Rev. Dr. Patricia Dutcher-Walls
I did my Doctor of Theology (ThD) In Old Testament at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA, finishing in 1994. Prior to that, my MDiv was from Harvard Divinity School in 1978. The years in between were filled with a stint as Assistant Chaplain at Colgate University, and one of the longest doctoral programs on record during which my classes, exams and thesis were blended with supporting my husband in his two graduate degrees and giving birth to our two children.
Area of teaching specialty
My teaching focuses on the Hebrew Bible, including a year-long introductory course required for many students at VST, as well as upper level courses in the Deuteronomistic History, prophecy, the social world of ancient Israel, and social justice. Special areas of focus for my teaching include narrative and poetic analysis, and historical, sociological, feminist and global approaches to the literature of the Hebrew Bible.
What makes you passionate about teaching?
I love working with students to open up the biblical text in ways that stimulate their thinking, deepen their engagement with the text and its contexts, and feed their faith. I encourage students to take the text seriously, which means exploring the ideas and commitments they bring to reading the text as interpreters and balancing that with what the text brings to them from its ancient authors. I’m also passionate about using teaching methods in addition to lectures that liven up the classroom, from discussion groups and student presentations, to colouring and dramatic enactments.
What inspires you about teaching at VST specifically?
Teaching at VST is wonderful because of the variety of students who fill our classrooms. It’s great to have students who are preparing for ministries in the Anglican, United and Presbyterian churches in Canada. But it’s even better to add into the classroom mix those who find a home in other denominations like Mennonites or Unitarians, and other faiths such as Judaism, as well seekers and explorers and “nones,” all of us on the way to something that will feed spirit and soul and engage us with God and the world. The types of conversations in classrooms and lounges reflect the variety of backgrounds, contexts, and interests among the students that VST attracts and a shared delight in learning. It is a rich mix indeed. Kind of like the world and the communities our students will serve once they’ve graduated.
What kind of student do you love having in your class?
Students thrive in my classes when they’re ready to ask questions and then question their answers, and when they’re listening for a variety of voices in the texts of the Bible and among their classmates. The “best” students aren’t necessarily the ones that get the best grades, but the ones who fall in love with the Hebrew Bible in all its amazing beauty, complexity and grace. The best students let their curiosity and faith keep them open to the Bible actually being the living word of God, which might surprise or anger them, inspire or sadden them, but which always gives them a glimpse of a way of reading and engaging that is life-giving.
Current academic projects
One theme in my current academic work is reading and research in preparation for teaching a new course next year on the book of Lamentations. There’s exciting work being done on poetry, lament and trauma, as well as feminist interpretation of that book. I have ongoing interests in the study of the history of ancient Israel, including sociological approaches and continue to read in that area. Finally, I’m also continuing my work in helping the church engage better with Scripture, through a variety of writing projects as well as workshops and retreats in adult education initiatives on the Hebrew Bible. I see this work in particular as a natural extension of my vocation as an educator for the church. Reflecting my administrative role at VST as Dean, I also continue to work on assessment and evaluation models for theological education in order to help VST provide the best education possible for the churches we serve and the students we teach.
What gives you hope for church?
I’ve got a two part answer about my hope for the church. The first response comes from my own faith that God is constantly with the people of God as they live out their faith and serve the world. I find encouragement in the message of so many stories and poems of the Hebrew Bible that God will not and does not abandon us to our own devices and projects, but constantly leads us into new engagement for the healing of the world. My second response comes from the inspiration and energy that’s being generated through various endeavours to find new ways for communities of faith to connect with our communities and serve as God’s people. It’s exciting at VST to participate in educational programs that help students learn the skills in biblical, theological, missional and spiritual leadership that will help them be the kinds of pastors and initiators needed today.
Dr. Dutcher-Walls is Professor of Hebrew Scripture at VST. In addition to teaching, she is also the Dean, giving administrative oversight to student programs and services, the Registrar’s Office and the Diversified Education programs, and the school’s relationships with sessional lecturers, guest lecturers, and other contractual teaching staff. She is also Director of the Library.
Her publications bridge scholarship for Biblical study both in the academy and the church, including four books and a number of articles in scholarly and religious journals. Her most recent book is one she edited; The Family in Life and In Death: Sociological and Archaeological Perspectives which is a collection of articles by leading scholars of the social and archaeological world of ancient Israel. Jezebel: Portraits of a Queen, is a study of Queen Jezebel using the reading strategies of narrative and sociological method. Her other publications include The Commandments: For a Blessed Life, and adult education resource published by the Kerygma Program, and a series of articles on the David stories in The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday’s Texts. Her articles range from an academic contribution on the sources of ancient Israel’s royal theology, “The Circumscription of the King: Deuteronomy 17:16-17 in Its Ancient Social Context,” in the Journal of Biblical Literature, to accessible articles on biblical interpretation in the Presbyterian Record such as “How to Read the Bible: A World of Difference,” June 2009.
A life-long Presbyterian, she was ordained by the United Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1978 and now is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. With a love of teaching, she has led numerous adult education courses, retreats, continuing education courses, and lay education courses Recent lectures include topics such as “Biblical Narrative Spirituality,” “Prophetic Perspectives in the Old Testament,” and “Living the Ten Commandments.” She has been active in the church through preaching, social justice ministries, part-time congregational leadership, and campus chaplaincy. She is married to a Lutheran minister and has two children, and enjoys reading science fiction and gardening.
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