This January 12-25 I trekked to Luther Seminary in St. Paul Minneapolis to take two classes on campus, Intro to Christian Education and Telling the Story. It was a wonderful experience, and learned much about how to communicate faith in small groups and in larger public settings. We also had the opportunity to create our first short sermon, or sermonette, and deliver it in front of other seminarians for feedback, way cool.
There were a lot of other takeaways from these two weeks, and I now understand better why they call them “intensives.” Here are six other things I learned while there.
The snowbirds are right
It was cold, really cold in St. Paul. With the exception of one day the high was 13 degrees, with a low of -22. The wind chill frequently brought what it felt like to under -50 degrees.
At times I found myself asking, “really Lord, this weather, for a Florida guy? It’s too cold, please send someone else!” Then I’d wake up in the morning, look out from the dorm room window and see snowflakes falling from the heavens, covering the land in a pure white blanket. This got me thinking about grace, and the clean start each of us are given at the start of every day. At that point I realized, yeah, maybe this is where I’m supposed to be.
The best learning happens after class
The classes were awesome, yes, but what I didn’t anticipate was all of the community and learning that would take place outside of the classroom. After our morning class most students went straight to the 11am chapel service that is held daily. To participate in a service with 100+ other future clergy was very personally meaningful. From there we’d shuffle over to the cafeteria for lunch and chat about the morning class and takeaways from chapel.
After our second class, and a bit of down time to study, we’d typically head out for dinner and drinks to decompress. Many of my peers also work in church settings or other faith-based organizations, and we’d spend a good bit of time using phrases like, “have you heard of this?” “have you tried that?”, or “It sounds like your congregation would be a good fit for…” Much of this is still simmering in my noggin, and look forward to exploring the art of the possible with my home congregation, St. Michael Lutheran in Wellington FL.
Bishop Eaton can fist bump
While at seminary the presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, spent some time with many of us that are part of this hybrid online/on-campus seminary experience. After a brief talk she rotated through tables to speak with us in small groups. It was kind of like speed dating in a way. Bishop Eaton comes across as dynamic and engaged, willing to speak up and out about any question that was asked, and at times would outwardly reflect on what she had just spoken, very existential. After this experience I’m looking forward even more to seeing how she’ll lead our Lutheran denomination over the next six years.
We all have a voice
One of the favorite exercises we did in class was to select a favorite passage of scripture and deliver it in front of class. The verses people selected came from all over the bible, from Genesis to Revelations, and amazingly each passage we selected was different, no repeats. Some in our class are naturally gifted public speakers, others are more of a work in progress (aka yours truly), tho everyone spoke from the heart. To hear 90 minutes straight of the spoken Word, delivered by people passionate about the words they speak, was empowering. I came away with a few ideas on how this could be replicated in other ways, stay tuned for more.
This Word Cloud gives a visual sense of the spoken scripture selections from class today. This is a summary of common themes across the entire group; where words mentioned most in the readings are the largest. In a way the image provides some insight into what future clergy consider valuable from the Good Book at this particular moment in time.
We’re diverse, but not quite there
Our cohort of 30 seminarians is fairly diverse in many ways. Over half the group are female, probably a good sign of how ELCA pulpits will look in the coming years. The LGBT community is well represented; I’m blessed to learn alongside a gay man, transgender woman, and bi woman. There is also some diversity among race and ethnicity that includes an African American and two Latinos.
On the other hand, in one class we watched the documentary There is a Time for Burning, a movie from 1966 that outlines efforts to build dialogue between two Lutheran churches in Omaha. One of the churches was all-white, the other all black. The documentary was filled with tension, and, ultimately attempts at dialogue failed. Looking up at our classroom I noticed the vast majority of students in class are white, and realized there is still more work to be done if we want to truly be an inclusive Church. We’ll get there.
There’s no place like home
Egad the two weeks in St. Paul were fun! To be on campus with other graduate students with the sole purpose of learning, and absorbing as much as possible is very freeing, I loved every bit of it. My wife refers to this time away as “bible camp” and in some ways that describes it to a t. I’m already looking forward the two weeks in June at seminary and whatever those experiences will hold.
At the same time I missed my wife, our kids, our dogs, the men’s bible study, our church community, and so much more of our life here terribly. An email exchange here, a Skype session to see my three year-old daughter Hannah and 15 week-old son Graham on the computer there, it just wasn’t the same. Now, back from “bible camp” it’s exciting to plug back into all of those things I’d been missing while away. It’s been a wild ride so far, and looking forward to sharing it with you as the story unfolds.