Life Plus Seminary

When Nina Simone, of Williamsburg, VA, felt the call the ministry, she wondered if seminary was even a possibility. She was pregnant with her third child, working as a free-lance writer, and blogging regularly about motherhood and faith at She also was logging countless volunteer hours in the congregation where her husband, Travis, is a pastor. Moving was not an option.


“I began looking for programs that would fit my full and busy life,” Simone says. And Union Presbyterian Seminary’s Extended Campus Program (ECP) turned out to be a perfect fit.


ECP students take two courses a semester—a manageable load for those juggling jobs and family responsibilities—and the bulk of the work is done online. Each semester concludes with a six-day session on campus. Students earn a Master of Christian Education (M.A.C.E.) degree in five to 10 years.


Simone began her online classes in the fall of 2012, and her daughter Leila was born that November. The following January, Simone commuted between Williamsburg and Richmond, VA, for her first on-campus session and brought the baby along. While Mom attended classes, Leila and a babysitter hung out in an apartment set up especially for childcare in one of the dormitories.


Now in her second year of ECP, 32-year-old Simone says that fitting seminary into her life has been life-giving. “The seminary experience is my outlet,” she says. “It really feeds me.”


She and the other ECP students have become close friends and keep in touch by email. The professors work extra hard to get to know the ECP students, she says. “They really want to make the program work with what is going on in our lives.”


A longtime member of evangelical nondenominational congregations, Simone also has been glad to find that “there is a place at Union for someone who is not Presbyterian.” In her first semester, she had to take a course in Presbyterian polity—“And you know what, it was fascinating,” she says. Although the class didn’t convince her to become a Presbyterian, she discovered that she really liked some aspects of Presbyterian polity.


Courses at Union, says Simone, offer “the academic critical perspective but from a place of faith and commitment.” She also appreciates the M.A.C.E. program’s emphasis on practical application.


“Often in courses we have to do a teaching presentation, taking an academic paper and making it teachable in our context,” she says. “Teaching it forces us to make that jump from theoretical to practical.”


Simone expects to have many opportunities to practice what she is learning at Union. “I see myself using my gifts and my training to be part of God’s work in the world.”