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‘I’m glad someone did that for me as well’

The Rev. Dr. Andrew Pomerville, president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, is the guest on ‘Leading Theologically’

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Andrew Pomerville

LOUISVILLE — Describing himself as an “almost empty-nester” with a daughter set to soon attend college in Scotland and a son preparing for higher education two years later, the Rev. Dr. Andrew Pomerville, the president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary since July 2023, says he’s seeing the world more and more through the eyes of younger people.

“It’s been interesting to think about what I was at that time, what I understood about the church and my sense of call,” Pomerville said last week during “Leading Theologically,” a broadcast hosted by the Presbyterian Foundation’s the Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty, which can be viewed here or here. “Now it’s becoming so much more personal. Thinking about what they’re thinking about has helped me to adjust my own pondering and discernment.”

Theological institutions “have always helped us look around the corner,” Hinson-Hasty said, adding he and his wife are trying to think of themselves less as empty nesters and more as bird-launchers. “We have prepared these birds to fly,” he told Pomerville. “They may not fly well at the beginning, but they’re going to get there.”

As students begin their seminary studies, “I have in my head what I think they should be asking or what they might be considering, but it often turns out I’m off-base on some of them,” Pomerville said. “I haven’t thought about what experiences they’ve already had growing up in a different type of environment,” and that also holds true for “our second- and third-career folks. We’re asking questions these days, and I’m not sure we’re looking at the world through the same lenses as our students who are arriving.”

Pomerville previously served as Assistant Vice President of Community Engagement and the Senior Chaplain at his alma mater, Alma College in Alma, Michigan. The administrative part of that role “isn’t what I went to seminary to do, but I certainly learned some things there, and being in a seminary setting, I see what’s analogous,” he said. His doctoral work a decade ago included “a robust conversation about church online. It definitely wasn’t the norm. I asked, ‘Can you have real congregational vitality online?’ The literature at the time said no, you’ve got to have embodiment at some point,” but “it’s a good supplement.”

“Now people claim it,” Pomerville said. “Lots of people are talking about it, and seminaries should be a place where those conversations are happening.”

In addition to the Louisville Institute, which is housed at the seminary, Pomerville and Hinson-Hasty discussed LPTS’ Marriage and Family Therapy Program as well as its Black Church Studies Program. Of the latter, Pomerville said, “I’m impressed with faculty and scholars here who have been diving into the rural African American church experience, which is a unique niche and one that needs to be explored.”

“So many folks in small churches are looking for resources and for what comes next for their congregations, and how they answer commercial gentrification that’s pushing them out as cities grow larger,” Pomerville said. “What does the imagination look like for a church that was founded by formerly enslaved people that has a firm tradition in that area? What does that mean now and for the generations later?”

Pomerville said he’s learned by talking to presidents at other seminaries related to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) that “we should not assume we know what churches need these days. It’s great to go into the world and ask the churches and our neighbors, our non-churched folks, ‘What is it you think a seminary-trained person should know?’ It makes for fun conversations.”

“I’m being spoiled,” he told Hinson-Hasty with a laugh. “It’s the most fun I’ve had in a position.”

Pomerville’s daughter plans to study environmental sustainability. “That was not a major when I was an undergraduate,” he said. “How do we merge some of that with our theological questions? Do we have that same lens we are able to use to talk about how we steward Creation, how we wonder about the choices we make and how they impact others? I have learned a lot from my kids, that’s for sure.”

The Rev. Dr. Lee Hinson-Hasty

“That’s a leadership lesson right there: Get to know some people younger than you are and you’ll learn something,” Hinson-Hasty said. “They’re asking a different set of questions.”

Returning to a theme of collegiality among seminary presidents, Pomerville called it “unique to be in a field where the folks running institutions that might be considered competition for you are dear, beloved colleagues. We are not in competition with each other,” he said. “We are trying to support God’s vision for theological education in the world and to find as many ways as we can to do that … We talk to one another and we pray for one another. I am happy to send a student to Union [Presbyterian Seminary] because that might be the best place for them, and in the same way Jacqueline [Lapsley, Union’s president] would be happy to send someone over to Louisville if they think they’re going to match up better here.”

“That’s something I didn’t expect, but I’m so glad to discover,” Pomerville said, adding this observation from a colleague in the Association of Theological Schools: the primary reason people say they go to seminary is that someone tapped them on the shoulder.

“It’s not necessarily the good website or the programs we have,” Pomerville said. “It’s because someone looked at you and said, ‘Have you considered this?’ Encourage them, because God uses all of us in difficult times, and we certainly have the resources in the seminaries to help support that.”

In just the past few months, three former undergraduate students at Alma College were ordained into ministry, Pomerville noted. “There are few moments in ministry more joyful than watching that,” he said. “I was so pleased to see the Spirit working in their lives. I’m glad someone did that for me as well.”

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