First person: Community that extends beyond the classroom

By Debra Wolfrey, Photos by Nancy Patton | Jul 9, 2021

For the second time, I find myself teaching where I learned.

I began my teaching career at a middle school, traveling the same halls I walked as a junior high school girl. Today, I am an adjunct professor at the Arizona Campus of Gateway Seminary, the same seminary from which I earned Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees.

Experiencing both sides of education in the same location has allowed me to garner a unique understanding of community.

It was community that attracted me to become a Gateway student. As a woman and as an associate minister, I needed a place where I could belong and learn more about the Bible and ministry. Now, my students represent diverse age spans, ethnicities and ministry angles.

Like me, you can belong even if you are outside the “usual” mold. Professors interested in mentoring will teach you as you discover the details of God’s call.

Integral to community is discovering that you share commonality amid diversity. Gateway students are eager to learn in humility. You don’t know what you don’t know!

We experience the truth of iron sharpening iron. As we challenge each other, we grow stronger in our beliefs and their expression. As we expose ourselves to new ways, we become more creative in approaches to sharing the gospel in our cultural contexts.

A friend once introduced me as a professor at the “cemetery,” teasing that I worked at a place lacking life, relevance and change. The similarity between a cemetery and our seminary stops at the sounds of the two words.

Gateway Seminary is a community of friends dreaming dreams and preparing to be the very best for the most important job any of us will ever have — working in God’s kingdom. We make lifelong friends who speak truth to one another.

More than 50% of Arizona churches have leaders who were trained at Gateway’s Arizona Campus. These leaders know each other as trusted colleagues. We have learned together, forming a bond that is deep and long lasting.

A Gateway value is to bring a seminary opportunity closer to every ministry leader. I have traveled to Payson, Tucson, Lake Havasu City and Sierra Vista to teach my classes.

I teach at individual churches also. If you can form a cohort of 10 students, Dallas Bivins, Gateway’s Arizona Campus director, will send a professor to your church.

I have taught my courses as a typical biweekly evening class or as weekend intensives. During 2020, I learned to Zoom the learning experience.

This past semester, I tackled dual-platform learning with a small cadre of online students on a screen as I taught a room full of students. Volunteer or paid tech support helped me track my online students as I taught so I could keep the teaching methodology activity based.

Community provides a place where one feels belonging. Much like returning home after a long trip, finding that community can bring relief, peace and joy. All of that is to be found among the Gateway Seminary community.


Debra Wolfrey holds Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from Gateway Seminary and is an adjunct professor at Gateway’s Arizona Campus.

Nancy Patton, a freelance photographer living in Peoria, is a member of Mountain Ridge Baptist Church, Glendale.


Next Steps

—Take a class at Gateway Seminary. There’s a community waiting for you.

—Encourage your church to send untrained leaders to Gateway.

—Gather 10 learners and host a class at your church.

—Volunteer as tech support for a class.

—Bring dinner to an evening class as an encouragement.

—For any of these steps, call Dallas Bivins or Valine Lim at 602-843-8544.

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