This is the final part of a six-part series about an imaginary journey to an Episcopal seminary where I ask hard questions about Christianity and priesthood. Without twenty-first-century answers, I may have to drop out. You can find Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, and Part 5 here.
My stomach is full of butterflies—the dean wants to see me immediately!
We share niceties, and then the dean asks, “How are you enjoying seminary?”
I answer, “It certainly is challenging! I never realized that the church changes so slowly. For instance, I can’t believe we use a Book of Common Prayer that was designed in the 1950s. That was a long time ago in a very different world.”
The dean nods and then asks, “Why did you come to seminary?”
I reply, “Good question. Shortly after my wife and I married, we decided that we needed the church in our life. An Episcopal was church close by, so we attended a service.
“The liturgy was confusing, but the rector preached a most provocative sermon. He said the Resurrection stories were metaphors for how to live well, not unbelievable stories about a dead man reviving.
“The rector was an authentically spiritual family man. His associate was a woman who worked well with youth. She and the rector taught fascinating classes about relevant issues in church and in life.
“The organist and choir director led a great music program. He and his partner of twenty-plus years indicated this was an open and accepting church family, our kind of community.
“The church had many mission projects. On Saturdays, they provided the homeless with free food and clothing, social services, portable showers, and even lockers where the homeless could store their valuables. The church also supported a shelter for homeless women. Doctors, nurses, and dentists in the congregation took monthly trips to a clinic in Mexico to offer free services.
“My wife and I became good friends with the rector, and over the course of time, he urged me to consider seminary. It took a while to make that idea a reality, but here I am, trying to learn how to best serve my Christ, Jesus.
“I had no idea serving Jesus was so convoluted and built on such antiquated ideas. I simply wanted to learn about agape and then go do it!”
Then the dean says, “Interesting, but you seem to have too many questions and not enough faith. Maybe you need more time to think about ordination?”
I couldn’t believe my ears. I had given up so much to do this, but seminary makes Jesus so complicated. To me, the message of Jesus is straightforward. Why do seminaries and seminarians seem to live in another world? Do I have to join that world to be ordained?
Then I had an interesting thought. The church seems to have no problem accepting my family’s generous pledge, using my management skills, sending me to Ecuador to do missionary work, or training me to be a Eucharist minister. In my parish, my faith seemed strong. Here in seminary, they want me to believe in the unbelievable and pledge allegiance to antiquated, irrelevant ideas.
Then I wonder how much seminary training Jesus had. The answer is obvious: None! He was a poor Jewish itinerant preacher, with no Masters of Divinity degree, whose message of agape is still radically changing the world.
Seminaries hold the keys to the church of the future. They should use those keys to make the institutional church a twenty-first-century world power, not a dying institution.
Do you think seminaries are part of the problem or part of the solution?