It has been asked by some if perhaps we could re-boot the year 2020. What a change we have seen in the past month or so! While the world seems to be spinning out of control, we know that nothing is happening that is a surprise to our Father. And so, like most of the rest of the world, RPTS (the RP Seminary in Pittsburgh) has made plans to deal with “social distancing”. The highly hands-on nature of this quarter has our faculty and staff working hard to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of what is permitted and what is not. Keep reading to see what has happened.
Just a few weeks ago, the spring quarter at RPTS seemed to start as usual. News of possible changes began around March 9th, our first day of class. Things changed dramatically on March 16th as the Governor of Pennsylvania began issuing a variety of directives about what could and could not be open. As the dust settled and many plans were made, scrapped, and then revised, RPTS settled into a new norm. Our students converted from physical classes to recorded or livestreamed lectures. Lesson plans had to shift along with assignments as students (and their families) learned class streaming etiquette. Admittedly, it is fun to watch little ones sneaking peeks around their father’s shoulder on the computer screen. One student noted, “I had reservations about how effective the teaching and the learning would be in our new format (live streaming) today. However, I am very pleased with both. I thought it was a ten out of ten on both counts.”
A paraclete is a helper who comes along side. In this time when our students are separated from each other, Director of Student Services, Ed Blackwood, has launched this program where students can be partnered with other RPTS students for encouragement and prayer. While practicing “social distancing”, our students need not be “distant”. About half of our students are participating.
WHEN WILL CLASSES RESUME?
Classes are continuing even now. We are prepared to complete the quarter in this modified format. Should the Lord bring about changes, we will resume live classes as soon as possible with students having the option to stay online to finish. Some students have returned home or made other arrangements. In the meantime, staff and faculty are working from home, except for some important service for student housing and keeping online courses and office functions running. It is easy to social distance with one or two people spread out in the very large Seminary building.
The Library, taking advantage of virus-related trends in the library world, has hugely expanded access to E-books and other digital resources. Students can interact with library staff via email or chat and physical books are available as well.
HOW HAVE COURSES CHANGED?
Since students and professors are not meeting physically together, new ideas have come to the forefront. Role Play is a course for this quarter, where students “counsel” Professor Evans. Students have the option of remoting in for this class. Also, Professor Evans continues counseling online. Dr. York’s Discipleship Practicum prays and encourages each other digitally. Preaching students are recording their sermons preached to family or in their empty church buildings. Students, consequently, are learning how to preach on video, something pastors around the world are scrambling to do. First year students are recording various components of their sermons (homiletical point, introduction, etc.) and uploading them for their classmates to view as well. Some professors are setting up extra chat sessions so that students can ask questions of their professor and interact with each other.
While the training of pastors continues in this modified world, the faculty longs for the day when they can sit a few feet away from their students as they work through the Word of God together.
As one might expect, several RPTS events have already been postponed. These include the Evening of Art (April 15th) and Tom Reid’s Retirement dinner on April 24th. As the dust settles, we will reschedule these events. If you have already registered for either event, we will contact you directly once a new date has been selected. At this point, Commencement is still slated for May 22nd, though planning is underway should a digital commencement be necessary.
STUDENTS IN ACTION
Graduating Senior, Wesley (Trace) Turner was scheduled to preach at Grace RP Church in State College, PA. With worship services being replaced by livestreaming, Trace preached his sermon via his laptop while several of his classmates joined him in this living room to provide some more direct feedback. Students have been gathering for online bible studies and working together digitally on classwork. Our weekly prayer time shifted to a Google Meet prayer session including students in their homes from several states.
Mark Sampson, Chief Administrative Officer for RPTS
Mark is married to Sharon, and they are both employed by the seminary in various roles.