(Guest post by Nichole Fischl, MABS student in our distance/hybrid program that consists of a mix of online coursework and residential coursework)
I am thankful RTS decided to offer a hybrid model, through which individuals could pursue either MDiv or MA degrees. For those who are not familiar, the hybrid model allows students to pursue a degree at RTS Orlando without requiring them to move to campus. This allows students to continue in a ministry or job that God has called them to while completing their degree. The hybrid model includes coming to campus for classes two weeks each year, one week in January and one week in July. The rest of the courses can be completed either through the global campus or through another RTS campus.
My husband and I chose to do the hybrid model because it allowed us to remain working for the church (Christ EPC in Houston, TX) while pursuing our degrees. My husband is pursuing his MDiv degree, and I am working on a MA in Biblical Studies. A little over two years ago, when we were first feeling called to seminary, we struggled because there were few quality Reformed seminaries near where we lived and we did not believe God was asking us to leave the church where we were both working. When we learned that RTS Orlando was offering a hybrid model, it was the perfect solution for us. My dad is a graduate of RTS Orlando, so we were thrilled knowing we could attend the same institution without needing to move to Orlando.
Our seminary journey began two years ago, and we have not been disappointed. This model has allowed my husband and me to pursue our degrees together. Though they are different degrees, almost all of the classes overlap and it has been incredibly beneficial to be able to do them together. RTS offers a very generous spouse scholarship that has made this possible, and we are grateful for the opportunity. The distance courses, which we complete entirely online, have been easier because we are able to do them together. We are able to keep each other accountable with staying on top of the course work, we are able to discuss all that we are learning together, and we are able to encourage each other when we see the other applying what we are learning within our ministry roles. This has been the greatest gift to our marriage and to our ministry and we wouldn’t want to be pursuing seminary education any other way.
While I enjoy the distance courses, the on-campus weeks have added much to our education as well. To be honest, coming to campus for the first time was a little intimidating, especially for me. The classroom was full of 75 men who were all working or serving in a ministry role. These men came from all across the country and some from around the world. When I first began, I was the only female pursuing a degree through the hybrid model, so I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. However, the professors were kind and ensured I felt affirmed in my call to be there. I quickly relaxed and by the end of my first week on campus, I was excited and thankful to be a student in the hybrid model. (Editorial note: We now have several female degree students in the program! Nichole was one of the first in the hybrid cohort.)
While the convenience and logistics of the hybrid model is what caused my husband and me to pursue our degrees in this way, my favorite part about the hybrid model is the on-campus weeks. These weeks are long and grueling. You are in class all day, with few breaks and only a small amount of time for meals. It is a lot of information to take in and it definitely feels like drinking from a fire hydrant. During those days, not only do you learn more than you thought possible in a single day from incredible professors, but you also connect with your classmates and build relationships that have become very valuable. This is my favorite part. Everybody in the hybrid model has a unique story, and almost everyone is actively applying what they are learning as they are working in a ministry role at the same time.
It is such a gift to be able to share joys and struggles with each other and to talk about what we are learning and how it is transforming the way in which we each do ministry. Then, to be able to connect and do it all again six months later feels like the most joyous reunion. The relationships my husband and I have made are ones that will remain long past the day we finish our degree. It is such a blessing to be connected to so many who God is using in many ways across the nation and across the world.
I have about a year left until I graduate, and that knowledge is bittersweet. I am thankful for RTS and the hybrid model they have offered. I look forward to this final year and to all that may come after. I highly recommend the hybrid model and am so thankful to have had the ability to learn while actively applying what I am learning in ministry.