|New director of Advanced Pastoral Studies reaches out to communities of practice
By Holly Woolard
As a pastor nearing the 10th anniversary with his first congregation after seminary, Rev. Virstan Choy needed more. His ministry had reached a point where he needed a fresh dash of theological stimulation and colleague feedback. He found what he was looking for through the San Francisco Theological Seminary Doctor of Ministry program.
It’s been more than 20 years since Choy first began his studies at SFTS and he returns as director of Advanced Pastoral Studies, which includes oversight of the seminary’s D.Min. program. For those who find themselves in situations similar to that which Choy encountered while serving as pastor of the Chinese Community Church in Sacramento, Calif., from 1975-86, and then as associate executive presbyter for the Presbytery of San Jose from 1986-91, he is sensitive to your needs for renewal and retooling.
“It came to the point where my approach to ministry skills development just didn’t do it anymore,” said Choy, who had sought help through journals and books, lectures and workshops. “What I was looking for was something more disciplined. I needed new wisdom and advanced skills in leading and cultivating leadership in the congregation, not just some new program ideas.”
In his new position at SFTS, Choy’s primary roles are twofold: Continue to develop the renowned D.Min. program that for more than 50 years has helped church leaders refresh their calls, update professional skills and stir the wellspring of creative ministry; and provide innovative ways to nurture pastors and others engaged in the practice of ministry who are hungry for a ministry boost, but may not qualify for admission to the D.Min. degree program or have the interest or time to write a dissertation.
Being an SFTS grad, Choy is especially appreciative of the legacy left by predecessors Henry Adams (1961-69), John Hadsell (1970-81), Walt Davis (1981-2000), Warren Lee (2000-08), Lewis Rambo (2009-10) and Scott Sullender (2010-12). “I want to be a faithful steward of what has been entrusted to me — not just the program, but the people and the partnerships as well,” he said.
From 1992-2000, Choy served as director of field education and integrative studies at SFTS, which allowed him to work closely with Master of Divinity students. He’s still involved in supporting the ministries of several of those former students, including parish associate work for Rev. Veronica Goines (M.Div. ’95) at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church in Marin City, Calif., and co-teaching in the McCormick Theological Seminary Executive Leadership Program with Sarah Moore-Nokes (M.Div. ’03).
He’s excited about building similar ministry-long relationships with APS students. Choy is “committed to looking for ways to innovate and enhance the D.Min. program.” He is equally cognizant that his duties as director of APS must involve expanding certificate and other non-degree education, especially for those who do not meet current accreditation standards for entry into the D.Min. program. This leads him to approach his new job with “bifocal strategic vision.”
During his studies at SFTS, Choy benefited from the stimulation and support from his colleagues in ministry. The “community of practice” he experienced at seminary, being a part of a collegium group, became an ongoing source of discipline, encouragement and accountability. The intentional way the SFTS D.Min. program has been structured, with various emphases and tracks, makes it attentive to diverse “communities of practice” in ministry.
One local “community of practice” is the Racial Ethnic Advanced Pastoral Skills (REAPS) group, a fellowship of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ministers of color within the Synod of the Pacific. Begun in 1991, REAPS is one of the few continuing education entities within the PC(USA) that is conceived and conducted by pastors and faculty of color. Earlier this year, REAPS representatives and SFTS faculty agreed to partner in nurturing and supporting these pastors through the APS programs.
In his interviews with the SFTS search committee, Choy was urged to bring back and expand on the D.Min. emphasis on Feminist Perspectives. He has already initiated conversations with members of the Justice for Women Working Group of the (U.S.) National Council of Churches, who have responded positively with a number of suggestions for updating the program for a new generation of leaders.
The SFTS search committee also encouraged Choy to enhance the Seminary’s course offerings with subjects he has taught at other theological institutions: strategic pastoral leadership, congregational leadership in times of change and transformation, racism and white privilege, and cross-cultural ministry. He plans to offer a “Culturally-Attentive Conflict Management” course during the APS Summer Session in 2013.
Choy believes it’s crucial to expand SFTS partnerships beyond current relationships with Seattle University, Marylhurst University and seminaries in Korea. As a visiting professor of ministry at McCormick, he helped develop its Executive Leadership Certificate Program, which equips congregational and denominational leaders for the practice of ministry in today’s changing landscape. Already this fall, the SFTS faculty has approved his proposal for a cross-registration partnership through which D.Min. students can complete course work for credit at both SFTS and McCormick. The McCormick faculty is voting on this soon. Through his service on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Advisory Group on Theological Education in Asia and the Pacific, he hopes to help SFTS contribute to the ongoing nurture of leaders in partner churches.
“What kind of opportunities might APS offer?” Choy asked. “Being strategically bifocal is about vigilance as well as vision. I hope to vigilantly and diligently pay attention to the needs of colleagues in ministry which SFTS seeks to serve.”
Holly Woolard is communications manager.