Brooke Petersen on finding meaning in bivocational practice

Brooke Petersen (2006, MDiv)

For Brooke Petersen (2006, MDiv), coming back to teach and serve as the director of the MDiv and MA programs and coordinator of candidacy at LSTC has been a full-circle experience.

“There have long been questions deep in my heart that were made even more real in my work as a pastor,” said Petersen. “It was those questions that drew me back to work here at LSTC because I wanted to explore them with students who will go out and serve in all kinds of ministry settings.”

The questions she wrestles with are big ones: how do you accompany someone who has experienced trauma? What do you do in the face of suffering? How do you sit with people when they’re in their moments of deepest pain? How do we do life together?

The answers aren’t easy or finite, but for Petersen, who earned her PhD from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, the salient part is that, through her instruction and her research, she can tell her students, “I’m going to accompany you in drawing on the knowledge in the field of clinical pastoral care, but also we will seek the knowledge that already exists within you and in the places you’re serving.”

That’s one side of things. The other side, for Petersen, is challenging students not only to deepen their knowledge of the world but to deepen their knowledge of themselves: “You might come to my classes to learn more about who you are as an embodied ministerial leader or to think about the way that your own history, the history of your family, the history of your community, and the history in your church has shaped you.”

While trauma is one area of focus for Petersen in her teaching and her concurrent private professional practice as a therapist, she is also interested in how religious trauma has impacted the queer community. In her recently released book, Religious Trauma: Queer Stories in Estrangement and Return (2022), Petersen investigates eight case studies of individuals who experienced religious trauma in non-accepting church communities only to eventually find healing from that same trauma when they were welcomed in progressive church communities—an area where there has been surprising little research.

Christian Century predicted that the book will “become essential reading for progressive faith leaders everywhere.”

Petersen has found that working with students to enhance their skills as pastoral counselors is more important than ever: “Many of our students going into ministry will confront folks who will say, ‘I’m in pain, I don’t know what’s going on with me, I don’t know what I should do.’”

“We’re preparing them to be more skilled in pastoral counseling to help people understand how to access resources, how we can work with them and care for them, and how they can find the care they need,” she says.  

Petersen envisions a world in which light is shone on components of the human experience often kept shrouded in darkness, and shame. After all, “mental illness may be one chapter in someone’s story, but it’s not their whole story,” she says.

She seeks to help others engage in the same intellectual and spiritual transformation that allowed her to find important answers to deep questions and to uncover even more questions that she and her students consider together. After all, she says, “I came back to teach at LSTC because I love LSTC. My life was changed here.” 

By Rhiannon Koehler, a writer, editor and content director in Chicago.

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