This month, we asked our bloggers to name a few things that they wish they had learned in seminary. Visit the Outlook Outpost blog for other perspectives on the question and join the discussion.
Last August when I began my Clinical Pastoral Education residency in Portsmouth, Virginia, I found myself exposed to a different context of learning that didn’t come from professors or textbooks, which I was accustomed to in seminary. Despite how well my seminary prepared me to be a spiritual presence to others, I quickly found myself realizing that I still had much to learn about being a chaplain beyond what I could learn in seminary.
“I don’t know how to be a chaplain,” I remember telling a chaplain named Michael in my CPE residency program who I was replacing at the end of his term. “How do you do this?”
As I have only been out of seminary for nine months now, I suppose haven’t had enough time to process or reflect on my seminary experience in relation to many others who are in ministry. But what I have been able to reflect about what I did learn at San Francisco Theological Seminary is that I believe SFTS has prepared me well to understand diversity and the ability to look, interpret, and relate The Gospel to a multicultural and diverse world.
But while seminary taught me to become a theologian, biblical scholar, preacher and even a teacher, I had to learn through experience how to become a spiritual listener.
While I was blessed to have the opportunity to take a multitude of pastoral care courses through SFTS and through its affiliation through the Graduate Theological Union, I often think seminaries don’t put enough emphasis in teaching pastoral care, let alone practical skills used in ministry. Throughout seminary, students are taught how to analyze Scripture, theologies and how to express both through preaching and in teaching. But what I have learned about ministry so far in the past nine months is that ministry is much more than sharing the gospel or your interpretation of it—it’s also about being a witness to it simply through the art of spiritual listening.
Consider this, most seminaries—particularly Presbyterian U.S.A. seminaries, require two years of biblical language study in Hebrew and Greek and only one class in pastoral care. While I don’t discount the need for studying biblical languages, I don’t think seminary students are getting enough exposure in learning how to doing provide pastoral care in relation to different cultures, communities or circumstances because their seminary may not offer courses on the subject or students are required to take too many other classes. Yes, it is good to know how memorize Hebrew nouns and pronouns—but when you are dealing with a congregant or patient whose turning to you for support from a drug addiction, mental health issue or other “real world” scenarios individuals face, seminary graduates often struggle how to listen support these individuals as a pastor or chaplain because they don’t know how to be a spiritual listener.
While I believe seminaries need to offer more practical coursework on pastoral care, non-profit leadership skills, understanding group dynamics and other things, programs such as Clinical Pastoral Education and pastoral residencies are helpful in providing the knowledge or experiences which, perhaps to credit of seminaries, can’t always be learned in a classroom. After all, not only can these experiences teach students, but they also can teach students about the presence of the Holy Spirit. Not just in moments of pastoral care with congregants and patients, but also with anxious and inexperienced beginners in ministry.
“Don’t worry about what you know or don’t know,” Chaplain Michael told me during my first week of CPE. “God will teach you to be a spiritual presence to others just by listening to them
Christopher Schilling is a resident chaplain at Bon Secours Maryview Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. He is originally from Hookstown, Pennsylvania and is a 2013 graduate of San Francisco Theological Seminary. Currently, he is a candidate for ministry in the Presbytery of the Redwoods in Northern California. Christopher is also a freelance journalist, creative writer, and has a passion for the outdoors, running, radio broadcasting, and cars.