Which Seminary Should You Attend?

dunikowska-knocking-on-heavens-door-2004This article by Duff McDonald struck my fancy yesterday regarding “MBA Programs that Get You Where You Want to Go.”  Want to work on Wall Street?  Start a new business selling organic meat? Become a marketing consultant? Instead of Harvard, Wharton, or Kellogg, maybe you should consider Ross, Fuqua, or Sloan.  Or – in the wisdom of my excellent colleague EH, if you want to work in Southern California all your life, maybe you should go to Marshall at USC.  If you want to spend all your years in Maine, an MBA from  Maine Business School (they make it easy) makes sense.

I doubt that most Americans could name a seminary or divinity school.  But for all you The More You Know fans, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is connected to 12 seminaries.  Among my PCUSA colleagues, there are many graduates of other non-PCUSA related seminaries and divinity schools.  If someone asked me where she should go to seminary, I’m not sure I would ask “What kind of ministry do you want to do?”  I would probably ask “Where do you want to live?”

I went to seminary because of geography.  I also heard from a colleague that he was advised to “go to seminary someplace you’d like to live because you’ll never get to choose where you live again.”  He was a big believer in God calling us to places where we don’t want to go.  Very John 21:18.  Exhibit A:  I never thought I’d ever be living in The Prairie State.  (But now that I’m here, it’s pretty great.)

At the risk of offending my colleagues, I’m going to this whole “Which seminary should you attend?” question a whirl and I’d appreciate your feedback.

If you want do general parish ministry and eat excellent barbecue for 3 years, go to  Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary – Austin, TX.

If you want to do general parish ministry and make lifelong Southern connections, go to Columbia Theological Seminary – Decatur, GA

If you want the ease of on-line seminary, go to University of Dubuque Theological Seminary – Dubuque, IA

If you want to do general parish ministry and be near The Mother Ship, go to Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary – Louisville, KY

If you want to study urban ministry, perhaps in a non-parish setting, go to McCormick Theological Seminary – Chicago, lL

If you want to learn how to start new churches, go to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary – Pittsburgh, PA

If you want special focus on youth ministry and/or be a Senior Pastor, go to Princeton Theological Seminary – Princeton, NJ

If you want general parish experience with added chops in spiritual disciplines, go to San Francisco Theological Seminary – San Anselmo and Pasadena, CA

If you want an historical black church experience (and you can wait because they are not currently offering classes) go to Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary – Atlanta, GA

If you want general parish education, especially with a focus on Christian Education, go to Union Presbyterian Seminary – Richmond, VA & Charlotte, NC

If you want certificate programs in leadership, and especially training in being a coach, go to Auburn Theological Seminary – NYC

If you want training to serve the church in Puerto Rico, Latin America, or with Spanish-speaking churches in the US, go to Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico – San Juan, PR

[Full disclosure: I went to seminary in Boston (where there is no PCUSA seminary) because of a relationship and I took classes at Boston University School of Theology (preaching), Harvard Divinity School (Greek and NT), Gordon Conwell (polity), and Andover-Newton (MDiv & their CPE connections because I planned to be a chaplain as I had never seen a woman in the pulpit.)  I also have a DMin from Columbia Theological Seminary – a PCUSA affiliated institution  – because of their Christian Spirituality program.]

The reality is that the seminary one attends may or may not lead to whatever call one discerns.   “The Big Three”  clergywomen recently called to large urban congregations – Shannon Johnson Kershner, Amy Butler, and Ginger Gaines-Cirelli – are graduates of Columbia Theological Seminary, Wesley Theological Seminary, and Yale Divinity School respectively.  So there.

Clergy – I’d love your feedback on the advice you received about where to go to seminary?  And how did you make your decision?  And did it matter?

Non-clergy – I’d love to hear your assumptions about particular seminaries.  Do you assume all Fuller graduates are conservative?  That all Princeton Seminary graduates are big time?

Image source here.

Thank You Working Fathers

Mosaic St Joseph the workerI joyfully celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus  in a standing room only sanctuary surrounded by babies, toddlers, and their parents last Sunday.  As it happens with babies and toddlers, Attention Needed To Be Paid. There was the little girl with the runny nose. There was the baby who applauded every time the choir sang.  There was the skirmy little guy who needed to be held, then not held, then held again.  There was the baby who needed a new diaper.

Yes, these little ones could have been in the nursery, but they were not for whatever reason.  And towards the end of the service, some parents near me left to go retrieve their children who were in the nursery during worship so that they would be ready for the post-worship Egg Hunt.

So, here’s what I noticed: Most of the parents doing the hands-on duties were dads.

I remember a time when only mothers left worship to change diapers, picked up the baby at the nursery, or kept emergency toys in their pockets.  I have no recollection of my own father changing anybody’s diaper as a father, grandfather, or fun uncle.  Maybe he did, but I never saw it.  What I did see on Sunday were many fathers doing fatherly things:  making puppets out of their fingers, bouncing babies on their shoulders, offering sips from water bottles.

Thank you Working Fathers.

On my commute to work yesterday, I came across this article about working moms and a cool new website called Power to Fly that connects professional women with jobs that allow them to work from home.  Awesome.

But it’s interesting that this website is not also for men. Fathers interested in spending time with their young children and working from home are also seeking similar positions, I would think.  What about married gay dads?  What about single dads?  What about dads who can do their jobs digitally who are married to spouses required to work at construction sites or in operating rooms?

I get that this is a niche market specifically for women looking for this sort of thing, but here’s a plug for working dads:  fathers need this as well.

HH and I shared a single job when our kids were young  – which worked out for us but might not work out for others.  Even when our children were older, HH was always A Working Dad.  He coached lacrosse and drove Brownies and went to PTA events.  It was helpful that he could do some of his work from home.

My point is that there are many working fathers out there who have done what I’ve done as a working mother – parented while trying to balance work from the home and work outside the home.  And don’t get me started about “stay-at-home moms.”  They are obviously Working Moms too even if they do not earn an income.

All engaged parents are working parents.  How can we best support each other in this?

Image is part of a mosaic celebrating the Feast Day of Joseph the Worker ordinarily observed in late April.

Smartphones & Boundaries

Holy Family SelfieAll of us with smartphones are – ostensibly – available 24/7.  This is potentially a soul-sucking reality.

There are some excellent new articles out there about U.S. culture and smartphone usage.   A.A. Gill wrote this  for Vanity Fair which cites an unnamed study reporting  that “speaking into it was the sixth thing (respondents) did with their phone.”  And Pew Research recently shared a detailed report full of fascinating factoids (e.g. 46% of respondents said they couldn’t live without their smartphones.)

I am one of the 46%.  Of course, I could indeed live without my smartphone.  I just don’t want to.

I use my phone for texting, email, directions, photos, weather, time, and reading – not necessarily in that order.  But talking on it is at least the sixth thing I do with my phone.  In fact, on the outgoing voice mail message, I share the fact that I’m most likely to get back to you if you text me your message.  Even my dentist and hair salon text me with appointment reminders.  I appreciate that very much.

But when we love our smartphones, we risk working All The Time.  I’m trying to curb this.

My cell phone number is included in the clunky institutional directory available to all ruling and teaching elders with whom I work.  I personally share that number with church people who need to reach me for an emergency.  But my cell phone is my home number and I’m trying to remember that your cell phone is your home number.  Call me Old School, but I’m trying to hone those communication boundaries by encouraging people to contact me via my office voice mail and email.

[Note:  if you are my friend as well as my colleague, text away.  We need to meet for coffee/drinks/donuts/therapy and texting is the way to go.  Yes, the boundaries between work and non-work are fluid.  We know each other well enough keep good boundaries or to hold each other accountable when we don’t.]

But what about non-emergency church related questions that come to us via cell phone text, Facebook message, Twitter or other social media venue?  For a long time, I have answered those questions even though they were possibly interrupting my perusal of family photos or linking to interesting articles.  As a boundary-challenged pastor, I have always wanted to be helpful, even at three in the morning.  I grew up in the South to be nice.  Always.

Nevertheless I have started a simple yet (for me) life-changing practice.  When I receive a non-emergency text or message I make myself respond this way:

“Let’s do this via my office phone or office email.”

Sounds pretty tame, doesn’t it?  But it’s changing my life.

Pacing ourselves is a spiritual practice just like honoring a Sabbath Day. Keeping social media boundaries makes for a healthier spiritual life as well.  I’d love to hear about how you handle this.

Image source here.

A Successful Easter!

packed churchTo all my friends who made Easter meaningful in our congregations yesterday,
thank you. All you preachers, liturgists, musicians, singers, teachers, ushers, lily arrangers, hot cross bun bakers, and plastic egg-fillers – bless you.  Now you can rest.  Sort of.

There was an excellent strand of comments on  RevGalBlogPals’ Facebook page over the weekend regarding the effort that goes into Holy Week. One of my colleagues had been disappointed that so few parishioners had come out on Maundy Thursday, especially considering the enormous effort that went  into that service.  The truth is that only a small fraction of our people consistently attend “special services” like Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.

Oh . . . but Easter.

We all expect packed pews on Easter Sunday.  We expect to dazzle and be dazzled.

If the masses are going to join us for worship at all, it’s going to be on Easter Sunday (second only to Christmas Eve and Mothers’ Day.)  I remember the stress of wanting to awe friends and strangers with the sheer gorgeousness of Easter morning.  I wanted every note, word, smell, and sight to inspire.  I remember the utter exhaustion on Easter afternoon.  But I also remember the feeling that Easter sometimes felt like a performance and that didn’t feel so great.

Was the hope that we would do our best because The Resurrected Jesus deserves our best?  Or were we hoping that our Easter guests and other rarely seen worshippers would be lured back next Sunday?

[I wonder if anybody’s ever studied the incidence of Easter visitors returning to the same sanctuary the Sunday after Easter.  If so, please share.]

What does “a successful Easter” look like?  The sermon uplifts?  The music soars?  The children smile?  The offering plates yield the financial secretary’s best hopes? The post-worship brunch is scrumptious?

What if we judged a successful Easter on different things?

The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. (Matthew 11:5)

Students in Garissa, KenyaChrist is risen!  Christ is risen indeed!  But there are others who long to see, walk, be clean, hear, rise up, and receive good news. What are our next steps?

Image of students in Garissa, Kenya.

We Know How This Ends (Sort of)

Bruce KramerBruce Kramer wrote an exquisite book before he died from ALS. When you have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, you know how your life will end – sort of. You cannot know the timeline of how the symptoms will reveal themselves. You cannot know which friends and family will be resilient and which will crumble. But you pretty much know that it’s ALS that will take your life.

There is a note in my phone and a document on my laptop that says: “If I Die in 2015 . . .” It’s the annually edited note to my loved ones about which hymns I’d like everybody to sing at my memorial service, whom I’d like to preach, and what I’d like somebody to read out loud. (Yes, I have written a message for my own memorial service because I’m bossy like that.) If you happen to be with me when I die, check my phone.

All of us are going to die. We know how this life of ours ends – sort of. Most of uschagall-white-crucifixion don’t know the particulars about how. Even if I were diagnosed with stage 4 cancer today, I could get hit by a truck tomorrow.

We also do not know what happens after we die. There are scientific details about what happens to our bodies after death. But what happens to our souls is a matter of faith. I know my body will die one day. I believe my soul will live on by God’s grace.

We know how Good Friday will end, and that makes it less than catastrophic for followers of Jesus because Sunday is coming. [Once when I was volunteering at a Suicide Hotline on Good Friday, a caller sobbed that Jesus was dead and I let her cry for a long time. And then I said something like, “Can you hang on for 2 more days?”]

Death = Bad. Resurrection = Good. And yet we call this Friday good.

We can’t have resurrection without the death. I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that we forget this.

May your all your deaths be holy ones.

Art is White Crucifixion by Chagall.

Empty Nest Church

This is a love note to struggling churches who wonder where all the kids went.

HH and I are (sort of) Empty Nesters.  Empty NestOur 20-something kids come home for brief periods  – for holidays or between apartment leases – but then again, the home they visit here in Chicagoland is not where they grew up.  We no longer have the home where they learned to walk and talk, where they spent their first 20+ Easters and Christmases.

We moved to a house that works for us in our current situation.  There’s no swing set in the back yard.  There are no sleds or wagons in the garage.  No basketball net in the driveway.  We gave all those things away when we moved from their childhood home, and this is a good thing.  We don’t need certain things any longer, but we made sure that families who could use those things now have them.

The gifted coach and consultant JK inspired a thought yesterday regarding empty nests and churches.  Many of our congregations are still living in “the family house” where – long ago – their children grew up and spent many Easters and Christmases. It’s where milestones were celebrated and stories were shared.  “The kids” might return for occasional visits, but they are no longer around.  They’ve moved on and established new homes and new communities of their own.

Nevertheless those congregations are still gathering in “the family house.”  It’s too big for them. There’s a lot of junk stored in closets and basements.  There are countless memories. But they don’t need that space any more, and yet it’s too hard to think about moving.

There comes a time – if we’re fortunate to have lived long lives – when we need to make decisions about how we will downsize and – ultimately – where we will spend our last years.  It’s part of life.

All pastors have had parishioners who waited too long to make end-of-life plans. I knew a lovely woman in a former congregation who refused to leave her home of 60+ years.  She had many excuses.  And she assumed she’d always be able to handle the stairs, the maintenance, the yard work.  By the time she was well into her 90s, it was too late.  She couldn’t physically make the move.  She lived in squalor, unable to care for her home or herself.  She was too weak and too desperate to move into a more practical space.

My friends, some of our congregations find ourselves in this situation. We need to make end-of-life plans.  But some of us refuse to leave our “home.”  We have many excuses.  And we assume we’ll always be able to handle the stairs, the maintenance, the yard work.  But now  it’s become too late to make the necessary shifts that will help us transition.

This is Holy Week and ultimately we are resurrection people, right?

Imagine congregations that have become Empty Nest Churches making choices that make it possible for new communities to thrive.

When HH and I left the home we knew for so many years, it wasn’t easy.  It still isn’t, and yet I wouldn’t go back.  Great things are ahead for our kids and even for us. But there are times we need to let go of what is past.

Getting Into Good Trouble

March talk“From the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, to the freedom rides and the sit-ins, to fighting for women, children and seniors, to a 2009 arrest protesting policies in Darfur, John Lewis has been getting into good trouble for decades.” From the John Lewis for Congress website.

When was the last time you got into trouble?  I’m not talking about forgetting somebody’s name or running out of gas.  I’m not talking about troublesome behavior – as in chewing gum in the classroom or acting anti-socially.  Breaking the law might get us into trouble, although we usually don’t even count speeding or tax cheating as crimes.

Last night, I heard John Lewis and Andrew Aydin speak about their graphic novelJohn Lewis March and it was a little like going to church.  It was the perfect Holy Week activity.

The regal and honorable John Lewis challenged us to “get into good trouble.” Stand up for someone who needs help.  Defend the weak.  Speak up for what is right.

John Lewis was arrested over 40 times in the 1960s for getting into good trouble: defending people who simply wanted to vote or eat at the counter of a drug store. Most of us are content to engage in low-impact, low risk slacktivism.  We buy Tom’s Shoes or Pink Ribbon t-shirts feeling great that our purchase helps someone without shoes or with cancer.  We text special numbers to the Red Cross and – magically – $10 from our checking account is sent out to support hurricane victims.

But John Lewis preached that more of us need to be willing to stand up and march.  Andrew Aydin prophesied that using social media should be the tool that gathers people to work for good, not merely a quick way to express our displeasure about Ferguson or RFRA.

We who follow Jesus might remember that he, too, was about marching.  He was about making bodily sacrifices for what’s good and right.  Jesus taught non-violence.  And we remember that long before John Lewis and his fellow marchers were arrested and beaten, Jesus was arrested and beaten.  He was even given the death sentence for getting into good trouble.

I was one of those kids who was terrified of getting into trouble.  I’m still fairly trouble-averse.  But there are certain things worth standing up for, defending, speaking up about.   This is one of the messages of that first Holy Week.  (No fooling.)

Image from the Chicago Ideas talk with John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, drawn by Dusty Folwarszny of The Ink Factory.

Teaching Our People How to Say “Hello”

tea setImagine that you are at least 60 years old, have been a Christian for at least 40 years, and have been a member of your church for at least 20 years.  And your pastor suggests that you need to learn how to offer authentic hospitality.

At best:  These are fighting words.  (“Of course I know how to welcome people.”)

At worst:  “Ouch.”

One of the trickiest things for a pastor to navigate is sharing the uncomfortable news to her people that they are not skilled in 21st Century Hospitality.  We’ve all heard the well-worn adage that all churches consider themselves “friendly” even though it’s clearly not the case.  But it’s quite another thing to suggest that our lifelong church members do not know how to welcome guests well.  Among the common mistakes we make:

  • Pouncing.  (“You should join the choir!)
  • Stalking.  (“I’ve been watching you for the past couple Sundays.“)
  • Smothering.  (“Let me take you to coffee hour and then we can sign you up for the chili dinner.
  • Scaring.  (“You should meet Peggy.  She’s single like you.“)
  • Offending.  (“Those piercings must really hurt.”)
  • Discomfitting.  (“We like it when people dress appropriately for church.“)

I honestly believe that we intend to be genial to the guests in our congregations. But in our excitement to make “new people” feel welcomed, we say awkward things and our efforts do the opposite of our intentions.

Imagine teaching all church greeters, ushers, and coffee servers how to say “hello” in the most authentic and genuine way, without agenda or fakeness.  Imagine saying “Hello” with the intention of making that stranger feel loved and safe and included.  Such a small thing that makes such a difference in creating community.

I Am an Evangelical Christian

Over the weekend, I shared this article from the New York Times by Nick Kristoff which begins this way:

“One sign of a landmark shift in public attitudes: A poll last year found that Americans approved more of gays and lesbians (53 percent) than of evangelical Christians (42 percent).”

A couple of thoughts:Christians and Muslims Protect Each Other

  1. This statement assumes that “gays and lesbians” and “evangelical Christians” are two wholly separate entities. (i.e. you can’t be both GBLT & evangelical Christian.)
  2. My tweet linking to this article (“The liberal caricature of evangelicals is incomplete and unfair.”) got more responses than any other tweet I’ve ever posted.

Lots of people “favorited” it. And lots of other people shared their own comments:

  • “AND, the same could be said for the caricature of liberals by the evangelicals. A modicum of thought might help.”
  • The extremely vocal minority of any group creates unfair perceptions of the entire group.”
  • “Nice of evangelicals to do all that brave stuff, now make ’em stop supporting laws that make my life harder.”
  • “It’s not a caricature when it continues to be proved true and is manipulated by lobbyists to divide us.”

It’s clear that “evangelical Christian” is synonymous with anti-LGBT sensibilities to most Americans. And this is not new. I remember in my 20s, fresh out of college, a friend was shocked to learn that I was a Christian. “But I’m not like those Christians,” I blurted out defensively.

Today I embrace the adjective “evangelical.” Evangelical = euangelion = the “good news” or “gospel.” Yes, I am an Evangelical Christian. I believe that the message of Jesus is very Good News. I believe that following Jesus is the best way to live our lives. I also . . .

  • Take the Bible seriously. I take it seriously enough to study each word in the original languages as best we can (the original documents are long, long gone and the oldest existing codices were written 200 years after Jesus died.) I take it seriously enough to acknowledge that it’s not comprised of “God’s words” as if it was personally autographed by God (that would be Islam) but it is indeed God’s holy, inspired, and authoritative Word. I take it seriously enough to know that it was not created to serve as a history book, a science book, or a sin management book (it is a library of books including poetry, parables, prophesies, stories, laws, letters, and narratives.) I take it seriously enough to acknowledge that it is infallible in Truth but not in truth. In other words, it points to Truth but it wasn’t intended to be scientifically or chronologically true. That was never the point.
  • Believe that the way of Jesus is the only way to be “saved.” Clearly, there are many people who claim to follow Jesus but do not. And clearly, there are many people who do not claim to follow Jesus who do.
  • Believe that God loves us enough to die for us. (Happy Holy Week.)
  • Believe that faith is practiced by expressing the gospel in social reform efforts that help make “earth as it is in heaven.”

“Evangelical” is not a description I am willing to surrender.

As an Evangelical Follower of Jesus I also believe that God fashioned vastly more diversity in creation that we can possibly imagine or measure, and that all God’s creation is a blessing and called to enjoy abundant life and serve according to our God-given purpose. This includes all nations, races, creeds, variations of gender, sexual orientations, abilities, and genetic possibilities.

I believe that claiming “Evangelical” is a political statement – and I’m not talking about Farwellian politics.

On Saturday, I participated in the ordination of two new pastors in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Egypt. Leaders flew in from Cairo to Kansas City (rather than flying all the Americans to Cairo) to anoint two to be missionaries to the United States of America.

Let this sink in for a moment: Protestant Christians make up only 0.07 % of Egypt’s population. But they have sent two pastors to share The Good News in a nation where Protestant Christians ostensibly make up a whopping 51.3% of the population (or 78.4 % of the population if we include all Christians) according to Pew.

Calling yourselves “Evangelical” in a nation where 94-95 % of the population is Muslim is a political statement. In most predominantly Muslim nations, it is highly frowned upon – if not against the law – for Christians to share their faith with their Muslim neighbors. And so our Evangelical sisters and brothers in Egypt, for example, are making a bold statement: We are all about sharing the Good News (euaggelion or εὐαγγέλιον) even if it’s risky for us.

I, too, am willing to take that risk. I am an Evangelical Christian. And I humbly believe that:

Marriage is a gift God has given to all humankind for the well being of the entire human family. Marriage involves a unique commitment between two people, traditionally a man and a woman, to love and support each other for the rest of their lives. The sacrificial love that unites the couple sustains them as faithful and responsible members of the church and the wider community.”

Thanks be to God.

Image of recent photos in Egypt of Christians and Muslims protecting each other. Both convey the way of Jesus.

Against My Religion

We have a multi-faith wedding happening at our home this summer andMap of Indiana religion is a consideration for sure.  At latest count, there will be Christians, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists – in addition to many unbelievers of any stripe.

Among the self-identified faithful, there will be practicing and non-practicing adherents.  But we are making provisions for all practicing guests, as best we can.  No pork, for example.

In the joyful throes of wedding planning, I’ve also heard these comments:

We won’t be drinking wine, but it’s fine to serve it.”  (A lovely accommodation in light of the Muslim practice of no alcohol.)

I won’t be dancing.  It’s against my religion.”  (Fine, but I know other people in your faith tradition who dance.)

I have joked that it’s against my religion not to have a chilled cocktail about an hour before the wedding, but obviously that is more of a preference than a religious practice. . . .

Which brings me to Indiana.  Indiana business owners who object to same-sex couples, for example, now have a legal right to deny them services.  In other words, if I own a dry cleaning business, I can refuse to clean the shirts of gay people – married or not.  Or something like that.

It was against Jewish law in Jesus’ day to touch lepers and bleeding women, and yet he did it for the sake of the greater law of love.  If we believe the Bible, Jesus spoke against stoning an adulterer, socialized with Samaritans, and was okay with his followers picking grain on the Sabbath – all in violation of his religion’s law.

What would Jesus say to the bakery owner who refuses to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple for religious reasons? (“It’s against my religion for same-sex couples to marry.“) Or to the nursery school owner who refuses to allow a mixed-race child to attend that school – again for religious reasons.  (“It’s against my religion for races to intermarry.”)  Or the restaurant owner who refuses to rent the party room to a Hindu family for their daughter’s graduation.  (“It’s against my religion to do business with someone who worships multiple gods.“)

If I’m to understand Jesus correctly, I believe it’s against my religion to refuse to serve my neighbor.