" I thought, that's the last thing I want to do," said Palarine, a 1973 Seabury graduate and longtime rector of Church of Our Saviour in Jacksonville, Florida. "I didn't go in with the arrogance that I don't really need this; I just thought it would be tedious."
That was before he met Susanna Singer, who not only taught Palarine how to enjoy the process of researching and writing a thesis, but more importantly, how to articulate his passion and share it with others.
"She is phenomenal. First of all she is a brilliant theologian and a brilliant educator, but she also has a wonderful way of engaging you personally," said Palarine. "I was dreading the coursework around research, but that was before I met her. Honestly, I thought it would be more about footnotes, about formal ways of writing research, and it was about that, too, but she has an ability to help us articulate that which we are passionate about. She is amazing."
Singer is a faculty member in Seabury’s Doctor of Ministry program in Congregational Development that is offered in partnership with the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP). She teaches two half-credit courses: research writing and methods and a thesis proposal workshop. Singer acknowledges that most students enter her classes with a certain degree of angst.
"They are terrified when they come in," Singer said. "The academic aspect of writing is intimidating."
As her students attest, Singer is taking the fear out of academic writing. In the two years Seabury and CDSP have partnered in the DMin program, she has become known for demystifying the process of writing a thesis.
The One-Minute Elevator Speech
"I love teaching these courses, partly because I get to experience the creative process of these students," Singer said. "The first thing I do is help them clarify their question. On the very first day of class I ask them to make a one-minute elevator speech. I have an egg timer. They have to speak for one minute about what they want to study and why. Then immediately their peers ask about what was said and what they heard. They get peer feedback and reflection, and they serve as resources to each other.
"They don't know this is coming," she said of the one-minute speech. "I do it with a fair amount of humor, and I'm so delighted with even their first efforts."
Singer, a native of England, is an assistant professor of ministry development and director of the doctor of ministry program at CDSP. She holds a Ph.D. from the interdisciplinary program in theology and education at Boston College and has been an Episcopal priest for more than 20 years.
"I'm an educator by training, so watching people's ideas germinate and come alive, it's really exciting," Singer said. "From my particular courses they leave with the skill of effective, practical theology and the ability to ask theological questions about the practice of ministry. It is such an organic skill. It's an organic process; the ability to ask the question, to analyze the context, and to come out with transformed ministry practices at the end."
DMin = Opportunity for Growth
Palarine has been ordained for 38 years. He has served in inner city parishes in Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota, and was canon for youth and education on the bishop’s staff in Central Florida from 1981 to 1991. He was the associate rector of a church in Clearwater, Florida, before becoming rector of Church of Our Saviour in 1996.
He decided to seek a DMin following a sabbatical that clarified for him the importance of hospitality in the life of a congregation. His thesis, which he hopes to complete next year, is titled, "Hospitality of the Heart: When Paths Intertwine and Hearts Meet, Lives are Changed." He chose the Seabury program because of the unique partnership with CDSP.
"I felt there was a time in my life when I wanted to go back and learn and grow some more," Palarine said. "I wanted to find out what was going on with congregational development, and I was very interested in this partnership between Seabury and CDSP. The diversity and richness and depth of having both institutions involved is wonderful. One week in Chicago in June and one week in Berkeley; you're really drawing on the richness of both institutions and both faculties."
Palarine is part of a six-member core group and is in his second year of the three-year DMin program. The core group comes together for one-week intensives for required courses, gathering on the Seabury campus in June and at CDSP in Berkeley, California, in January. For the rest of the year, students become an online community taking electives and working with their core group on case studies and congregational studies, and writing their thesis, while supervised by faculty.
"These people are mostly very senior, experienced clergy leaders," Singer said. "They are people with some influence. For some of them, these courses are like sharpening the pencil."
Palarine took Singer's research writing and methods class in January 2010 and the thesis proposal workshop in January 2011.
"In our last class we had to come up with a title and write a four- or five-page proposal that would be accepted," Palarine said. "We sat around the table and she helped us say what we were thinking about our thesis. She has a wonderful way of having the colleagues talk about it together. We gave each other feedback, and later we came back and presented it formally. When I made my formal presentation, I went 'Wow! Where did that come from?' I was so impressed with myself."
Palarine said Singer has become an example of his thesis, on hospitality of the heart.
"Our paths have intertwined, and in that intertwining, she's allowed herself to connect with me and my colleagues, and in a way, our hearts have met, because I've been touched by her. She has made a difference in my life by helping me articulate my passion. This is a sabbatical come full circle."