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Rev. Shannon Dycus Illuminates the Sacred in Education and Ministry


Shannon Dycus 20230618_110942

For DMin student Rev. Shannon Dycus, faith and education have been foundational influences and pursuits. “My story,” Shannon shares, “includes the nurture of wonderful Black women in my life and lineage. My grandmothers and mother modeled faithful and bold ways of living out their calls with ministries that were not allowed to flourish in their contexts.” In high school, a counselor saw her creative and leadership potential for guiding others.

At Butler University, she earned a degree in secondary education. While she enjoyed working with young people in the classroom and after-school programs, Shannon felt something was missing. “I felt the gap,” she recalls, “of how to care for their spirits and lead holistically.”

When she started at Christian Theological Seminary, Shannon intended to train as a therapist, but, as she recounts, “loving a congregation drew me in the path of an MDiv.” In 2019, she assumed the role of dean of students at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), a private university in Harrisburg, Virginia, that “integrates Christian faith, academic rigor, artistic creation, and reflective practice.”

“It all lives in my heart and body as ministry and education,” Shannon explains. “Since graduating from college, I have alternated between leading in ministry settings and learning communities, holding these two parts of myself as overlapping but not fully embraced in any specific space.”

Pursuing a Doctoral Degree

In early 2023, EMU promoted Shannon to vice president of student affairs and dean of students. Her priorities in this role involve strategically visioning co-curricular learning communities that promote social responsibility, holistic well-being, and academic success for EMU students. She also teaches several undergraduate courses, including a spiritual formation course. She earned a certificate in Spiritual Direction and Formation from San Francisco Theological Seminary.

In her current role, Shannon asserts that she is responsible for “nurturing both spiritual and educational formation.” She felt compelled to enter a doctoral program to “do more development to integrate the two as grounding and strength.” While a PhD or EdD would have made sense in her academic context, she needed ample space for ministry too.

“I believe the practices of education and ministry are sacred,” Shannon posits, “serving people and communities as they intersect with the hope of God around us. Seeking this degree is rooted in my hope to ground the rest of my career in practical perspectives that allow this belief to flourish.”

Choosing United

Shannon has been long drawn to those who “do their faith.” These public theologians operate with an awareness of their social context and with a determination to serve and support the common good. “In my search for public theology programs,“ Shannon observes, “United emerged quickly. Mason [Mennenga (’22), Admissions Counselor] was a prophetic voice in my discerning, and Dr. [Demian] Wheeler was the kind of thinker and leader I wanted to learn from.”

For her dissertation, Shannon is researching and developing a tool to help faith-based higher education systemically engage practices of liberation. “That,” she explains, “is helping me advance the question of how structures teach power.”

She continues: “My doctoral work and my vocation are in rich conversation with each other, like they are sitting on a warm porch drinking sweet tea while listening to each other and the wind hitting the trees. Not only has my role given me the chance to integrate my gifts, this program and my work at United is helping me give voice to the integration growing within me.”

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