Like many of our students, Bennet McConaughy came to the School of Theology and Ministry out of a time of life transition.
Ben served as a Plaintiff Class Action Lawyer, having practiced law for 30
years. His wife was auditing a class at Seattle University’s School of
Theology and Ministry, and he shared with his spiritual director that he thought that she should be taking it for credit! Little did he know then, he was about to embark on a journey of his own with Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry. Having always been a “point A to point B” thinker and decision maker, launching into the unknown was new for Ben. However, years later, a new diploma hangs on his office wall and he has found himself in a new season of life, engaged in meaningful work.
Ben now serves as the Director of Spiritual Formation & Transformational Leadership at Mercer Island Presbyterian. He works with lay leaders and dialogues with them about leadership, both inside and outside the faith community. They often engage the question: “how is leadership different in the church vs. the business world.” Ben appreciates these opportunities to discuss how values can be integrated into the workplace and internally for professionals that are people of faith. He has the personal experience from his professional life, and grappled with those questions directly and personally throughout his time at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry.
Ben began in the MA in Pastoral Studies program, In the midst of the program, he had a conversation with Dr. Sharon Callahan. In their time together, Ben shared some of the themes that had come up for him throughout his time at the school and some of the conversations that were the most meaningful to him. He mentioned global development themes (he had worked with the organization “Agros International” where our MAPS alum Don Manning is now CEO), watching people learn and see where they could do meaningful work, the topics and notions of leadership. Dr. Callahan mentioned to Ben in that meeting “you’re describing the MA in Transformational Leadership!” This discovery opened up a surprising window of opportunity for him.
In transitioning to the MA in Transformational Leadership program, Ben says that he engaged leadership on a new level. Leadership training was a part of the Pastoral Studies program, but through the Transformational Leadership lens, systemic themes in corporate and nonprofit worlds were explored. Values expressed in the marketplace were addressed and questioned. All of the students in the Transformational Leadership program were together in these conversations. Some of them were hoping to start-up nonprofits or globally linked, charitable ventures. Faith tradition(s), belief and values were informing these actions in social justice, but it was not overt.
“What I really love to do is come along people and walk with them and figure out where they’re going—their values, what they want to accomplish. Those themes are so different than my life as a lawyer. It was a huge leap for me to name that this is what I want to do and to make happen. I am no longer looking what I can receive from relationships and “get something” from every person I meet but I’ve found that I have this deep-seated desire to be a companion alongside others in their journeys of discovery and real life experience.”
Within his first two months at the school, Ben took a seminar to fulfill a professional education requirement (CLE program) to keep his law license. He told us that he remembers walking into a very familiar room and setting—an event he probably would have presented at, if he were still practicing law. Ben was struck by the tension in the air. Being removed from the environment and going back, he was able to see what he wasn’t able to see before.
“It was a great awakening that I was moving towards something that was healthy and more self-integrated. I had a faith self and a work self. I was disintegrated, and I was entering a process of integration. I knew that it was a possibility that I would re-enter law out of my degree program learning and be a new professional—but I had a feeling that it wasn’t for me. However, I did consider those notions and I knew that was a possible path.”
During his internship, Ben served as an Overlake Hospital chaplain. He was able to be present with people and meet them where they were in their struggle. Ben remembers being struck that people would tell him in those settings that he had a pastoral and caretaking presence. Ben told us: “I remember being taken aback by that. That’s not what people would say when I was practicing law. The experience hearing that named was powerful. I encountered a new and very different vision of self.”
Ben continued to volunteer on service trips with high school students throughout his degree program. He had volunteered on the same trips during life as a lawyer. He recalls that he noticed that his approach completely shifted. In the past, he assigned tasks based on his perceptions of individuals’ skill and would jump in and help if they couldn’t perform the task. Ben shared: “I saw myself wanting to engage a new way of being with these students. Transformational leadership is more about recognizing where people are, teaching them how to do a task like hammering and letting them problem solve and discover on their own—struggle and work and build on their own—and yet being available and present. The shift is moving from “How am I going to change this?” to “Where is God in this? Where is the learning / growth in this?””Out of the MA in Transformational Leadership, Ben became the co-director of Spiritual Formation at Mercer Island Presbyterian—taking back to his community all that he had learned at the school and in the program.
During his time in the degree program, Dean Markuly encouraged students to apply to the FASPE study programs—Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE)—through the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York NY. Ben applied to the program and was accepted. The FASPE perspective is to take a deep look at the Holocaust and ask the question: “What does this historical event / these facts have to say about me and my life today—my mistakes, temptations, fears and how I navigate those?” The program reaches out to students in law, medicine, journalism, and seminary to discuss ethical themes that apply to each of the respective professions, while staying in Berlin, Krakow, and Auschwitz. Ben shared with us that it was an interesting group to be a part of as a former lawyer. For example, the medical students in the group tended to focus questions about professional ethics while the seminary students were asking questions about beliefs and the very nature of our relationship to God and what it means to be human. He was able to relate to both of those groups and have meaningful conversations with both sides of the table.
This past summer from June 23-July 11, as a Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry alum, Ben attended a “Multi-Faith Exploration of Jewish Texts” program at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem. He joined 7 other students in this three-week intensive study of ancient rabbinical texts. This small group of select participants came from North America, Africa and Europe and from Catholic, Protestant, Greek Orthodox and Jewish faith traditions. More information is available here.
Ben believes that he secured these post graduate experiences at least in part because of Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry’s reputation as a place for ecumenical and multi-faith learning.
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