By Bailey Brawner, Elizabeth Hurd, and Maggie Ward
Bailey Brawner, Elizabeth Hurd, and Maggie Ward are all M.Div students at Boston University School of Theology. This trio is currently working through many of the challenges seminary students face: lots of school work and contemplating deep spiritual ideas, while simply enjoying life as young adults.
Here is the second installment illustrating what life is like following the beginnings of a career in ministry. (Read the Part I, here)
Part II: An “Outside-In” Kind-of-Life
There are a new set of dynamics to navigate when you go home.
Being at home for breaks leads to questions about ministry and school, as well as being “voluntold” to pray for all family gatherings. Being from Tennessee (Maggie), Michigan (Elizabeth), and Alaska (Bailey), these trips home don’t happen often for us. Intentional meals at favorite restaurants, conversations with mentors that are hours away, and sleeping in our own beds are rare, and are planned months in advance.
It’s hard to go back home and talk about the things you have learned with people you love. Seminarians speak a different language, and that’s not translatable automatically. When you go to your home church, you see your pastors in a different light, and know more of the “secret language” that comes with this thing called church work. You’re able to talk about your seminary experience with someone who has survived it.
Both when you are at home, and in the city you go to school in, you’ll get mixed reactions when you tell people you’re studying theology. Sometimes, when you don’t want to deal with it you say you’re getting your Masters of Divinity and say, “like in Harry Potter!” Truly, you are a seminarian outside of seminary, and conversations in an Uber and at home don’t allow you to forget about it. A wonderful aspect of this is that people often share their stories and struggles with you, and you’ll find moments of humility wrapped up in the everyday nature of life.
You’re not as socially informed as you think you are.
Even though some of your peers will act like they are super-informed, you know that deep down they’re still struggling with finding their voice, just like you are. Being informed is both 1) in the classroom with inclusive language and 2) outside of it, listening to people who may be different from you. There are moments when you can put language to things you’ve always believed — like that God, in their entire being, can be female or male or not have a gender at all, because God transcends human labels. Social justice and theology are not mutually exclusive.
As young women in ministry, we three choose to advocate for other women’s voices to be heard. We are all used to getting asked questions about being a woman in ministry, a conversation that requires patience and grace. You realize that you are a strong, independent woman who knows theology and can speak for yourself.
Yet, the reality that you sometimes have to deal with injustice done to women’s voices and bodies, like your own, cannot possibly erase the huge amount of privilege you embody. As white, middle class, educated, cisgender, Christian people, we realize that we walk through the world with a lot of privilege. Walking with that privilege means that we need to find ways to be advocates for justice, and also know when our voices are not needed in conversations. We have realized that we need to listen a lot more and talk a lot less.
You need to hold onto your calling, but you also need to let it evolve.
It’s easy to forget your call, even in the midst of seminary. But other times, you sit down for an hour-long conversation with the dean of the school and she affirms your call. It’s a sappy mix.
You’re often engaged with the future of the church. This means trying to wrestle with the fact that you love the church on most days and sometimes wrestle with the fact that it can hurt people, but amidst it all you are still called. Not everyone is called to be a pastor, but we are all called to something. Seminary won’t necessarily reinforce your idea of what you’re called to; if you’re open to change it might be reimagined.
In seminary, you cry and laugh a lot. And that’s okay. Take a breath.
Maggie is still learning what “the T” does, Elizabeth has mastered the public transportation system in her treks across Boston to Cambridge, and Bailey rocks the BU shuttle everyday of her life. So while they’ve (more or less) mastered living in the city of Boston, they’re all still trying to figure out what this seminary thing is about.
In the meantime, they are learning and growing in a community who loves and supports one another while practicing grace to both their neighbors and themselves.
To learn more about your own calling talk to your local pastor or visit the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. If you would like to share some of your own seminary musings, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org!
Abide: A Guide to Living in Intentional Community (D4250)
Learning to live in community can be challenging for anyone. Over the past few years since starting The Epworth Project in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, many lessons have been learned to ease the transition into community. This video series reflects those lessons learned along the way.
The hope for this study is that it will help persons who are starting intentional communities. It’s also for those who are joining a short-term community to participate in a one- to two-year missional service project that includes living in community. Many denominations sponsor these kinds of projects.