Illsutration by Andrea Wan
Many boards and board members describe the work they do as a calling, a sense of service to their institution and the church at large. Dr. Karen Sawyer, a doctor of physical therapy and retired professor, was already in her career when she went to Missio Seminary for a counseling degree. She has since served on the Missio board for three decades. She also serves on the board of the In Trust Center. She talked with In Trust’s Matt Hufman about her calling. This is an edited version of the conversation.
What drew you to seminary?
I think the sense of a need for a counseling degree from a seminary came while I was working in a rehab center in Virginia. Routinely the young men with spinal cord injuries would not want to see the psychologist. I didn’t understand why. About the same time, a pastoral care intern came to the physical therapy department and said, “Can I just hang out in your department with the patients?” And lo and behold, he is the person the patients would open up to because it was their environment. He was coming alongside them. I was very struck by that dichotomy of the professional approach versus the come-alongside approach.
The other part that really drew me to seminary was that patients in rehabilitation get quite attached to their therapists, and they would want to talk. I was dealing with people that had catastrophic injuries. They wanted to yell and scream about how mad they were at God, and did He even exist? Or if they never thought of God, maybe they were thinking about him now. And I found that I had good tools to help people with their physical rehabilitation, but I didn’t have the tools that would help me understand where they were emotionally. I wanted to have a more robust way to help people and get better training in how to care for souls as you come alongside somebody who’s struggling.
What does it mean to be a board member?
When I joined, I was a very new graduate from Missio, and I thought boards were for people who had a lot of money, and that was sort of the main focus of why you joined a board.
I quickly learned that was not it. I joined and I continue to stay because I am a true believer in the mission of the school. To follow Jesus into the world looks different every decade. I feel that the Missio seminary and its students are alive and dynamic.
We are a close board. We do not have term limits. So, many of us have been on the board for a very long time. And I love the fact that we can be committed to a common goal. It’s like the body of Christ. I think that everybody has their part around the table. They’re all different. If we can help foster the mission of the school, and at the same time get to that by listening to very diverse opinions and working through things that are sometimes very challenging to come through, I don’t know why I would step off. It just remains exciting. The experience I’ve had is just really exceptional, and I’m privileged to be a part of it.
Any advice for other boards or members?
Be very slow to come to a conclusion or solution. Make sure everything is out there before we then work together toward a conclusion. And I think listening carefully is really important. At Missio, we have intentionally tried to make our board look like the area in which we’re serving. Some people that come to the table may not feel like their voice has been wanted in the past, but it is now. So listening well to everybody is really important.
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