Welcome to my Junior Year at Seminary
Caroline Barnett is a first year MDiv student with dreams of ministry in the Presbyterian Church. She originally hails from Prairie Village, Kansas.
May 15, 2017
I can’t believe I’m typing these words, but the year is almost over. Classes are done, study sessions are happening, and papers need to be written. But despite the to-do list that inevitably accompanies the end of the semester, I’m wondering what’s next.
For those graduating, that is a big question. It is the end of an experience and a beginning to something new. And I have been grateful the chance to celebrate the job announcements of friends I have made over the last year.
For those finishing up their second year, about to enter their third, many are preparing to start internships or clinical pastoral education. These are opportunities that allow students to take what they’ve learned in class and see how it interacts with on the ground ministry.
As for me, and my fellow Presbyterian first years, I will spend the majority of my summer in the classroom learning Greek. Unlike the Hebrew course that is offered during the school year, Greek is taught in a summer intensive. Every morning Monday through Friday will be spent will new vocab words, verb conjugations, and, no doubt, flashcards.
Greek camp ends in mid-July which means, I’ll get a little bit of a summer vacation to relax after my first year in seminary. My plan is catch up with friends, spend time with my family, and read a novel or two for fun. And before I know it, we’ll all be back in the classroom for the start of another year.
April 6, 2017
Though it happened three weeks ago, I am still missing spring break. Nestled in the middle of March, spring break is a tantalizing memory as I stare down the last month of the semester. All of my friends and peers chose to spend the week in different ways. Some visited family, a couple went on a seminary-sponsored trip to Cuba, and others chose to use the week to do absolutely and wonderfully nothing.
For myself (and a couple other students), I found myself in my hometown of Kansas City, not just to visit my family, but to attend the NEXT Church conference. It is a conference meant “to strengthen a vibrant and thriving PC(USA),” and like any conference it was complete with keynotes, workshops, worship, and new people to meet.
The majority of the other conferees are pastors or ordained leaders in the church, which means they had once been in seminary. I talked with new people, many of whom wanted to know how my experience in seminary has been (especially the APTS alumni!). Though this first year of seminary is often difficult to synthesize into a couple of semi-coherent sentences, I managed. And in return, I listened to their stories of seminary and where it led them.
I’m grateful for these exchanges because my words about the future often feel muddled. I have some ideas about what could be next for me, but I am not too concerned sorting them out at the present moment. But in these exchanges with people who have gone to seminary, graduated, and are now out in the world, I get a chance to pick their brains and see the many possibilities that a seminary education can offer.
March 27, 2017
Go forth into the world in peace!
I had the words memorized and I was standing in the front of the Chapel ready for my cue. I looked out in the pews, pause, and say the benediction. And then I wait for feedback.
This wasn’t any sort of experimental worship service, but rather a practicum for my “Church as a Worshiping Community” class. In addition to lectures, papers, and tests, I must practice different parts of Christian rituals for my professor (the final exam is a funeral).
It can feel incredibly awkward to proclaim the love and grace of Christ to a room that only filled with people who are giving you a grade on your performance. And it feels even more so as I’m never quite sure what to do with my hands.
But the professor, who has seen many students practice these words, is kind. She recommends keeping my arms outstretched and compliments me on my articulation. I have a couple weeks before the next practice (next up: the Eucharist) and I have no doubt that these things become more natural over time.
And now the grace of Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you. Amen.
March 1, 2017
Just two weeks ago, Austin Seminary hosted a discovery weekend—an event for prospective students to come see the campus and learn about the programs APTS has to offer. While talking to people discerning their call to seminary, and if Austin was the right choice for them, I reminisced on my own visit to campus one year ago.
One year ago, I left the cold and snowy East Coast for a warm and sunny weekend in the city of Austin. Here, I spent a couple of days in introductory lectures with professors, at student panels asking questions about life on campus, and at dinners and lunches getting to know the fellow prospective students.
The weekend inevitably ended with an abundance of information and emotions, all which needed to be sorted out on the plane ride home. Was this the right place for me? Did I see myself becoming a part of this community? Could I, a person who loves the winter, really choose to move to Texas?
The answer to those questions, as you can guess, was a “yes” (though sometimes I wonder about this weather), and I started to plan for moving across the country. Looking back, it was that weekend which helped me envision what a life could look like at APTS beyond the facts on the website.
And the weekend had another benefit: When I showed up for the first day of orientation, I saw familiar faces. Four other perspective students from discovery weekend had also decided to attend, and current students who I had met that weekend recognized me as well. Already, relationships had started to form.
February 17, 2017
Campus is buzzing again with the start of the spring semester. Though many of us were on campus for the January term, most of the markers of campus life were missing. Student groups met less often, or not at all, during the in-between. Weekly Manna, campus fellowship time, had not yet started.
Now, just two weeks into the new semester, I’m rediscovering the habits and routines I had last semester (of course adapted to a new course schedule). They are the markers of my life that rarely made the stories I told my friends and family over break.
On Tuesdays after Chapel, stragglers gather around the communion table to eat the leftover bread. Between classes, my classmates and I make our way to the Office of Student and Vocation Affairs for a coffee and chocolate fix. In the afternoons, if it is nice out, I take walk in the neighborhood surrounding campus, occasionally seeing my classmates out walking their dogs or going for a run.
These are the things that make up life here. Well, in addition to the class discussions, readings, and papers. The start of a new semester always feels a bit like a jump into cold water: It shocks you awake and then you have to start swimming. Amidst the ocean that is syllabi, new books, and meetings, the unplanned moments that become tradition welcome me back.
December 9, 2016
It’s finally here: the end of the semester. With some finals and a paper due next week, I can almost say I have finished my first semester of Seminary. And though that’s a relatively short sentence to write, there is still much to be done. The week before finals, reading week, has not been filled with classes, but with time dedicated to studying, making flashcards, writing that paper, and did I mention flashcards?
Like most of the junior Seminary students, I am taking the four required introductory courses: Introduction to Old Testament, Hebrew, History of the Church, and an introductory theology course. Each final is set up differently, but many of them focus on testing a student’s ability to tell theoretical church members about the concepts we’ve learned in class. A parishioner asks you why the Apostle’s Creed matters. Create a lesson plan for teaching a confirmation class about Calvin’s role in the reformation.
It’s an additional step beyond memorization, and it’s one that requires a little more thought. Sure, I can make flashcards and charts outlining the various beliefs the Apostle’s Creed states, but until I can say why it matters, my studying is not yet done.
November 28, 2016
Caroline wrote a devotion for Dec. 14 for our 2016 Advent Devotional. To tie-in to her devotional, we asked Caroline how she see Advent playing a role in her future ministry.
We know Advent is a period of waiting, but we are reminded that it is not a passive it-will-happen-when-it-happens waiting. Instead, Advent is a vibrant period of hoping and longing and making yourself ready for the moment Christmas comes.
This feels especially true for my life, not just for the month of December. Since high school, I’ve had a hunch that one day I would end up in seminary on my way to service to the Church. I saw the glimmer of a call, but knew it would still be years before it was achieved.
For a while I thought that I was waiting for a start date, a time in which I could say “This is my beginning of ministry.” Until then, I would just have to wait. But waiting, when it’s not in the Advent sense of active anticipation, is, frankly, a little boring.
So I began to fill my time with things I found fulfilling. I took as many religion classes as I could in college, I found my niche in the chapel and interfaith student groups, and after graduation I explored my identity as a writer at a religious news organization. And in the midst of doing all these things, I focused on the present and how my life was my call in the here and now.
I’ve come to understand Advent and my current phase of life as similar forms of waiting. There is an ultimate goal—Christmas or ordained ministry—but that’s not to say those things don’t happen wherever we are. The hope and joy of Christmas appears in little pockets during Advent, and more and more I’m coming to understand my life as already being littered with moments of ministry. All it takes are the eyes to see the waiting for all that it is.
November 9, 2016
At the beginning of each theology class, my professor always starts by asking for current events over which we should pray. In the most recent weeks, we have prayed for wisdom for our presidential candidates as well as for those they have the power to affect. We have prayed for those seeking shelter from Hurricane Matthew, and for the Native Americans in North Dakota protecting the water.
Though these are big events that affect many, many people, the class ritual only takes a couple of moments. We list, we pray, we begin our discussion about Calvin and Augustine. But the small act of reminding ourselves of those exist beyond our four walls is extremely important in our understanding of theology.
To name the pain and suffering of the world in class forces me to remember that a discussion of sin and evil is not just an interesting mental exercise, but a real challenge for all of us to grapple with. And, on a happier note, seeing pictures of my cousin’s new baby whom I will meet at Thanksgiving helps me understand the goodness of creation that much better.
While it is my natural inclination to immerse myself in books, the world cannot be put on pause. Both on a societal level as well as a personal level, the world keeps turning. And to open ourselves to the reality of the world in which we live is to say that our theological education does not stop on the last page of a book or after the exams are turned in.
An important reminder as I take my seat in the classroom.
October 19, 2016
This week, as the students of Austin Seminary are on fall break, I managed to finish reading Pride and Prejudice. Started over the summer, the novel has sat on my night side table opening sporadically for a quick read of one or two pages before going to sleep. Finally, with no more midterms looming overhead, I was able to sit down and finish the story.
I’m grateful to attend a school at which numerous people—peers as well as faculty and staff—have reminded me to use this break to relax, slow down, and think about something other than coursework. In the midst of our busy schedules, we are reminded that it’s important to take Sabbath.
It is far too easy to become servants to our schedules, and chained to our planners—and I am someone who loves my planner—in the ever-present culture of busyness. And being in school, there is always another test to study for, another book to read, and another paper to write.
But this break allows me to loosen the grip of my planner and to-do lists. This week, my schedule includes long hours of reading for pleasure, visiting friends, and finally getting around to unpacking the last of my boxes.
As I continue to build a schedule that works best for me, I try to be intentional about ensuring I have snippets of a Sabbath among busy days. Though my typical weekday may not include hours of uninterrupted leisure, they are punctuated with study breaks, and conversations that have nothing to do with the next test.
And now that I have finished Pride and Prejudice, I am on the hunt for yet another book that will remind me to stop and relax, if only for a short while.
Oct. 6, 2016: Classes Building a Frame
There is a stack of notecards I keep in my backpack that is growing steadily. It is all the vocabulary I must know for my Hebrew class, and each week new words get added to the mix. In the evenings I go over them attempting to commit the dots, dashes, and squiggles to memory.
Among the many nouns and verbs that are unfamiliar to my brain, I’m finding some ring a bell. They are names such as Jacob, Sarah, Abraham, and Ruth. Not only do these names sound similar in English and Hebrew, but they are also touchstones for the stories I’m visiting in my introduction to the Old Testament class. Occasionally, I’ll come across a Hebrew word in the footnotes of the Bible, and realize: Wait, I know that word!
And don’t get me started about how my theology class on Mondays, which covers the broad themes and doctrines of the Christian faith, keeps intersecting with my church history class on Tuesdays. As I scribble down notes on one day, I’m struck with a sense of déjà vu: Didn’t I take these notes on the Council of Nicea yesterday?
All of these classes, which are specific in their goals, weave together to create a broader sense of what theological education looks like. They are building blocks, not unlike the tri-consonantal roots of Hebrew words I just learned about last week. Each class holds my interest in different ways, but understanding them as interlocking pieces of a singular goal builds a strong theological frame on which I hope to keep adding new things.
September 28, 2016
Today was an important day in my adjustment to life in Austin: I drove to the grocery store without using my GPS. My last week has been slowly navigating my small circle of the Austin Seminary campus, only venturing beyond the bubble if I had an address and directions in hand.
Of course when you move to a new city, and start a new school, there are many milestones. Driving to the grocery store, unpacking the apartment, surviving orientation.
Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed orientation and found the information valuable, but the metaphor of drinking out of a fire hose feels appropriate. Each day was filled with information and new faces and advice, all of which are important but hard to remember when you’re still unsure of how to set the clock on your microwave.
But, I took solace in the concerned faces of returning students who asked “How is it going?” with a look that told me they already knew the answer. So it isn’t just me who is scrambling to sort through everything. We are all in the same boat. My fellow new students and all are all wondering what is in store for us this year. And the returning students have reminded us that we will figure it out. Just like they did.
We are all in the same boat. I’ll keep that in mind next time I go to the grocery store and get lost one more time.
Caroline and Nettie give responses to a frequent question asked to students, “Why does seminary matter?”
Why Seminary Matters:
Caroline: Seminary is important not because it gives answers, but because it gives me tools that I can share with others. For example, if my ministry is a hospital chaplaincy, seminary will never prepare me for every single patient I will come across. It will never tell me exactly what to say. But it will give me the tools to understand. It will provide me with texts and traditions to draw from, and some sort of practical training. But most importantly, seminary gives me the experience of asking difficult questions about really important topics. And when the people I hope to minister to ask those same difficult questions, I am able to say to them “I’ve been there,” and can help guide them. Seminary isn’t the answer key, but rather the roadmap I get to share with others.