Its ironic that, since I chose the original name for this blog, I’ve spoken very little about my ‘SFTS experience’. I’ve mentioned before that the blog changed based on the responses that I got – in the form of links to some of my posts on other people’s blogs which were…shall we say combative? Derogatory? Whatever. I stuck up for myself and feel, overall, ok with how I’ve handled that kind of thing since.
I’m about a week out of classes at this point, and with any luck, I’ll never have to be in school ever again. That’ll be a huge change for me, because I was in school solidly from age 5 to 22, and then again from age 25 to 28. That’s about 71% of my life spent in school…God help me.
I’m not the biggest fan of school. I love learning, but I think that school is one of the worst possible ways to go about it. I’ve found a lot of things about my time at SFTS really frustrating apart from the usual frustrations that school brings. (For those who want to say “Wait until you get into the real world” – you can stop now. I have four jobs right now, if you want to talk about real world, and I’ve had at least two for most of my time as a student overloading credits.)
I don’t think seminary does a good job of preparing people to go into ministry. Its a great deal of theoretical training for a very practical job. A good example I talk about is that if you add up all the credits I have in Biblical studies, Biblical languages, Biblical interpretation and so on, they add up to enough credit hours to have an entire Masters Degree in that subject. Far more than half of the required credits are in this area at SFTS. (Yes, uber-conservatives, we read the Bible here a lot, we just disagree with you about it.) One course in preaching. One course in pastoral care. No course in worship. No course in weddings and funerals. No course in administration. No course in how to lead or train volunteers. One course in christian education. One course in ethics. Two courses in church history. No course in child development or family theory. No full course in spirituality or spiritual direction. No course in evangelism. No course in community involvement or social change. You get the idea.
A lot of these gaping holes can be filled partially by electives – but the end result of a seminary education is that I am very well prepared to do what I will almost never do as a minister – academically analyze the Bible. Even if I am freakishly committed to exegesis, more than any pastor I’ve ever heard of, I might rigorously use those skills 10 hours a week. What do I do for the other 40-60 hours I’ll be working, on average?
Field education, the internship, is supposed to answer these questions. Field education at SFTS is supposed to do in nine months of full-time ministry what three years of full-time graduate school inevitably fails to do. I’m glad for the opportunity to do ministry for less than I’d be paid working at the very bottom of the service or food service industries – at least I’m being paid at all (though for a long time even that was in question) – but I’ll be honest. I think I could have gotten a similar education for the cost of library late-fees added to the internship time I’ve spent.
I don’t mean to disrespect the professors at SFTS and the GTU. They’re just not doing what I wanted them to do – prepare people for pastoral ministry.
And it isn’t just these schools. With a 50% burnout rate in the first five years of minstry in mainline denominations (that’s worse than air-traffic controller). To put it in perspective, if we were all trying to be Marine Scout Snipers, the wash-out rate would be about the same.
Somewhere, maybe everywhere, there is a massive amount of epic fail going on. And its been pretty frustrating to be part of that process that is so catastrophically failing to produce ministers.
I realize that all of this is going to come across as whining and sour grapes. I’m in a good mood and I don’t really care. I’m currently covering for my internship supervisor at my internship church, and I’m loving it. I think I’m doing an ok job. I have a lot to learn, but I always will, and that’s what I like about life. I never get to a fixed point and look back and say “I’m done.” Not with anything. Not in this life.
Its heartbreaking to see a number of people I’ve met get seriously discouraged about their call because it seems very possible to be well-suited to ministry and ill-suited to graduate school. Its also heartbreaking to see the PCUSA abandon so many gifted and passionate ministers – not just the ones who happen to be homosexual, against whom we still wrongly discriminate, but also an excellent missionary who absolutely belongs in Kenya helping to dig wells for people who drink alkali-saturated water every day who has been completely abandoned by the denomination and the failure of the school to support him.
Well, he’s in Africa right now, because impoverished students supported him more than the entire denomination and school combined did. (Yeah, that’s right uber-conservatives, we also support missionaries here. Who’d a thunk it?)
What I take away from this experience is the same think I still cherish from undergrad – the relationships I’ve built. I’m not an extrovert at all, but I make a few friends and then I hold onto them. I’ve learned time and time again in the past that it is your friends and family who will keep you going when everything else falls apart.
So, in a last bit of irony, my SFTS experience didn’t have all that much to do with SFTS. It had to do with the people (mostly students and others outside the school entirely) I met here, and it had a lot to do with the GTU, going to classes with the Jesuits and Franciscans, studying with Episcopalians and Lutherans, Jews, Atheists, Catholics and a lot of others. By far the most important thing about STFS is its relationship to the GTU. That was my main reason for coming here, and that part of the decision was a good one.
Anyway…I don’t know if I’ll write more about the original topic of this blog. We’ll see if reflection brings clarity.
I do know that when I am officially graduated (won’t happen for a while yet, even though classes are over for me), I plan on having a long hard conversation with at least one person in administration here. And then we’ll call it even.