o7mhyrGThis week’s question is from a sister discerning her call to ministry and (possibly) to seminary. See if this sounds familiar:

Dear Matriarchs,

Over the past year, I have been serving as pulpit supply within my yearly meeting (I am a Quaker), and preaching when other pastors are out of town. Within the past month, I have become a regular co-pastor at a particular meeting, and I preach there twice a month. I work full-time as a bank manager, but I am feeling called to pursue ministry full-time and to go to seminary. 

I am excited about the idea of going to seminary and eventually pursuing full-time ministry, but to be honest, I am also pretty scared. I am currently make more than my husband does. The school that I am looking at does offer online classes, but they also require in-person intensives a couple of times a year, and I don’t know if I could keep my current job and fulfill the in-person intensive requirements. My husband and I both already have student debt, and the idea of taking on more makes me nervous. There are so many uncertainties!

My question is: When is the right time to pursue seminary? Is there ever a “right” time? Do you all have any advice related to properly discerning my fears and my situation? 

Thank you!

Signed,

Scared of Seminary

* * * * * * * * *

Our Matriarchs are here for you:

Dear Scared of Seminary,

I rejoice with you as you discern God calling you more specifically to seminary and pastoral ministry. The Spirit tugs our hearts in so many ways, and it looks like you have already listened to the Spirit as you use your gifts of preaching and worship leadership.

It is a hard decision to know “when” is the right time to pursue seminary because even though your heart, mind and spirit are feeling the call, there are practical matters that deeply affect your life – mainly, your livelihood and ability to pay off your debt and provide, with your husband, for your living expenses.

I do believe that we are called in many ways to ministry. What you are doing right now – full-time bank manger and preaching on the weekends – is a viable and important ministry. Tent-making ministry goes back to the early church and is becoming more and more prevalent today as church positions are becoming harder to come by and many churches are closing. I can’t emphasize this enough. If you are not financially ready, at this time, to quit your bank job and go full-time to seminary, please recognize the validity of your ministry as it is and rejoice in that.

But I do hear your desire to study in seminary and go into full-time ministry, so my advice is this:

1. I don’t know your age nor how long you have been a bank manager, so this may not be relevant depending upon how long you want to work into the future, but make a three-year plan (or two-year plan) to save money, pay off your student debt, and all the while keep preaching and leading worship where you can, and take seminary classes as you go on a part-time basis.

2. Talk to the seminaries you are interested in attending and see what kind of part-time arrangement you can work out with them. The days when people called to ministry can just quit their job and go full-time in seminary are changing. Any good seminary student-advisor could talk with you about a two or three year plan for taking classes and working at the same time.

3. Once you have paid off your student debt then you will be free to pursue a full-time status as a seminary student, if that is where God is calling you.

Blessings in your ministry discernment!

Rev. Kelley Wehmeyer Shin
PC(USA) Centerville, Ohio

Dear SoS,
There is no right time to go to seminary perhaps, but there might be wrong times. You will want to be able to focus on your studies (which will be so interesting) without adding burdens that keep you from enjoying them. I do not know much about the Quaker system and how long the preparation process takes, but it seems stressful to add to your school debt. Most on-line seminary programs offer minimal financial aid, while many on-site programs (at least in my denomination) offer quite a bit of financial aid and in some cases, you pay almost nothing for seminary. But this would involve leaving your banking job and uprooting your family.

A call from God doesn’t go away. We can run from it, try to ignore it, etc. But the “when” is important. Having family support is important. Paying attention to debt is important. If you incur lots of debt, it’s quite possible that you will never earn enough as a full time professional minister to repay it plus pay back your and your spouse’s previous debt.

You don’t mention your age, and while God called Abram in his older years, I hope you’ll chart out a time line and listen for God’s direction. We have had candidates under care who are well into their 60s and sometimes it’s hard to be called to a position at that age. Keep in mind what opportunities you might have post-seminary. Are you willing to move after seminary or are you tethered to a specific geographic area. (This will limit your choices.)

In other words, continue to discern and ask others to discern with you, including your spouse. And talk with your bank people. They might have options that make your decision-making easier.

Blessings, Jan Edmiston – A Church for Starving Artists

* * * * * * * * *
Thank you for your awesome advice, Jan and Kelley.

How about you, dear Reader? Do you have some advice or encouragement for our reluctant sister? Please leave your comments below.

Do you have a fear about ministry or a step you are reluctant to take? Ask the Matriarchs! Send us your scenario to us at askthematriarch (at) gmail (dot) com


Rev. Sharon M. Temple is a United Church of Christ pastor serving in Nashville TN.  She is a contributor to the RevGals book, “There’s a Woman in the Pulpit” and blogs erratically at Tidings of Comfort and Joy.


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One thought on “Ask the Matriarch: Is Seminary Calling?

  1. I wrote a long response which vanished, but it boiled down to this: Ignatian spirituality suggests that one means of discernment is to imagine yourself at the end of your life (he says “on your deathbed,” but I prefer to imagine my 90yo self on the patio of my beachfront assisted living facility!) and ask: Which choice will you wish you had made? That was a critical question in my own seminary discernment.

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