Guest Outpost blog by Julie Raffety
This week we asked our bloggers to share three things they would have liked to tell themselves before starting seminary. Here are their thoughts.
Before I get to what I wish I could have told myself before I started seminary, it is probably worth explaining how I got there in the first place. My seminary education was unexpected, and I always felt like I couldn’t have fit in less. (Does a double negative = a positive?)
Seminary was unexpected because I graduated with a degree in math from the University of Denver and worked in mortgages and reinsurance for five years before God shocked me into going to seminary. I’ve always considered myself an introvert – in fifth grade, I was voted “shyest girl” and my family never lets me live down the time I actually signed “no” to a server at a restaurant to avoid talking. So, I legitimately considered that God had mixed me up with my identical twin the first time the whole “pastor thing” popped into my head. Sure, I was praying about a career change, but I wasn’t expecting anything quite so drastic.
And then, seminary was a really weird time for me. When I started seminary I was 27, but turned 28 one month later. There were lots of students straight out of undergrad and there were lots of “second-career” students, but here’s the thing: I really didn’t fit in either category well. Technically, I was “second-career,” but that first career did not seem long enough to the other more mature second-career students. When I would label myself that way, they would give me the condescending smile or a quizzical “do you not understand the label?” look. And I surely wasn’t right out of undergrad, but I’ve always looked young, so sometimes I allowed myself to sneak into that category to avoid having to give an explanation. Also, I attended Denver Seminary, which is evangelical. God put me in the perfect place to learn more about the Divine, but their Masters of Divinity degree program had mostly male students. And the few women in the program were those “real” second-career types. I met one other single woman (who I am buddies with to this day), but other than that, I felt like I was time-traveling or pioneering at times, which was an interesting spot to be in.
With all of that background (I know, you didn’t even ask…), here are three things I wish I could have told my former self before I started seminary:
#1: Take advantage of three years devoted to God.
I feel like I did this about half of the time, so I hope you will read this and make it a full-time goal. Some people would say seminary is about learning ministry skills and it IS that, but one of the things I really appreciated about Denver Seminary is that they really stressed our relationship with God, too. But, it is so easy to let the academics overshadow this opportune time with God. Most people with a “normal” career will never have this dedicated time to study God and who God is. Seminary is about learning facts about God, but it is also a precious time carved out to be with God – and many of us will probably never have that time set aside in that way again. So, build spiritual practices, figure out how you connect with God and DO IT during this time. It’s never going to be easier to work on it than during those dedicated years.
#2: Seminary is just where you are right now, but keep focused on where God has you going.
As I mentioned, I felt pretty out of place in seminary being a single (and eventually) 30-year-old woman. And in a conservative seminary, I would often “get invited” to participate in debating the biblical accuracy of women in ministry (sometimes under the veiled disguise of a date, but more on that some other time). At first, I felt like I needed to respond to this and other conversations that competed for my time. But somewhere along the way, I came to understand that God hadn’t called me to Denver Seminary to convert young men into believing women could be pastors. Instead, God had called me to seminary to go on to to be a pastor. I wish I had embraced this future plan earlier on; if so, I would had avoided some of the pain, outrage and energy that went towards that other distracting matter instead of what I was called towards.
#3: Focus on death.
We had one practical theology class where we talked about the specifics of actually “doing ministry” (and by the way, definitely take that class if you can). But nothing in seminary has prepared me for watching those in my congregation – whom I have come to love – die. I have had to process death theologically and personally. Work out a theology of death and dying while in seminary if you can. Ask other pastors how they grieve and lead simultaneously.
Seminary was a beautiful blur for me, but hopefully some of these words blend together neatly in order to create an even better experience for you!
Julie Raffety is currently in her first call as associate pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Rockford, Illinois. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.