Thursday, October 09, 2008

Seminary Reflections: What's a truly practical class?


This is my first post in a new monthly column on Presbyterian Bloggers creatively entitled, "Seminary Reflections."  It's about, um, well, reflections from a Presbyterian seminarian.  

By way of introduction: I'm a senior Master of Divinity student at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia.  Last year I served as a full-time Assistant Minister at a congregation in the Church of Scotland during which time I started my blog, A Wee Blether.  I've really enjoyed my time at Columbia and am a big advocate of the school (not to say we're perfect).  That said, my posts will be more broadly focused on PC(USA) seminary in general rather than specifically oriented to life at Columbia.  

My first reflection has to do with seminary curriculum and the practical life of a pastor.  For a few years now, I've helped gather support during Columbia's annual Fall Phonathon.  This task involves calling alumni and friends of the seminary to ask for pledges to the Annual Fund.  When speaking to a CTS grad currently serving as a pastor, one of my favorite questions to break the ice is, "I'm about to sign up for courses for spring semester and have room for some electives.  Now that you're in the parish, looking back, what sorts of classes do you wish you would have taken more of?"

Curiously, I get a wide variety of far-from-consistent answers.  There was the pastor who told me he really wishes he would have taken more Bible courses.  He said that several folks in his congregation just know their Bible better than he, so he wished, for their sake and his, that he would have taken more Bible electives.

Then there was the pastor who told me I should take every Christian Ed course I could.  "That's what you use immediately when you get out," she said.  "Even if you know everything in the world about something, if you don't know how to teach it it's no use."

Several folks I spoke with said they wished they had taken more classes from a particular beloved professor.  Others, now serving a church in a context they had not anticipated, wish they would have taken a course particular to inner-city ministry, or rural ministry, or older adult ministry.

Though I'm not participating in this year's Phonathon, I have the usual class choice dilemma, this year even more so as it's my last semester.

Should I take, "Theology, Ethics, and Sexuality" or "Death, Dying, and Bereavement"?  "Paul Tillich on Sin and Salvation" or "Literature for Christian Children"?  "Wisdom Literature" or "Hispanic and Latino Culture and Theologies"?  There's the ultra practical "Leading Christian Worship" or "Greek Reading" or "Exploring the Missional Church"?

What a quandary!  Thank goodness, I'm under no illusion that one's pastoral education stops when one graduates.  In fact, I think only then does it truly begin.  But it's an interesting thought experiment, current pastors considering what they would like to study more of at the moment. 

If you're a pastor out there (or other interested folk), what would you choose?

10 comments:

Sarahlynn said...

Welcome! I'm no kind of clergy, but if I were to explore the area more, I'd definitely be boning up on my history. I'm fascinated by looking at the Bible within its historical context.

John Shuck said...

Fun! And welcome! Take them all. My last semester I took 21 credits. It was kind of crazy, but by then I had learned how to write a paper and take notes on the stuff professors test on so it didn't take nearly the time as it did in the first couple years of seminary.

But if you have to choose...

go with what is fun. Don't take a course because you think you should. Take what you like. All the rest you can pick up in continuing ed. You will know what you need after you get your butt kicked. Just kidding, kind of.

You will never be in seminary again, so go for what tickles your fancy!

Stushie said...

I took Drama and Theater at Glasgow University in my last year. It has helped me with my sermon delivery over the years. Maybe you should contact UGA and find out if they have any classes that would fit into your schedule...

Welcome to the PB, Adam.

Kerri said...

Bible classes .... :-)

Adam Copeland said...

Thanks folks. Yeah, the tension b/w practical and fun is certainly on the table for me.

And don't get me started on possibile independent studies!

B-W said...

We have this same quandary at Fuller, too (which isn't Presbyterian, per se, but has a strong PC(USA) representation). The faculty is actually in the process of assessing--and potentially revising--it's MDiv curriculum. One (of many) questions being asked is, "what are the needs of our students as they serve the kingdom of God, especially in the context of local churches?"

I'm not directly privy to those discussions, but I've certainly thought about it a lot myself. I wouldn't want to lose any of the Bible courses I had, and certainly agree with the value of most of the other disciplines I've undertaken.

Perhaps my single largest thing I wish was done differently was that our Field Ed requirements (we're required to do two, at least one of which is in a church for 9 months. 10 hours a week) be more... "guided" on the front end. There are certain things we must do while in an internship, but I would have liked more help in locating the right internship(s) for me, instead of being expected to find them on my own. I enjoyed the internships I had, but can't help but wonder if I would have been better prepared if I was pushed into something different.

I'm actually not sure how structures for this kind of guidance would be set up, given Fuller limited resources vs SO MANY students, but I would have liked the guidance nonetheless....

Doug Hagler said...

Honestly? Death, dying and bereavement, no question whatsoever.

First, because our culture is incredibly bad at dealing with all three. Collectively, we have no idea how to die well, and we have no idea how to grieve well, and if the church will not help with this, no one else will.

Second, because in this case, you can't learn by trial and error. If someone is dying, and you are with them, there isn't much room for error. But if you're teaching a Bible class, and you find you need to bone up on your historical criticism or whatever, then you've got time to go and figure that out.

I find the prospect of failing in Biblical literacy...very slightly disappointing. I find the prospect of failing to be with someone in their last moments, or with their family as they grieve the loss, devastating.

Stushie said...

Doug, I believe that you are exactly right. I even wrote a post about that in my blog today...coincidence or kairos???

http://glenkirk.blogspot.com/2008/10/4-minute-devotions-dealing-with-death.html

St. Blogwen said...

Death and dying, yes.

And a class or two on group/family dynamics. Would have helped me recognize and deal with some issues in my first parish and my first presbytery a lot better.

Becky Ardell Downs said...

Sorry I'm late chiming in. Yes, Death and Dying. Also I would love to take the Missional Church class, but depending on where you end up serving, it could be a slow transition until you get to really use it.
I would say about 1 person (maybe)out of my 500 person church cares about what Tillich thinks about sin and salvation. And even that person probably cares more about any of the other classes offered than that. But hey, if it's fun . . .