VDS Feature: Field Education Supervisors

Field education supervisors hear it all! As they mentor and guide divinity students in their field education contexts, they hear about the doubts as well as the accomplishments, the fears that sit alongside the confidence, the worries that keep folks up at night. Every week, supervisors take an hour out of their own busy, professional lives to accompany a student through the process of growing as a religious leader.

Sometimes the growth takes the shape of learning how to do things better. Students might ask, “How do I know when a pastoral conversation is over? Where do I begin in planning a wedding?  How do I talk about difficult topics with my community?” Sometimes the conversation becomes much more personal—about a student’s very being. The conversation may drift into the topic of gifts, vocation, inklings about one’s work in the world, or it might even go deep into questions of sexuality, family, and values. And at other times, the pair of student and supervisor resembles a theological salon as they think together about what they believe about various aspects of the life of faith. If you were a fly on the wall of one of these conversations you might hear comments such as, “We’ll be baptizing some folks this Sunday. What do you think happens in that moment?” or “I’m not sure what I can claim about the resurrection.” or “I don’t completely agree with some of the positions of my denomination…how am I to navigate that?”

These weekly conversations in which the supervisor serves as a careful listener can become, over time, rich and robust encounters where the student gradually grows into the role of religious leader. It is part master–apprentice, part spiritual companion, part teacher–learner, part colleagues—and even friends. For many of our students, their field education supervisor is a person they will consult with long after the internship is completed.

The word supervisor implies an extra kind of vision, the capacity to see the big picture and to anticipate what might be coming around the bend. It’s the kind of teaching and accompaniment that is central to a good theological education. Part of my life’s work is to prepare supervisors for this good work and to give them a heartfelt thank you every time I see them. Please join me! Reconnect with those who were important to you in this way, and look for opportunities to mentor the next generation. It does, indeed, take a village!

Viki Matson, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Ministry
Director of Field Education