Lee Hinson-Hasty is coordinator for theological education and seminary relations in the Presbyterian Mission Agency of the PC (U.S.A.). Through his work Lee hopes to capture and share a more expansive view of theological education, of church leadership and of vocational discernment as he sees through the eyes of some exciting Presbyterians in and related to seminaries.
“The pathway to seminary is the long, slow nurture of faith in community.” The soon to be released “Pathways to Seminary” study by Auburn’s Center for the Study of Theological Education in collaboration with the Association of Theological Schools calls this it’s “major finding.” That long slow nurture of the best students happens most often in stable families, intentional religious nurturing, embedded participation in organizations and cultures, particular patterns of education, ministry role models, healthy peer groups, and often some sort of positive or negative dramatic experience along the way. You can read more about the findings of Barbara Wheeler, Tony Ruger, Sharon Miller, Helen M. Blier, and Melissa Wiginton in the latest InTrust Magazine. The complete report will be available in November 2013.
I decided to field test the findings of the study with the newest cohort in the Company of New Pastors gathered in Louisville over the weekend for their orientation meeting. These mostly senior seminarians from a dozen or so seminaries and their faculty mentors gathered first for dinner and worship in the Presbyterian Center on Friday evening where I caught up with them, meeting most students for the first time and thanking experienced faculty mentors that I have grown to appreciate deeply over the last few years.
The table talk around assigned tables designed to help participates mix and meet students from other seminaries often migrated to the question, “Why did you go to seminary?” I don’t think I heard someone ask that question, but they did ask about their past and, therefore, there path to seminary and call as a Teaching Elder in the PC(USA).
In short, Wheeler and company, I believe, are right again! The students talked most about the faith communities, mostly congregations, that welcomed and formed them. Almost all of those communities/congregations were and are mostly healthy and thriving ones. Few made a direct line to seminary. Instead, their faith was developed in multiple communities and experiences. Many had parents in service occupations and served or were heavily involved in faith communities. An unsurprising portion, just as the study suggests, are PK’s (Pastor’s kids). Summer camps and college ministries along with mission trips and denominational gatherings almost always were woven into their stories. I heard them talk about mentors who were pastors and role models for ministry to them.
None of this really surprised me, and probably does not surprise many who are reading this. We know these stories. They may be similar to our own call stories. I know they are to mine. What is refreshing is to see the longitudinal study Auburn has done on this. As the complete report is released and it sinks in, I think we all need to consider, who and how and how well are we mentoring and nurturing the next generation of seminarians and pastoral leaders in the PC(USA) and beyond?
Wondering in Louisville,