Finding My Theological Voice

Finding My Theological Voice

By Alexia Ford, MDiv ’17

After practicing Social Work for over 14 years, I never expected that I would have to change the way I think and process and write. And I had always excelled academically in Social Work, but things in seminary have been more challenging. Here at Columbia Theological Seminary, I was struggling to make the grades I was used to getting. It was hard on my ego and self-esteem.

During my years as a social worker, I was trained to think analytically, problem solve, come up with innovative solutions to complex problems, review data and methodologies and come up with various intervention methods. In that style of writing, I often concluded with my own opinion or research findings. What I discovered is that seminary writing is unlike any other process of writing that I have experienced. My brain had to be retrained how to read, think, process, analyze and re-read while incorporating the contextual background in which the author was writing.

I was all too glad to find out about the new writing workshops led by Dr. Ryan Bonfiglio. The topics of the workshops were: “Writing as Interpretation: Strategies for Exegesis Papers,” “Mastering the Art of the Essay Exam,” and “Polishing Your Prose: Stylish Academic Writing.” They were designed to help seminary students with tools to become better “seminary” writers.  While this style of writing takes practice, the guidance provided by Dr. Bonfiglio was definitely a great start.

The writing workshop was held in a group meeting area of the John Bulow Campbell Library which was a relaxed environment. Most of my classmates attended along with some upperclassmen who were interested in improving their writing skills as well. These were students from many denominations and disciplines with various education and career backgrounds. This encouraged me that it was not just my own issue, but collectively a wide diversity of students needed help.

I was happy to see my Korean brothers and sisters there as well. If I was having difficulty understanding and changing the way I process and think, I am sure they had even more challenges with an entirely different language and culture.

Dr. Bonfiglio was well-prepared and used PowerPoint slides. He has a way of really explaining and teaching in a fun and humorous way which put everyone at ease. Not only was he knowledgeable and well-versed in the subject matter, but the humor made something that could be difficult to process, much easier to digest. I thoroughly enjoyed his teaching style.

What I learned from the workshops were nuggets that will help the remainder of this seminary journey. When writing an essay, I need to do the following:

  1. Dissect the essay to make sure that all questions are being answered.
  2. Make an outline based on the essay questions would help with structure and flow and will hopefully eliminate disorganization and unrelated thoughts.
  3. Don’t make the answer complicated by using big, complicated words. Most answers require simple responses.
  4. When giving examples, make sure they are relevant to the essay.
  5. When stating your opinion, be sure you can back up your opinion with evidence or examples.

Dr. Bonfiglio presented various resources such as software, books, and online references that would help in our ministerial careers as well. These resources included writing samples, writing styles and proper citations, and a review of the resources that the Campbell Library offers.

The writing workshops were extremely helpful, especially for those who have come from other educational and cultural backgrounds. After having one-on-one conversations with Dr. Bonfiglio and attending the writing workshops, I experienced an epiphany, an “Ah-ha!” moment which helped me to discover that I am not an “underperforming slacker” that just “doesn’t get it.” I am just learning a new approach to writing, as should be expected.

Proverbs 1:5 says, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance…” Coming to seminary is an experience, a journey that is only as good as the investment you make into it. In other words, we need to be open-minded and allow the process to transform us into “imaginative, resilient leaders for God’s changing world.”

 

Alexia Ford is a rising middler and a workstudy student for the Office of Communications. This story complements the Hyper-Focus section for our Spring edition of Vantage magazine coming out soon. In it, Executive Vice President Dr. Deborah Flemister Mullen announces plans for a new Center for Academic Literacy and Intercultural Competence, and Dr. Ryan Bonfiglio goes into further detail about the rationale behind the writing workshops. 

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