Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Sacrifice of Seminary

Last spring we found my mom dead on her kitchen floor. The last conversation I had with her she told me that family and friends were asking about me and what she thought of me becoming a pastor. She said she told them that she was so proud of me but wished I had more time with her.

This summer, I am taking a course called Teaching Bible Basics to Congregations. This week we are covering violence. I in particular have trouble with animal and the occasional human sacrifice in the Bible. A sacrifice, in general terms, is something made sacred by offering it to God.

As I have been working on sacrifice this week, I am reminded of the sacrifice of seminary. As an on-line student at Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), I’ve heard my fair share of criticism for online learning. The most common concern is the lack of community with other seminarians. Recently however, I’ve been disturbed by a recent article by a UCC pastor and author that I admire. I just love how people who have never done online learning or at least not done the online program at CTS think they know all of the things that it lacks.

Children's Sermon on June 12, 2016 in my home church.
Let me first tackle the sense of community. If I sat in a classroom each week with my seminarians, I would most likely listen to lectures by my professors and hear from a handful of my fellow seminarians that get the opportunity to speak in class. As a part of online learning, we still have class online where we can see and talk to each other, but we also post on average five hundred words per reading, our classmates read them and then thoroughly comment on them. We still have group projects to complete and present to our classmates. So yes, we still have community, but we also have another community. We still have the community of our home congregation. And because we are still there in the congregation, and particularly for me, I still have the community who baptized and confirmed me. I still have the community who pushed me into seminary. They are there to witness the struggle, the doubt, the growth and the faith. They are there when I need to preach, when I need to teach or when I need to practice pastoral care for an assignment. They are invested in theological education because they see it happening right in front of them. They didn’t just send me off with prayers.

And let me address sacrifice. Uprooting family life for a small three year “sacrifice” doesn’t go away with online learning. Online learning is a minimum of fifteen hours per week per class. Therefore four classes at a time is sixty hours a week minimum of coursework. So yes, I still had to quit my job, I have had to miss a countless number of my boys’ games and school programs, and I’ve had to say no to spending time with friends or family. Last summer we sacrificed a family vacation for me to work sixty plus hours per week as a hospital chaplain. My family spent a year not worshipping at the same church as I completed my field placement as a student pastor. I am well aware of what being a pastor is going to be like. I know it will often end up being sixty hours or more per week, I know I will be uprooting my family every five or so years, and I know that very few marriages survive the ministry. My boys are already experiencing the kind of expectations of them as “pastor’s kids.” Why should I uproot them for the “training” portion?

What is most painful for me is I have to live with knowing how much my mom missed me while I was in seminary fifteen minutes from her house.

That is my sacrifice.