Some Tips on Surviving Seminary

Dear Students-

I’ve been thinking about you this week and wondering if you have begun asking yourself two of the perennial questions that come to every seminarian, pastor or church professional: Where is my church? and Who is my pastor?

If you’re a new student, Sunday morning is probably spent in Rotation.  The worship is different every couple of weeks.  You just start to feel like you know the territory and then it’s on to the next place.  Sometimes the worship is fulfilling and other days you find yourself fighting the awful demon known as “The Worship Critic.”  The Critic means well but often says things like, “Why did they do it like that?”  or “Really!  Where did this preacher go to seminary?”   It can be tough to fight off the Critic when you are in a new place, with new people and everything feels so unsettled.  Before you came to seminary, going to worship and being a part of a congregation was a source of strength and comfort.  You probably liked the pastor and even counted that person among your true friends. 

If you’re a second year student, you’re starting to find your comfort zone.  Field Ed means getting to know a new pastor and a new congregation-  and that’s great.  There’s some continuity to Sunday mornings.  On the other hand, this new parish is the place where you will be testing out some skills.  There’s evaluation involved.  You have to go even on the Sundays when you’d rather just stay at home and watch “CBS Sunday Morning.”

Interns?  Sure, there’s continuity, but there’s also performance anxiety.  How do you lead worship and get fed at the same time?  Can you write a sermon for yourself?  And as much as you may like your supervisor, this person is really more of a boss than a pastor. 

Seniors may seem to be living the charmed life at this point.  They can go where they want to go.  Meet who they want to meet.  And yet, one dare not get too attached because come springtime, you’re looking for a new church.  Your new church.  And to top it all off, Seniors often find that the Worship Critic is a lot more difficult to silence.

If you’re a Grad Student, you may very well be serving a congregation while trying to keep up on the reading and writing that comes with graduate studies.  Your plate is full!  You could probably use a little pastoring-  but odds are, you are the pastor!  So what do you do?

I wish I knew the perfect answer to all these issues, but I don’t.  So you’re probably wondering, what’s the point of this letter!

First of all, you’re not alone.  Whether you’re full time, part time, Lutheran or Baptist, first degree or graduate, looking to get on the roster or not - whatever brings you to this place, you are a part of a community.  It’s not a perfect community, but it’s ours!  Yours and mine. 

Second, surviving seminary requires the acknowledgement that your worship life will never be the same.  Not better, not worse, just different.  Survival also requires some creativity on your part.  Seek out worship times and try to leave the Critic at home.  Chapel is good for the soul.  Worship at synodical events can be deeply satisfying.  And yes, every so often, you will find that the person who most needed to hear your sermon was you

Third, finding a pastor can be tricky.  There are folks here on campus that will listen and try to give you the pastoral care that you need.  (BTW, some of us hang out in the Enrollment Services Offices.)  But you may need to go further afield.  Lots of pastors find that having a Spiritual Director helps tremendously.  Collegial groups can be a source of care.  And remember, the pastor at your home church is also a part of your support team.

So that’s it.  Just wanted to say I was thinking of you.  You’re in my prayers and in the prayers of so many people here and around the church. 

God bless!

Heidi

Resources

  • Student Services:  215.248.6312
  • Chestnut Hill College offers a program in Spiritual Direction.  Many of the current practicum students and graduates of the program are available for Spiritual Direction.  For more information, contact me at Student Services
  • Rev. Dr. Susan Cole, Spiritual Director:  215.242.0611
  • Samaritan Interfaith Counseling Center:  www.samaritanccphila.org