All in the family: SOT class includes father, son

Mon, 2012-07-30 13:14 -- univcomm

You are an Anderson University School of Theology student pursuing a master’s of divinity degree. Now picture being in a homiletics class — a class on giving sermons. One by one, students take turns preaching, and afterward, the professor asks classmates to critique each other’s work. Ryan Simpson remembers the course from a few years ago well. But there was another catch for him. Did we mention one of his classmates was his father? When diplomas were awarded at Anderson University’s commencement exercises last weekend at Ward Fieldhouse, Ryan, 28, and his father, David Simpson, 54, donned caps and gowns to receive degrees from the school of theology; Ryan earned a master’s of divinity degree, while his father received a master’s degree in theological studies.

“We got to grade each other,” in that homiletics class, said David Simpson.

“I think we were appropriately hard on each other,” Ryan added.

It was the only class the father and son had together in pursuit of their respective degrees, but it wasn’t the only time they discussed their faith.

“We had a lot of dialogue, not about classwork, but about theological” issues, David said. “It became a family discussion centered around the educational process we were engaged in.”

Father and son’s paths to pursuing master’s degrees with a theological concentration was quite different. Ryan knew he wanted to be involved in ministry the summer after his freshmen year in high school in Warsaw, Ind.

He attended a summer work camp, and it was there that “I really felt called to ministry,” he said. “I realized that this was what I was supposed to do.”

Affirmation from his parents and other members of his congregation at the Church of God in Warsaw made the decision that much easier, he said. Ryan received an undergraduate degree in Bible and religion from AU in 1999, then began pursuit of his master’s shortly thereafter.

David’s journey to the school of theology was of a more circuitous nature, but in the end, it was where he was meant to be as well, he said. He graduated from Anderson College in 1973 with a degree in biology and spent close to 30 years in management. He worked 10 years administering programs for handicapped people in Madison County and Tipton, then went into banking in Warsaw where he managed human resources and marketing efforts.

But his desire to continue on that path changed in the last five to six years, he said. He and his wife, Kathy, had gotten very involved in Church of God’s global missions through their Warsaw church.

“God was making it evident he was leading me to missions,” David said. “I thought that I should do some additional formal education.”

He enrolled full time at AU in the fall of 2003, and began commuting 180 miles a day, two days a week in the process.

“The way they structured the curriculum is very flexible,” which enabled him to get back and forth to complete his 45 hours for his master’s of theological studies degree, David said. Ryan, on the other hand, lived in Anderson while completing his 90 hours for his master’s of divinity degree.

The call to enter a vocational ministry shouldn’t have surprised either father or son. David’s father was a missionary, and wife Kathy’s father is an ordained Church of God minister. Going back even further, there are also several other ministers in the family tree.

“We (Kathy and I) have always had an interest in missions,” David said. When his father was a missionary, “we lived in Egypt for three years when I was in junior high.” He also spent six weeks in Kenya as an undergraduate.

“Missions has always been close to my heart,” he said.

Now, David and Kathy, a social worker, have sold their homes, various other possessions and are in the process of selling their cars as they prepare to become missionaries in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, through Church of God’s global missions for three years. They leave May 17.

“We’ll do full-time language study as well as supporting the church,” said David, adding he and his wife also planned to get enmeshed into the culture.

“We’ll work on leadership development, do preaching and some teaching as well,” he added. “We are going to support our national ministry there.”

Ryan, who currently works part time as a youth care specialist for the Madison County Youth Center, said he would like to one day pursue his doctorate, although he added that is at least five years away.

For now, “I’d really like to work with the church in children’s education,” he said, possibly as an associate minister of Christian education. “I want to teach in the church.”

With his parents on their way to Bulgaria, Ryan said he would like to stay in Indiana to be close to his younger brother, Nathan, who works at Purdue University in West Lafayette.

But he added, depending on job opportunities, “It’s conceivable I’d have to go some place else.”

Even though they will be thousands of miles apart in 10 days, Ryan said he feels fortunate to have spent a lot of time with father on the AU campus in the last two years.

“It’s been interesting,” he said. “I’m kind of glad it turned out this way.”

— Writer Mike Krokos is a reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin (