As an active duty Air Force chaplain who is constantly on the move, online learning is the only possibility for me to continue my education. Having earned both my Bachelor and Master of Divinity degrees at traditional, in-residence seminaries, I have an appreciation for that type of learning, and have to admit that I was definitely more than a little skeptical at the idea of pursuing my doctorate online, even if it were the only way to continue my education. Thankfully, Rockbridge Seminary has taken every care to ensure that its degree programs are not just accredited, but indeed just as rigorous as any in-residence seminary. Its DMin degree program consists of three years of course work, and then allows up to three additional years to complete the dissertation. Having already completed almost half of the course work, I have come to believe wholeheartedly in Rockbridge’s mission and am deeply indebted for the opportunity it has afforded someone like me who needs the type of flexibility that only online learning can provide.
As I write this, I am in the middle of a six-month deployment to Southwest Asia and am currently sitting on an airplane flying somewhere over Iraq, having spent the day travelling to and ministering at small bases that only ever see a chaplain once every few weeks. Even with the harshness of a deployed environment, I have been able to keep up with my cohort since all I need is Internet and telephone access to participate in the online discussions and weekly teleconferences. Negotiating the time differences among my eleven other cohort members (who are scattered all over the world) for our teleconferences has been the only difficulty, but even this was easily overcome through a willingness on the part of all to find a time that worked for everyone. To that last point, I must also say something about the sense of community and closeness that Rockbridge has fostered among cohort members. Keeping cohorts relatively small is certainly one part of this, but so too is its focus on prayer and the importance of building relationships among ourselves. Our online forum is not just a place where we login a few times each week to make the required number of posts, but has become a place where we can share our joys and struggles, and ask for each other’s prayers.
One last advantage of Rockbridge’s DMin degree program is that it requires each student to be currently engaged in some type of ministry and to maintain a weekly conversation with a local mentor. In this way, what we learn in this program can be immediately applied and then brought back to the cohort to be shared and critiqued. I know that not all DMin programs require this type of concurrent ministry that, I believe, enables students to get the most out of the learning experience as possible. As a Catholic priest, I value the opportunity to receive feedback from my Protestant brothers and sisters in ministry, knowing that their different backgrounds enable them to notice and suggest things that I might miss were I left to just my own experience and that of my fellow Catholics. Humbly, I would like to think that the reverse is true too!
Overall, I have become a big believer in Rockbridge Seminary’s mission and method, and I pray that others may come to find it as helpful and challenging as I have.
About the Writer. Rev. Fr. John F. Reutemann, III is an ordained Catholic priest for the Archdiocese of Washington, DC and on loan to the Military Services, assigned as chaplain at Maimstrom AFB, Great Falls, MT.