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