Stefanie Rowinski l NTS Class of 2013
Master of Divinty Degree Program
I became a full time pastor before I became a seminary student. Had my grasp on the challenges of ministry been firmer, I might not have proceeded in that order. When I entered seminary I felt both at an advantage and at a disadvantage. I had already spent time navigating the waters of ministry, and although I was in no way a seasoned veteran, I wasn’t assuming what it would be like, feel like, or how I would respond in and to situations presented. I had a context for that and a context to apply what we were learning. While I entered seminary having graduated college with an English major, I still needed to learn a whole new grammar, discourse, and worst of all a new citation format, the Turabian style instead of the MLA format I was familiar with.
I started seminary like I started ministry: naïve, optimistic, and without boundaries. You can already see where this train is headed. School and ministry got more difficult and time consuming, but I seemed to close my eyes to that fact. One semester would end the same week new module work began. I struggled to keep up relationships and the demands of ministry while trying to find the energy for other basic necessities like doing laundry and taking out the trash. I successfully avoided cooking by eating most meals with friends and family, an area I feel like I mastered.
A good friend noticed my struggle and pulled me aside to talk about it. Our conversation gave me permission to admit I wasn’t able to maintain the pace I had chosen; and it allowed me time to step back and realize that I was not on a predetermined timetable. I realized my hopes for my seminary experience were not being met because I was trying to force it within an impossible space for the place of life I was in. So, I slowed down my course load. Since I began in January 2007, I have taken two semesters off and had some very, very light semesters. That can be dangerous for some students; it might be hard to start back up. For me, it gave the needed space to reengage in a way that allowed me to be the student I originally wanted to be. The two semesters I took off were when I got married and when my husband and I moved to Kansas City. Two people who knew me well (a pastor I worked with and my older sister) gave me advice about each of these decisions and encouraged me to focus on getting married and the transitions that would be involved without the pressure of school. I know both decisions were the right decisions for me. I had to make choices that allowed me to fully engage with seminary when I was taking a class.
Seminary is a season too precious to squander. Ministry is ever present, demanding and “real time.” It is other people’s lives and problems, hopes and dreams, and it can make seminary work seem like a second tier priority at times. I’ve had to remind myself that, Lord willing, ministry is my life-long calling, my life-long vocation. I will be graduating this semester, and I see that what I am doing in seminary now lays the foundation of how I continue as a life-long learner. It is also the preparation that allows for fruitful and long lasting ministry. The more I pastor (I’m going on 7 years now), the more I’m aware of the need for good education among pastors, lay leaders and our parishioners.
Seminary looks different for each student. But be mindful of your strengths and weaknesses, the transitions, challenges, demands and places of margin (or lack thereof) in your life as you begin or perhaps as you pursue your degree. You are not on a predetermined timetable. This time in seminary is valuable, unique, and too precious to squander.