When I tell people that I am in seminary they tend to give me a blank look. If people happen to know what it is (which happens VERY infrequently), they just are not sure what to say. So here are my thoughts on what seminary is and why I am enrolled in it.
This article from the Huffington Post Religion blog is a great place to start.
Serene Jones Why Attend Seminary?
But here are my collected thoughts on what seminary is:
I. A place of learning:
This should be obvious, but this goes well beyond an ordinary institution of graduate education. Yes, we read more books in a 10-week quarter than should be humanly possible, we write papers, I even survived 20 weeks of learning Koine Greek that enables me to read the New Testament or Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible). However, seminary is also about reexamining assumptions held about religious truth, some that have been held for a lifetime. It is about bringing your personal baggage to light now, because undoubtedly, it will come up later in your ministry. It is helping others to examine, grow, and strengthen their own beliefs and look at their own baggage and how it hinders them from growing closer to God. We learn how various religious beliefs interact with, hinder, and enhance one another.
II. A place of professional development:
Granted, I am enrolled in seminary as I prepare to become an ordained pastor, some of my peers are studying theology from a purely academic standpoint. My education involves not just didactic sessions, but real, practical applications of what I am learning. Right now I am about six weeks into CPE to learn more, read this article from the ELCA, which is an absolutely indispensable part of my preparation. I am moving to St. Paul, MN next January to continue my classes at Luther Seminary (known as a Lutheran residency) and I am very eager to start my contextual learning at Humble Walk Lutheran Church. I also have a full-time, yearlong internship in some sort of setting that is yet to be identified.
III. But why would anyone want to go to seminary?
All I can say here is that I am in seminary because I am preparing for ministry in the ELCA, and ministry is my vocation. Vocation, in my understanding, is the one thing that you can't not do. This calling of ministry in and through the church has chased me through most of my life. This is really not an easy journey. It is pretty expensive both in terms of money and of time. I am really thankful for the education that I am receiving because I am preparing deeply for ministry. Denominations who have "preachers" make me nervous. Preachers are often self-identified, charismatic leaders who may or may not even have a college education. In fact, there are even child "pastors" who allegedly feel the calling of God to preach, and go on to spew hellfire and brimstone from pint size pulpits. I think a preacher with a self-appointed call is one of the most damaging things for Christendom. So as tiresome as my myriad of requirements can be, I am really, really thankful. I have people holding me accountable, I have the opportunity to discern and clarify my sense of call, and I have a wide support system. Seminary gives me the opportunity to examine how my belief system interacts with the world around me. It is teaching me how to think critically, articulate my theology, and put all that into practice.