A valentine to my seminary—5 things I’m grateful to have learned

Pastors and church members are quick to enumerate the ways that seminaries fall short in preparing candidates for ministry.  Before I participate in that wildly popular (and occasionally constructive) exercise, I wanted to enumerate a few of the many things in my theological education for which I am deeply grateful.  

1. I learned that sin is about more than personal piety.  It was seminary that taught me about the realities and complexities of social sin.  I was, of course, aware that racism and oppression existed in the world, but I naively believed them to be the exclusive purview of hateful bigots and unscrupulous employers.  In seminary, I learned that we all participate in broken systems that harm and benefit people in wildly disproportionate ways.  Before seminary, I was only vaguely aware that I was a middle-class, white man (or more accurately, that everyone else wasn’t.) 


2. I learned that people have been deeply hurt by the church.  Not hurt like, “My daughter didn’t get cast in the Christmas pageant!” but hurt like “You are too wicked and dirty for God to love—and you are not welcome here anymore.”  My experiences in church had always been with “church folks” who had been loved and welcomed and nurtured by their congregations.  At seminary I met brilliant, passionate people whose experience of church was one of judgment and rejection.  Most people who have had that experience are not in the pews on Sunday morning, and meeting them at seminary taught me a lot about the dark underbelly of church. 


3. I learned to appreciate bourbon.  Attending seminary in Kentucky has its advantages.  My life and ministry have been richly blessed with holy friendships—close relationships with dear colleagues whose wisdom and good-humor I cherish.  Some of those friendships were born in conversation as we sipped the finest distilled spirits in America.  A glass of nine-year-old bourbon poured over a single ice cube will make you believe in God. 


4. I learned how to think theologically.  Perhaps the most transformative thing I learned during seminary is now the thing I spend the most time teaching others to do.  Equipping men and women to view culture, politics, art, sports, institutions, relationships and interpersonal dynamics through the lens of a religious tradition, in light of holy texts and with an ear open to the whisper of the Holy Spirit is the key task of seminaries.  Ministers who can see the world as part of the unfolding story of God’s love can share the gospel in ways that help congregations and individuals understand their place in that story.  


5. I learned to tremble when contemplating the work of a pastor.  When my seminary classmates (Methodists mostly) who served as student pastors started doing funerals and administering sacraments, I quaked with admiration and fear.  How did they do it?  What did they say in the minutes after a loved one died?  And how did they know what to say (because I certainly didn’t)?  Now in my eighth year of pastoral ministry, I know that I was right to tremble, because often I still don’t know what to say.  In seminary I learned that the work we were preparing to do was very big—and nothing in the intervening years has led me to believe it is any smaller. 


scott hauser

Scott Hauser is Pastor and Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church in Clarion, PA.