I’ve been waiting to write this until I could figure out what to say about my seminary experience. That never happened so I’m just going to stream-of-consciousness this thing.
I started seminary at GRTS in the Fall of 2006. The common joke of the day was “so, you’re going to cemetery now?” the implication being that seminary is a life-sucking, soul killing institution… or at least just really boring. I found it both interesting a life-giving.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to prospective GRTS students. I told them that during seminary I was also working close to full time (30-35 hours/week) while a student. One prospective student asked how I was able to do that and still maintain a social life. My first thought was to ask, “What social life?” Instead my answer was something about time management.
In reality though, there were several factors to having a positive seminary experience. I was, of course, blessed with a very supportive wife. We lived simply, living in a one-bedroom apartment and shunning television for the first year or so. This allowed me to focus on the task at hand. I also had a very flexible job. I could set my work schedule based off my class schedule. I would often go to class in the morning, drive to work, come home, eat dinner, and study Greek flashcards, or head back to the library to work on a paper. And, of course, I had no social life.
The work hard, but it was never oppressively hard.
It helped, too, that I was very interested in the material. With the exception of a few classes, I was never bored.
I had some great profs, too. I really believe that wanted us to do well. They were also willing to have fun and get to know you. One of the stories I like to tell the most is from one of my Systematic Theology classes. Dr. Wittmer was my prof and we were talking that day about the attributes of God. Dr. Wittmer said that God could not do something illogical, because that would be to go against His nature. So, for instance, He could not great a round square. Another student asked, “What about the loaves and the fishes?” Wittmer replied that that was not illogical, it was just miraculous. I rose my hand and asked (in jest) “wasn’t the miracle of the loaves and the fishes that after one boy shared his food everyone else saw the example and shared too?” Wittmer responded by throwing a dry-erase marker at my face. Maybe that’s why he likes St. Nicholas so much.
And that’s just one example – they were all pretty great.
Seminary wasn’t all fun and games. It was a wake-up call, too. One of my first classes was hermeneutics. It’s a weeder class. I was pretty proud of the first paper I submitted. My professors were not. I wasn’t in undergrad anymore. But, with lots of support, I persevered.
Summer breaks were actually pretty hard. When you focus so hard and spend so much time on something, it becomes part of your identity and, for a time, my identity was “student.” Being away from school for long periods of time was accompanied by a sense of loss. Because of my personality I could easily get lost in academia. I considered briefly the possibility continuing after my M.Div. to get a doctorate. This is still a possibility (for the distant future). By the time graduation came, though, I had been involved in church ministry as a pastoral resident for over a year and was getting a taste of what the next step looked like. It had been fun, but I was ready to move on. By God’s grace I had made it through and had grown significantly (intellectually, spiritually, professionally) because of the experience. Seminary had prepared me to further pursue pastoral ministry.