Everything Seminary Didn’t Prepare Me For
I have found memories of the seminary I attended in the early 2000s and am forever grateful for the lessons, experiences, and relationships that emerged from that period in my life.
At the same time, seminary did not prepare me for many things.
It most definitely did not teach me how to adapt to the past year and the years to come.
How could it?
Sadly, the seminary I attended closed its doors a few years ago; but the lessons taught, the relationships developed, the experiences lived – these will continue in the individuals who were there.
People with whom I attended seminary with work all over the world in various helping professions and careers doing good and amazing things in this world.
This in and of itself is part of adaptation.
How things continue do not always look the same.
Websters Dictionary defines adaptation as “adjusting, modifying, and enhancing in order to adjust to a new environment, situation, and/or condition”. And in many ways, it is particularly done in order to improve survival.
Seminary does not teach about adaptation per se.
Rather, it is part of the very process.
Students are taught a lot of content and given a vast array of experiences.
Then they are challenged to think about their own theology in light of what they learned and experienced.
They leave seminary different than when they entered, for they have adjusted and/or been modified by this.
Humanity has adapted since the age of time…and along with it – our spirituality.
For example, how to continue to serve God when a pharaoh demanded unwavering devotion, how to understand the commandments and wandering in the dessert, how to recognize Jesus of Nazarene as the Christ, what to do when he was crucified and resurrected, and what to do as his followers showed a new way that became a new religion.
The story continues throughout scripture and history.
During the events and aftermath of 9/11, news program ran news lines at the bottom of the screen due to the amount of information flooding in and our attempts to keep up with it.
This was rare, if nonexistent, prior to 9/11.
Post 9/11 – almost 20 years later, we do not even notice it.
Prior to 9/11, a person could wait at the gate for a loved one to exit a plane.
Now, we hug them good-bye at the TSA stand and hope our small carry-on will fit in the overhead containers.
Some of the things we like, and others we do not – still we adapted recognizing that the world was in a new place.
Like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea after being free from what plagued them, we would like for the rest of life to return to “normal” – especially as people are being vaccinated, restrictions are lifting, and social justice actions are being taken to right wrongs.
Yet, like the Israelites, we are not in the land of milk and honey.
Some of the adaptations from the past year will become a regular part of our lives, and we will forget that we did things differently prior to this.
Yet, others are still to be determined. And if we want to survive, we will have to continue to adapt.
What does this mean for The Church? For ministry? For leaders?
What does this mean when so many are experiencing pandemic and compassion fatigue?
How does one continue to be creative when they are already “tapped”?
The reality is that many people will not return to organized religion to practice their spirituality in a faith community.
Some congregations will close, some will merge with sister congregations in their area, some will grow and thrive, and many will look very, very different.
How will The Church adapt? I don’t know. This is not something I learned in seminary.
At the same time, like the Israelites receiving manna, I did not leave empty handed. I learned to…
- Remember that God is already at work in this world, has been since the beginning of time, and will continue to do so.
- Observe – listen, look, and learn the context in which I live and serve to see how I want to join into this work.
- Get clear about and live out of guiding principles, even when this can be hard.
- Take care of and manage self.
- Stay connected to one’s self, family, calling, community, and the world.
- Be a “servant leader” and act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Seminary may not have prepared you for this either, yet you did not leave emptyhanded.
What have you learned from seminary and since then that can help you identify and think through what is next, to help sustain you, and to stay connect with others?
What did you learn from the past that can help you adapt to the future, even when this future is unclear?
May God bless you as you continue to adapt to this new world, and as you lead others in the process.
Vanessa M. Ellison, MSW, MDiv. is a Bowen Theory Psychotherapist and Coach in Richmond, Virginia. She also serves on the faculty of the Leadership in Ministry clergy training program at the Center for Lifelong Learning. Vanessa has clinical experience with individual, couples, family, and group psychotherapy and community-based services and ministerial experience serving local congregations, missional settings, and non-profit organizations.