It’s striking how two people can come from two different places in their lives (and in the country) to meet at the same program. Christine Dance (UU) and Rev. Ken Jarell (UMC) are both students in our JOURNEY program; that is, they do coursework online and convene on campus for Gathering Days three times per year. Ken thought he wanted a residential-only education. Christine thought she wanted to learn only online. Both have found a home in the JOURNEY program.

Ken lives in Temple, Texas. His work at First Temple United Methodist Church, his wife’s work, and children in school meant that he really did not want to uproot the whole family to go to seminary to pursue his call to ordination. At first, he considered schools nearby, but they all meant a tremendous commute. All that time in the car meant sacrificing time he wanted to spend with his family or with his church. The JOURNEY program meant “time to think!” He’s even able to engage in what he calls “prayer running.” “If I have a problem I can’t solve, running can help me work on it. It’s my spiritual practice.” That time to think means he can take care of himself and spend time with his family while he goes to school.

Ken studies with an audience.

He’s been making progress with his degree and pushing to graduate. Financial support through his church’s professional development fund has been a tremendous help. By staying in his community, he’s able to serve them and remain connected. At the same time, he’s getting the education he needs to serve best. He particularly appreciates the skills he gains that help right away. Rev. Tom Barlow’s Evangelism course gave him practical knowledge that he used with his congregants. He loves the classes and as he says, “The Facebook group [that his classmates put together] has been a wonderful place for venting.” Going to school with his family around means that sometimes the kids get in on the act. Besides studying while they watch TV, he says that listening to lectures in the car has started more than one theological conversation with the youngsters. Staying with his family while getting his MDiv degree is a priceless opportunity.

Ken and Christine have been in classes together. At Gathering Days, they often have breakfast together with all of their classmates, but they’ve come from different places.

Christine studies with an audience.

Christine lives in Orlando, Florida. She knew she wanted to go to school to better serve her First Unitarian Church in Orlando, but she also wanted to stay rooted in her community. Her wife has a career in Orlando, and Christine herself own her own business there called Ideas to Go. Staying in town means she can even keep track of her Orlando Women’s soccer team and pursue her love of hiking and camping in Florida. Getting a quality education without leaving home was a must. Originally, she was looking for an online program, but was excited to discover the richness of the hybrid program. “I was considering online,” she says, “but this is way better than online!”

The online paired with residential means she can have the best of what she wants out of her education; she says she learns all week, not just during a set class time. “The subject goes deeper when you can go as fast as you read, not as fast as people talk.” But, she’s not in it alone. Her cohort of JOURNEY classmates meet every Gathering Days with hugs and tears— “It’s almost silly how much we love each other!” They rely so heavily on their virtual community all year. In class, the peer-led learning means that Christine has learned how to critically engage with other students. She’s gained a level of confidence in that that will help her in other areas of her life. “People in my life can see how I’ve changed.” With the JOURNEY program, she can stay close to those people and her goals.

Thanks for allowing us to share your stories, Christine and Ken.

Back to All Stories