As I reflect on my first semester in seminary, I am made keenly aware of how much I fall short of the ability to walk on water. Perhaps, that’s not really the point. Perhaps, being perfect is not the goal of seminary. This leaves me begging the question, what is the goal of seminary?
I am currently reading, “The Cross and The Lynching Tree” by James H. Cone. I have a break between semesters and this book was given to me, by the school, to read for a public discussion next semester. It is a good book. I will finish it soon. While Cone was a graduate student at Garrett Biblical Institute (now Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary) he shares that the professor of Christian Ethics was taught by “…one of the most blatantly racist professors there.” Hypocrisy is an interesting thing. Irony is an interesting thing. There are possibilities for people to turn within the event. This reminded me of John Newton, a seafarer, who took part in the slave trade then, later in life, became a clergyman and wrote the beautiful hymn, Amazing Grace. Except, of course, Cone’s professor probably did not receive the same divine direction as Newton did. Shame.
Cone’s book makes excellent points in theology. This post is not a review of Cone’s book, however, it has helped me reflect differently on my experience and consider the value of my education. Will I become a better priest because of my education in seminary? I am not sure if seminary makes priests or if it makes more educated ministers able to communicate more concisely with their audience.
“Since most ministers had little or no formal training in academic theology, they spoke from their hearts, appealing to their life experience, biblical stories, and the Spirit of God that empowered them to struggle for dignity and freedom.” Cone, P 74.
Becoming a more educated minister is important. I understand the importance purely due to my experience of listening to ministers who could have used more academic theology. I have also witnessed a flip side to being “overly scholarly.” Not to criticize being smart but, too much in the way of book smarts can make a minister boring and uninspiring. There is a level of human connection that has to come across in ministry. Empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s pain because of having a similar experience. That is a human connection. I hope to make that connection one day in a parish. I am not so sure I will find it in the seminary experience.
Scholars are necessary. They need to write scholarly books and articles. Much of the knowledge I am receiving is from scholars. I also know that I will never be one. I can’t live up to the expectations. I will strive to be better in my writing. I surmise it will never be enough. I move forward to the second semester, none the less. I will utilize this time off to read and write. Honing my skills of communication will make me a better priest, I hope.
An interesting and historical mark of my time in seminary is the world pandemic. What a year 2020 has been. I took a couple of classes in a tent. It was terrible. I honestly think it affected my concentration. I was grateful because it made it possible to do in person classes. The drawback is that I think it hindered my learning experience. Well, it’s done. Onward to hopefully being able to meet in smaller groups inside, not in a tent. We did end up giving our tent a name that was very seminarian and a humorous analogy, The Tent of Meeting.
I am sad to say that there were people I knew who became victims of this treacherous period. I think of them as I finish out this year. I consider the seeds they planted in my life. The isolation some are feeling has been overwhelming. I have not felt that as much. I have had moments when I just wanted to see other human faces, masked or not. Zoom also brought some relief (and some pain) to the situation. I have felt the weariness of logging into Zoomland. There is a balance. I have to keep reminding myself to be grateful. Technology did help us through this tough time. I was able to finish my first semester at seminary because of it.
May the souls that have left us go on to find their rest with the Great Creator. May those of us who have been left behind, for a time, find even greater hope in the Everlasting promise.Amen
 James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2019), P 58.
 Cone, 74.