Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

5/22 2014

Seminary is Only the Beginning

Elaine

I actually laughed when I was asked to reflect on one thing I wish I had learned in seminary after nearly a year in ministry.  A friend’s response to hearing about this prompt was, “One thing?  Can it be ten?”  Truthfully, I have encountered more things than I can count in my first year of ministry that seminary did not prepare me for.  It would be easy to write a laundry list of how I wish seminary had taught me to navigate the world of church insurance, had given me better tools to reach out to congregants with dementia, had trained me on how to lead people into healthy conversations about money; how I wish I had learned in seminary just how much time I would spend answering emails, sitting in meetings, dealing with administrative tasks, and just how rare actual theological conversations would be.

At the end of the day, though, seminary is not really there to teach us those things in the first place.  I think I knew that, but I wish I had appreciated it.  I also wish I had appreciated the fact that the things I was taught in seminary were only seeds that still need a lot of time and space and nurturing to grow.

Seminary taught me how to think differently.  It opened my mind to new ideas, new concepts, whole new worlds of thought.  It gave me a new perspective, a new language, lots of new vocabulary.  Seminary taught me more than I could have ever imagined, and I loved (almost) every minute of it, but it did not – and could not – really, truly, practically prepare me for what being in ministry looks like.  I wish I had appreciated sooner that even though I may be a Teaching Elder, I need my congregation and my context to teach me about theology, about church history, about pastoral care, too.

I learned in seminary about the dynamics of “family churches,” but I was not at all prepared for what that actually meant until I saw my congregation pull together to support, defend, or care for one another.  We talk so much about the importance of hospitality, but I hear that word with new ears after going weeks without buying produce as bags and bags of vegetables kept appearing on my doorstep.  I certainly thought I understood the concept of grace after three years of seminary, but that idea, too, has taken on new life for me after a year that has certainly not been mistake-free.

There certainly have been days in the past year of my life when being unprepared feels like it is par for the course.  There are days when it is easy to say about so many things, “Why didn’t we learn this in seminary?!”  There are also days, though, when I hear echoes of lectures, of discussions, of conversations from classes that can feel a world away and think, “Oh, that’s what that meant,” and realize again that seminary was only the beginning, that I was not supposed to learn everything there, that God is still working through all the people and situations and circumstances around me to continue that growth.

Written by, Rev. Elaine Loggi ’13, First Presbyterian Church, Fairfax, MO

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5/15 2014

Things I wish I would have learned in seminary

The question provided to prompt this blog post was, “now that you are working in ministry, what is one thing you wish you would have been told or would have learned to prepare you?”

Even though I only started ministry in October 2013 and am very new to ordained ministry, I have already been greatly enriched, encouraged, challenged, stretched, discouraged, blessed, and baffled by God’s abundant grace. I loved my time at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and believe my time began to prepare me for ministry.  I say “began” because ministry is truly a unique calling where something new is learned every day.

Therefore, narrowing down what I wish I would have been told or learned to better prepare me for ministry is difficult. Ministry really does require life-long learning. Theology books should not be closed and packed away after graduation. Keep a collective list of all books (including non-theology books) you have read and a brief summary. You would be surprised with how helpful this can be for sermon preparation. Try to learn something new daily.

Other bonus tidbits of potentially helpful advice:

1) C.P.E-Even if you are not required to do a unit; do one anyway. Yes, I truly believe lots of pastoral care skills can only really be learned in the field. I do think it is possible to be a pastoral leader without having a C.P.E unit.  However, chances are as you visit parishioners in their homes or hospitals you will not have the chance to reflect theologically with either your senior pastor or others. It is a benefit I wish I had after driving home from the nursing home to visit an elderly and lonely parishioner.  I am currently looking into using continuing education to complete a unit of congregational C.P.E, but while you are in seminary go ahead and do C.P.E.

2) Administrative/ business type tasks– Administrative tasks also vary from day to day. Be prepared for anything and everything. I have done lots various tasks that end with me laughing and saying “I didn’t learn this in seminary!” Also, I am not great with numbers and I wish someone would have suggested to take a class which teaches administrative, budgets, numbers, how to run a business, etc.

3) Estimated Taxes– Check and see if there are any withholdings from your check and ask if you are not sure. Please do yourselves a favor and learn about estimated taxes. I am grateful my senior pastor filled me in on the process but I have had friends who went a while without budgeting for estimated quarterly taxes who ended up owing tons of money to the Federal and State governments.

I’m sure if asked in another month or day, I would have more to add to this list. But above all, remember to rely on our Lord, who created, called, and sustains us. Remember the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Maybe even post these verses somewhere in your future offices or work spaces and read them whenever you face trials.

Blessings and prayers for each of you on your journeys,

Written by The Rev. Amanda Maguire ’13, Associate Pastor at Graham Presbyterian Church in Graham, NC.

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5/1 2014

A Mission Reflection: Remembering

Lisa Davis

 

When traveling, especially to a foreign country, I am often first struck by the
new landscape or smells, but by the time I leave, my lasting memories are of the
people I have met. There is always a temptation to get stay caught in the
“picture:” the scenery, the smells, the newness of the experience and never move
into three dimensions: the people, their lives, their pains, and their joys.
But as my trip to Haiti this spring break reminded me, moving into three
dimensions is most important part of life no matter where I am; to see the
people for who they are, because human nature transcends time and space.

In Haiti I saw a lot of disturbing things. I saw a woman with a tumor
the size of an orange on her face sitting in her back yard while I was painting
the overlooking fence. I saw an 11-month-old baby who was so malnourished he
couldn’t pick up his head. I played with a little girl for a couple of days,
met her mother, and was asked later by one of her friends if I was going to
adopt her because we loved each other. A small group I was a part of was asked
extremely tough questions, like, “why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” and, “does
the faith of a nation determine their prosperity?” But in spite of my
challenging feelings, I was left reflecting upon God’s love and upon His
sovereignty that gives purpose to the lives of those I encountered and to my
life.

It is easy for me to remember the challenges I observed and faced
and the images will never be erased from my memory, but the challenges did not
define my trip. What I will remember most is the wisdom with which our
translators spoke: the insight that they brought into our journey in Haiti. I
will remember the joy I heard with every song that rang out from the church and
filled the community. I will remember how God used the people I met to move me
away from the contentment that I had gotten accustomed to, to a place where I am
asking God to use me for His glory, even if it is at the expense of my comfort.

What was important about our trip was not the work that we did for the
mission, the mixing and carrying of concrete, the painting, and the picking up
of trash, but the realization that despite material possessions and the lack
there of, we are all the same. In all honesty we are no more fortunate than
they are. We may have more possessions, but we lack the richness of communal
responsibility. This is a hard concept for those of us who come from tight
communities, however, I guarantee that our sense of community and our
responsibility to one another does not begin to compare to that of the people I
met in Haiti.

For instance, we met a young man who is not getting married for
several more years in order to fully devote himself to providing for parents and
siblings. We encountered many multigenerational households full of individuals
who put the needs of their family members before their own. And we met teens,
full of ambition, whose life goals were not to become doctors or lawyers, but to
run orphanages. But it is these things: the sense of community, hope, and
happiness, despite a lack of basic necessities, that I will remember most about
my trip to Haiti.

Written by Lisa Davis, current M.A. student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

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