A Look Back Part 2: Practical Tips For Surviving Seminary

As I continue my look back series, having just graduated from seminary, I can’t help but think about the things I wish I’d known when I started, and things I started doing around my second year of full time study. For anyone considering a graduate program in theology (or otherwise), here are a few tips from my seminary experience.

1) Engage your school community: Whether you are a full-time, part-time, or half-time student, get to know your peers, your professors, your EVS crew. Your time will fly by (and you might grow to wish it wouldn’t) and you’ll enjoy yourself a lot more, as you put what you learn into practice and dialogue across a wide array of demographics.

2) Learn to maximize your time: This looks different for everyone, but the bottom line is to find ways to do what you need to do, and when possible, double up on tasks. If you keep a blog, why not use parts of your assignment for your next blog post? Maybe a reading assignment for one class will bolster a paper for another. Find clever ways to stretch your time and always make self-care time a part of your week.

3) Get involved in a local church: My school has an event at the start of the school year, in which several churches have booths where students can get more information and start to get plugged in somewhere.

4) Read effectively: I don’t think it’s humanly possible to comprehensively complete every reading assignment you will get. I had a reading system that worked for me, but was tedious and sometimes I just didn’t have enough time for all the reading. My system was as follows: 1. scan for content, underlining key words and section headings. 2. Read for content, highlighting key phrases and tagging key pages. 3. Sometime before the next class meeting, review for understanding, paying special attention to underlined, highlighted and tagged information.

5) Write like a graduate theology student: If you struggle with writing, visit the writing center, have your writing revised and proofread by a peer, and make use of the writing tutors. Your professors know the writing resources available to all students, so it is wise to make good use of your resources.

6) Get a Bible: NRSV Oxford Annotated with Apocrypha.

7) Keep an open mind and be receptive: I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “tradition.” I think we need to re-define it, or choose a different word when we talk about religious tradition and the various traditions we bring with us into the classroom. Tradition, to me, evokes an image of my grandmother, after-church meals with lemon-pie for dessert, sacred hymns. Things I hold dear and that I would, since they are a part of my heritage, fight to protect if threatened. You may hear things you’ve never heard before. Loosen your grip on your tradition and bring those memories with you, so they can be strengthened rather than threatened and become a source of inspiration, a symbol of faith, a new tradition of heritage and scholarship for you. If you’ll let it, it will be wonderful.

8) Don’t use social media to unleash your frustration about a class, a grade, etc: That’s just a good idea to hold on to. I did it once, about a grade on a paper and it didn’t do anything for me. Your professors want to see you grow into better ministers. Let them help you do that.

9) If you don’t engage the Biblical languages as much as you can, you’ll wish you had later and might have to work harder to remember all that grammar you nailed down so well for exams.  So go ahead and engage fully while you can.

10) Don’t get hooked by call stories and the concept of call: Until a conversation I had with my preaching professor about calling, I had always felt excluded from the conversation. I didn’t have a clear “call” per se that I could point to, in which I knew, just KNEW, that God had chosen me and called me to ministry and lead me to seminary. I was kind of jealous of the students who did, because they knew they were here for a reason and I didn’t always know. Dr. Younger helped me to think of my time in seminary in terms of finding my voice, rather than using call language. My friend Jason further explained that everyone’s journey through life to get them to a certain point is a call story. “Yours is just different because what lead you here was a series of events, and that’s a call story too.”

Enjoy your time there because it goes fast, get to know people, preach whenever you are asked, go to chapel, be kind to the earth and teach others to do the same, imitate Christ in everything, and drink lots of coffee.

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