By the time Monica McDougal (GETS) started her field education placement in fall 2020 at the First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Illinois, the church and its pastor, Rev. David Aslesen, had already adjusted to the changes brought on by COVID-19.
Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary is one of the 13 United Methodist seminaries supported by the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment of the United Methodist Church.
The services were up on Facebook, YouTube, and the church’s website. Aslesen and his staff had started a Tuesday evening online prayer service, and all the paper communication was now digital. The church had also reached out to any parishioners in need. “We went into the mode of keeping everyone connected in any way we could,” said Aslesen, who has been the senior pastor of the 380-member church for six years.
Although the initial framework had been set up, Aslesen said McDougal’s arrival in September 2020 was a godsend. “She has been instrumental in helping our church thrive during COVID-19,” he said.
McDougal grew up in Kansas, where her mother served as a pastor at several United Methodist churches. She received her bachelor’s degree in mass media and public relations from Washburn University in Topeka in 2015.
Discouraged by how many Christians in her context were promoting and supporting policies and doctrines that harmed marginalized communities, McDougal said she struggled with her faith. “Not with God, but with the church,” she said.
While she never doubted her identity as a Christian, she struggled with whether she wanted to attend church. She decided to give institutional Christianity one last chance when she enrolled at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary’s master of divinity program in the fall of 2018, “I needed to know that there were different ways to read the Bible and be in Christian community — ways rooted in justice, love, and compassion,” she said.
Her first field education experience in the fall of 2019 was a three-point charge in Rogers Park, Illinois. There, she did “a little bit of everything.”
For her next field education experience, McDougal said she wanted to focus on adult education. “I am passionate about Christian education, and I wanted experience with that,” she said. The First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge had a robust adult education program, and McDougal enthusiastically signed on.
In the last six months, she has given sermons and helped with online worship, but her primary responsibility is to lead workshops and online adult education courses via Zoom. Very quickly, Aslesen realized that McDougal had the ability to really connect with people online. “Obviously, this is particularly important during this time,” he said.
This gift first became evident in the fall as she co-taught an adult faith formation class with Aslesen over Zoom. She supplemented the curriculum with her own research and perspective. She also tried to make the course as interactive as possible. Additionally, she spent a lot of time working on each of her online presentations. “All of her presentations have been well structured and professional,” Aslesen said.
“Teaching the Bible is something I am very passionate about,” McDougal said. Her passion did not go unnoticed. Impressed with her Biblical knowledge and her ability to inspire others, the congregation has grown to appreciate and value her, Aslesen said.
“The way she has been able to communicate online has been phenomenal,” Aslesen said. “We have all learned a lot from her.”
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary website, Evanston, IL
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the Ministerial Education Fund is at the heart of preparing people for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The 13 United Methodist seminaries help students to discover their calling through the challenging curriculum. The fund enables the church to increase financial support for recruiting and educating ordained and diaconal ministers and to equip annual conferences to meet increased demands. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the Ministerial Education Fund apportionment at 100 percent.