February 18, 2011 • Deborah (Malacky) Belonick
“Renewing St. Vladimir’s commitment to the formation and continuing education of Orthodox Christian priests, I am pleased to make public the hiring of Fr. Sergius Halvorsen, who will teach homiletics to our student body and who also will develop a D.Min. hybrid program that will provide nourishment to pastors ‘in the trenches,’ ” announced seminary Dean, Archpriest John Behr.
"I am thrilled that Fr. Sergius is joining our faculty,” continued Fr. John. “We will now be able to offer the finest instruction in homiletics possible, being, in fact, the only Orthodox Christian seminary to have a full-time faculty position in that discipline. We also will be the first Orthodox institution in North America to offer the hybrid D.Min. program. I am really excited about these and all the other educational developments that we will see coming to fruition within the next few years at our school.”
Those “developments” include an intentional pastoral focus to enrich the education of seminarians on campus and priests in parishes who will serve or who now serve churches in North America. “We are first and foremost concerned about all seminary graduates who are ‘working on the ground,’ and our primary goal at St. Vladimir’s is to offer them the coursework and programs they need to fulfill their pastoral ministries,” Fr. John emphasized.
Father Sergius, a 1996 alumnus of St. Vladimir’s who in 2002 earned his doctorate from Drew University in Liturgical Studies with an emphasis in Homiletics, will be assuming a full-time, tenure-track position at the seminary Fall semester 2011, as “Assistant Professor of Homiletics and Rhetoric.” Initially, he will teach two core courses per semester, Homiletics and Christian Education, and will develop electives in his areas of expertise. Additionally, he will serve as Director of Field Education, overseeing training programs in prison, hospital, and parish ministry. While teaching and directing field education, Fr. Sergius also will begin to prepare a proposal for a new D.Min. program, designed to be a hybrid distance-residential learning program.
Fr. Sergius gained significant expertise in developing distance learning programs while working at Holy Apostles College and Seminary, where he was employed from 2000 to 2011, and where he held the positions of Assistant Professor of Patristics and Rhetoric, and Director of Distance Learning. There, Fr. Sergius oversaw the change from a “correspondence course” model, in which email was used instead of surface mail, to a “second generation” model, in which technology and broadband Internet access were used to create communities of teachers and learners. The program has enjoyed great success; currently, the distance learning program at Holy Apostles has more than three hundred students, with more than one hundred and fifty students enrolling in courses each semester.
Fr. Sergius, in transitioning from his position at Holy Apostles and to St. Vladimir’s, envisions a distance-residential learning program specifically designed to be accessible to clergy throughout the United States. Especially, he noted that the hybrid program to be designed will address the issue of proximity to the seminary campus, a factor that caused the demise of a once-vibrant D.Min. program in previous decades at St. Vladimir’s.
“It had been difficult to maintain the viability of an on-campus D.Min. program due to the fact that the pool of potential students—Orthodox clergy living within driving distance of the seminary—was relatively small. However, offering the program as a hybrid vastly increases the number of potential students,” Fr. Sergius explained. “As a hybrid distance-residential program, Orthodox clergy can earn a D.Min. without having to relocate to Yonkers, by doing the majority of their study via distance learning. Yet, they will also benefit from spending time among the local SVOTS community during regular on-campus intensives.
“There are a number of preliminary steps required before we can formally begin the D.Min. program,” he further stated. “In the coming months we will be conducting surveys to assess potential interest in the D.Min. as a hybrid program. Part of this survey work will be to determine which ‘majors’ are the most interesting to potential students. D.Min. majors could include, but are not limited to: pastoral counseling, parish revitalization, homiletics, and missiology. Further, the surveys will help us determine if there are other majors that are of interest to potential students.
“It is absolutely essential for the program that we offer the majors that are most helpful to our clergy and that will most strengthen their ministries,” concluded Fr. Sergius. “Once we identify the best majors, we will work out the specifics of the program and ensure that the new program is in compliance with the American Association of Theological Schools (ATS) and with New York State authorities. We hope that the first class of D.Min. students in this hybrid program will begin their studies in Fall semester 2012, which means that students could begin registering in the spring of 2012.”
Note: Future D.Min. applicants must hold an M.Div. and have five years of pastoral ministry experience. Visit our Website regularly to review the progress of the program.