What’s life REALLY like in seminary?

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By Bailey Brawner, Elizabeth Hurd, and Maggie Ward

Three United Methodist women sit in a classroom, sipping coffee and tea on a cool Saturday morning in December. This could easily be the first line of a joke, but it’s the reality for us; first, second, and third year Masters of Divinity students at Boston University School of Theology (respectively: Maggie, Elizabeth, Bailey).

The world of seminary is an exciting place, full of new experiences and an overwhelming amount of theological reading. While these insights are unique to our context and our privileges, we wanted to share some of the ideas we’ve learned in seminary so far.


Part I: Inside the Seminary Bubble

Being in school is complicated, but worth the time (most of the time).

The choice to come to seminary wasn’t one that necessarily fell in line with what was easy, and the decision to leap into it wasn’t made lightly. It takes a lot of discernment. The challenge of choosing a seminary translated well into the challenges we are finding as we journey through school. Often the troubles with being a student in seminary are less about the level of work, and more about the fact that our hearts and souls are at the center of our theological studies.

Seminary can be a bit competitive. People want you to think that they have their lives together, so they’re constantly talking about their plans — which can be intimidating. We’ve all questioned if we are good enough to be in seminary, especially when our peers seem to know exactly what intersections of theology they’re studying, and the meanings of words like “hermeneutic” and “ontological” and their usage.

There are also moments when you know you are in the right place. When you’re in class and Bishop Susan Hassinger affirms that what you’re bringing to discussion is worth thinking about, or when you make an important connection that you finally have space to name, it feels worth it. You are here for a reason and have something to contribute, both to the seminary community and the world. Realizing this is a holy moment.

Relationships are both draining and incredibly life-giving.

Seminary is a bubble. People are learning from the same professors, living in a similar geographical area, and focusing on education as one of their primary roles. Shared experiences are everywhere.

This gets frustrating sometimes, when escaping from conversations about liturgy and exegesis, and into an argument about the latest Grey’s Anatomy episode is only something you dream about. But as much as we can avoid the people we’re with, it is truly a breath of fresh air that there are people around you who just ‘get it’.

The people you share a classroom with throughout the entire school week are also the people who are there for you when you make progress in the ordination process, as well as when news hits that impacts your community. We find beauty in those relationships, and we can see God through them in an authentic way.

You need to be able to get out of “school mode”.

Ministry is not a 9-5 job, and neither is being a seminary student. Being able to ‘unplug’ from life as a student is difficult, because many of the things you’re learning, in and out of the classroom, are things that you care about at the core of your being. When God is central to your spiritual identity, a constructive theology lecture on suffering isn’t just a lecture. And when the class time ends, the conversations don’t stop, because they’re deeply relevant and meaningful. This is why caring for yourself is so essential. Knowing when to take a deep breath or delete your Twitter app for a few days is just as important as knowing when to read those final 30 pages of your Christian history textbook or adding those extra ten footnotes to your research paper.

Self-care can feel like pulling teeth sometimes, because when you love school and what you are learning, boundaries aren’t cut and dry. Even something as clinical as forcing yourself to do one non-academic ‘fun’ activity a week (which is a real goal for Bailey) can be a challenge. But breathing is needed to get out of your head and tap into those things which make your soul happy.

Seminary student or not, we all should step outside and look at those Christmas lights, have a drink at a local pub, and watch Buzzfeed videos for too many hours.

Do what makes your heart happy.

TO BE CONTINUED


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