande). I have my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from California State University of Los Angeles. And now I have my master of divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

How has your time at Garrett-Evangelical shaped your ministry and calling?

My journey at Garrett-Evangelical has allowed me to explore a myriad of ministry settings and has exposed me to opportunities to learn and grow and flourish. I spent a large portion of my studies as a long-distance commuter prior to COVID, and I cherished the in-person community that I was able to experience once a week. This in-person base allowed for a greater connection with my classmates and professors in the online courses. When Garrett-Evangelical began to offer hybrid courses, I was excited for the opportunity to be present online or in person and still have a community of colleagues present to support and influence my studies. My unique long-distance commuter and then hybrid learning experience helped me know that ministry (and learning), no matter where it is happening, is never done alone. You can be in the most remote place in the world and still find connections with fellow faith leaders halfway across the globe. My current and future ministry field is in a fairly remote part of the United States and finding ways to bring God’s people together requires creativity. I am thankful for the lessons I learned while at Garrett-Evangelical and the example they set forth in leading the way in uncharted territory.

What is your most transformative experience at Garrett-Evangelical?

There have been too many to count or record here but one of my most transformative experiences at Garrett-Evangelical was during the J-term intensive courses. I took Empowering Congregations for Evangelism with Dr. Mark Teasdale, and from day one, we tore down the stereotypical definitions and experiences of evangelism. He encouraged and empowered us to redefine evangelism. Then he asked us to embody our new definitions, and finally, he asked us to take our new definitions with us into our ministry contexts and find ways to empower others on their own journey toward renewing their relationship with evangelism.

Another experience was also a J-term course, Women of the Reformation with Dr. Anna Johnson. This reading- and discussion-based course took us down some wild historical paths as we explored the context and culture of the 1400s-1500s and discovered the role women played in and during the Reformation. The final project was open ended, and I decided to create an interactive website that allowed others to discover the women of the Reformation and how they are connected.

The most recent transformative experience was the Gospel of Luke New Testament course with Dr. Dong Hyeon Jeong. During the semester, we compiled a shared commentary that was more than 120 pages long from at least 25 different published sources in addition to our own thoughts and comments. This course was truly hybrid with students participating from all over the world. We created a resource that we can use for the rest of our ministry careers and engaged in thought-provoking discussions each week that left no one unchanged by the end of the semester.

What’s next? What are your plans or your hopes for your future?

I am becoming ordained as a deacon in the Michigan Conference of The United Methodist Church in the Northern Skies District on June 3, 2022. I will be the first deacon to serve in this area of the Michigan Conference. I am being appointed on July 1, 2022 to Marquette Hope United Methodist Faith Community, a multi-site congregation, serving the communities of Marquette, Negaunee, and Skandia in the Northern Skies District. My title is director of connectional ministry and community outreach. I will spend half my time continuing to serve as the campus ministry director for the Northern Michigan University Wesley Campus Ministry. A quarter of my time will be devoted to the multi-sites, connecting with the communities and building relationships through events and projects. The rest of my time will be doing outreach and bridge building on the district level among the churches and clergy of the Northern Skies District. This is a new position supported, in part, by the Conference as they explore the future of multi-site ministry models.