Monday, April 8, 2013

A Poet Considers Seminary (yes, again)

So, if you're a reader who grows weary of my pondering the future and contemplating new paths, you might want to skip this post. Of course, if you're that kind of reader, you probably moved on years ago.

On Tuesday morning of Holy Week, I woke up thinking about seminary again. My earliest thoughts of the day told me to check out Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. I dismissed those thoughts. That seminary has never been on my radar screen, after all.

I have family connections to Southern (in Columbia, SC) and Trinity (in Ohio). My mom had a great experience when she taught at Gettysburg for a semester back in 2005. I feel intellectual connections to Yale and Emory (in Atlanta, GA); for a few years, the authors of the books of theology I loved the most came from those two institutions. But Pacific? It's never crossed my mind.

But all morning on Tuesday of Holy Week, that name kept floating across my brain. So, finally, Tuesday afternoon I went to the website. The home page mentions that they're introducing the Flexible Life M.Div option: the first year can be done online.

For years, I've thought about seminary programs and what they can learn from MFA low-residency programs. What Pacific seems to be offering is not exactly like those programs, but there's a flexibility I haven't seen before in many other seminary programs.

The website says that the first year can be stretched out over several years, which would help me immensely. I could keep working, while I have this job. In my darker days, I think it's the last full-time job I'll ever have, and I should keep it as long as I have. In my darker days, I think that I'll only have it for another few years, until my job can be automated or consolidated or outsourced or downsized.

But I digress.

The website mentions other new developments which make it easier for seminarians who have other responsibilities. Traditionally, one would go to seminary for 2 years, leave for an internship year, and then return to seminary for the last year. If one's candidacy committee and Synod allow it, Pacific will allow seminarians to do the internship year for the last year, to cut down on moving costs. Hurrah!

Of course, I would like to be awarded life credit in lieu of the internship year. I've been Church Council president and served on Council in other capacities too. I've been a retreat coordinator at Lutheridge. I've written for both The Lutheran and the Living Lutheran website.

I know how that sounds when sitting on the other side of the desk. I've listened to many students explaining to me why they shouldn't have to take this class or that class. I understand what the academic study will give them that their real life experience wouldn't. Maybe the same is true of the internship year.

I was also excited by the modernized language options. I will confess that the Greek required by most seminary programs has been daunting. Sure, I'd love to learn Greek. But is that really the best use of a seminarian's time?

Pacific offers a different option, one that has a two-pronged focus (I'll cut and paste from the website):

(1) Spanish for Worship

•PLTS will offer a full year of Spanish geared toward the practice of ministry, especially worship leadership.

•This course responds to the ELCA’s call for mission in the multilingual and multicultural context of the U.S.


Biblical Languages Tools

•Students who choose Spanish are required to take this course during January intersession of their first year.

•This course focuses on both Biblical Hebrew and Greek.

•Students are introduced to both traditional and electronic resources.

•The goal of this course is to encourage students to engage in a lifetime of biblical language study for preaching and teaching in the parish.


Back to me: that approach to languages certainly seems more practical and useful.

Now, there are drawbacks to Pacific. I could only put off the necessity of moving to the California coast for so long. Eventually, I'd need to go west for on-ground classes.

If I had only myself to think about, that need to move west would not be a dealbreaker. I'd love a new area to explore, and going to school is a great way to do it.

But I don't have just me to think about.

Still, with the flexible first year option, I could begin. If I discovered that seminary really wasn't what I wanted, I wouldn't have burned so many bridges to get there.

As I look at the application process, it may be too late for Fall 2013. I need letters of recommendation. I need a candidacy committee.  And I talked to a dean, who said I would only have 7 years to complete the program.  That means I need to be careful about when I start the clock ticking.

But I could start in the Spring.  Maybe by then, I could even have a Candidacy Committee.  I have no idea how that works.  It's one of the things I planned to get a handle on when I went to Synod Assembly in May.

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