School and Transitions
By: Andy Whitaker Smith
It’s no secret that the majority of clergy in our current society are second-career pastors; those who have spent the last 20-30 years in a previous profession, and have now entered the ministry. Following this trend of second-career pastors is also a majority of second-career students in seminary. I remember when I was searching for a seminary to attend, one of the things that caught my eye when I visited Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City was the number of students twice my age and older, who were more or less in the same position I was. It was actually one of the things that attracted me to the seminary; previous schools I had visited seemed to have been populated by those who were looking for other ministerial positions besides pastoral, and there didn’t seem to be any feeling of serious dedication of the career/ministerial path. The students I encountered at Saint Paul not only conveyed an environment of serious focus, but also the reality that we are all trying to discern our call and oftentimes have no idea what we are doing. It’s very reassuring to be amidst those who are willing to admit that perhaps even in seminary one does not have it all figured out.
As a young adult, it is sometimes very easy to forget what second career seminary students have to go through, going back into an environment of full time study, re-discovering one’s study method, and learning to simply learn again. After two or three decades of a professional position, oftentimes one of authority as a professional and/or as a parent, it can be a jarring experience to come back and re-educate oneself to be in an academic setting. And of course it is easy for younger students to forget that, because we have never left it. I had about a three year gap between college and seminary, but it wasn’t long enough to forget how to be a student. For many, that process is engrained in our life and thought process; it’s our best career. Perhaps—despite our pure hatred for it often—we stay in it longer than we plan because it really is all we know. We start out from around age 3-5 with either pre-school or kindergarten, and the next 15ish years are filled with laughing, crying, bullying, love (or what we think is love), heartbreak (or what we think is heartbreak), victory, humiliation, and math. We go through these 15 years of experiencing all this amidst being herded from one station of life to the next, all in the name of maintaining order, fighting it every step of the way, and finally graduate, an act of victory that we express in the declaration that our life is now our own.
Only now—great, what comes next? The ever expanding question that lures over our heads: Who am I supposed to be? The math is still there—as much as some of us hate it—but in looking back, the majority of my learning experience was not in the classroom, but out in the world. College is a place that presents a semi-normal safe haven while we are embarking on the amazing and terrifying racetrack known as the real world. How many of us can recall being cut so much slack because we were/are “students.” That means we’re given more responsibility, but also the grace to be easily forgiven when we mess up, and we do.
We really do.
But what’s after that? Real real life? Even before the economic recession there were drones of students who weren’t ready for that step. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Film Studies, with no desire to go to either coast to pursue a film career, and so like many I kind of drifted through life, trying to find my place in the world… or at least Lawrence, Kansas. Once I answered a call to professional ministry, I realized that involved attending seminary. In these last few years I have learned more than I thought possible and changed in ways that have prepared me for a life of ministry. And while it may seem at times that a continuation of schooling is the easy alternative to facing life, the continual need and response to experience new paths of learning, and being stretched and changed, these are experiences young adults wish to hang on to, among other things, to continue to find that answer of “Who am I supposed to be?”
See more devotions from Andy and our other Young Adult writers, or find our how you can become a writer yourself at our By Young Adults for Young Adults devotion page.