UDTS Offers Seminary-Level Courses in Madison Through Madison Learning CommunityBy Stacey Ortman
MADISON, Wisconsin - The Madison Learning Community offers seminary-level courses to Madison area pastors, church leaders, and others eager to deepen ministry skills in a diverse Christian community committed to the local Church. The new initiative, which launched in January 2023, was started by the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.
"We wanted to create another space to facilitate local, ecumenical kinship as siblings in Christ, discernment of what God is up to, and collaboration," said Rev. Christopher James, PhD, director of the Madison Learning Community and associate professor of evangelism and missional Christianity at UDTS.
Over a three-year cycle, the Madison Learning Community will provide one course in the spring and one course in the fall for a total of six courses a rotation. Classes meet Tuesday evenings in local churches to build community among students that strengthens the local unity and witness of Christ's church.
"The sweet spot for theological education is in the midst of a diverse community of local Christians, searching the Scriptures and the tradition and discerning the call of God as they seek to faithfully witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in their time and for their place," James said.
Rev. Karla Garcia, DBA (ABD), enrolled in the initiative's first class, Proclaiming the Word of God, to enhance her preaching skills.
"As the senior pastor of a church, it can be challenging at times to create, develop, and write sermons on a weekly basis. Therefore, I believed that I would ascertain and acquire the skills that would be beneficial in allowing me to go deeper in the Word of God ... My experience in the class has allowed me to learn new skills, strategies, and methods for developing sermons," Garcia said.
Proclaiming the Word of God brought together a diverse learning community with students from nine denominations and 11 unique churches. Those who attend classes range in age from 26 to 82, and half of them are persons of color.
"I have been able to connect with and meet new people as well as learn from them in regards to their perspectives and beliefs," Garcia said.
Ezrah Schmeelk, a director of student ministry who also enrolled in Proclaiming the Word of God, said he was pleasantly surprised by the different viewpoints and ways his classmates have been able to learn and grow together and from each other.
"It really feels like a community of people who are pursuing God, and I love that there are people in such different stages of their life and ministry," Schmeelk said, later adding, "It has been nice to create a wider community in the area and get to know people who I wouldn't have otherwise but now will be able to continue the relationship ministry-wise. It has been incredible."
The Madison Learning Community builds upon two previous initiatives, Missio Madison and Awaken Dane, in which James and local partners received grants from the Lilly Endowment to support thriving among Madison leaders and churches. After reflecting on how to better serve the Greater Madison area, UDTS received an additional Lilly Endowment grant to support the formation of the Madison Learning Community as a way of making theological education more accessible.
The initiative allows individuals to enroll in classes for credit or for enrichment. Students who enroll for credit may use the classes towards a graduate seminary degree at UDTS or to transfer the credit to another school. To earn a UDTS degree, students must take courses online as well as attend in-person classes in Madison. Those who have a degree or don't want to pursue a seminary degree may enroll for enrichment. Additionally, students who complete all six courses will earn a Certificate in Bible and Ministry.
Future Madison Learning Community classes include Introduction to the Old Testament, Introduction to the New Testament, New Testament Exegesis (of one biblical book), and Old Testament Exegesis (of one biblical book) and Leadership. Individuals may pick and choose classes that are most beneficial to them.
"The connections and friendships that I've made already have been great, so I'm looking forward to the next class with a number of the people in my class continuing with the program," said Schmeelk, who is also enrolled in the master of divinity program at UDTS.
To learn more about the Madison Learning Community, please visit https://www.madisonseminary.org/.