I have a friend who’s in her late thirties, going to seminary. She has a job that she loves, but she sensed a calling into ordained ministry nonetheless. She started the long route through grad school. She owned her home and didn’t want to move, so she picked up classes here and there, went part-time, commuted. Studied in between her shifts at her full-time job.
Soon she became very tired and frustrated that her seminary wasn’t working around her schedule more. They failed to keep her needs in mind and didn’t seem to understand that many students commute.
I struggle with this. As a person who welcomes change, I rarely find myself in the old-model, traditionalist camp, but somehow I am having difficulty embracing new models of seminary education.
I was a full-time student. Young. Without any children. No house. I have a very skewed perspective. But my fondest memories of seminary education were the classes, the library, and the community. There was something about moving to a place and living with other called people that helped me to become a religious person.
I’m sure the experience would not have been the same if I had not been studying Greek at all hours of the night, lamenting, celebrating, and praying. It wasn’t all good. Living among other students, I watched as my brilliant friends rarely picked up a book, and seemed to always get straight A’s. And some of the most unlikely students got the best positions at the end of it.
As I juggled four jobs in an attempt to keep my loans low, I often felt like I was working twice as hard to accomplish half as much (and I’m sure many of my classmates had the same complaints about me).
But, even in the messy stuff of community–especially in the messy stuff–I learned something about being a pastor. As I got annoyed with my neighbors and figured out how to deal with competition in a healthy manner, I was being formed.
Also, being a pastor is a life-altering job. So it might as well start changing our lives three years earlier.
But then, I go back to this article. They are talking about reconfiguring religious education. As the piece says, people can’t keep leaving seminary with student loan payments of more than $12,000 — with an average starting salary of just $45,500 (the 2005 student loan debt for PCUSA students was actually $32,959). The model of leaving everything to go to seminary, being in community, is breaking down. I just hope we don’t give up to much in the formation of our spiritual vocations as we rethink our models.
So what do you think? Does seminary work the same way for commuting students? Should seminaries start thinking of commuters as the norm and residents as the exception? Is it even possible for schools as small as our seminaries to tailor their schedules to people who are working a nine-to-five somewhere else? Is community an essential for seminary education?
the photo’s by darling.clandestine