How to prepare for seminary?

November 15, 2010 by
Filed under: Candidate Process, Princeton Seminary, Religion, Seminary 

I’m in an unusual situation.  Most people don’t apply to seminary until near the application deadlines.  (Princeton Seminary’s deadline is February 15, and most apply in January or February.)  I am ten months from starting the Fall Term next year (or eight months if I take advantage of the Summer Language program) and I’ve already been accepted and have confirmed my attendance and paid the deposit.  Most people are also already doing something before seminary, either school or work.  I’m not – I’m at the end of a period of unemployment and I have a very-part-time business.  So I’m in the rare situation of having a lot of time before seminary starts and a lot of free time (whether I like it or not).

So I come to you, particularly those of you who have graduated from a seminary or are attending one now.

What would you do to get ready if you had a lot of time to do so?  What would you read?  What activities would you undertake?

There are a few required activities that I will be undertaking related to both seminary and the PC(USA) Inquirer process.  I will be scheduling the required Career Counseling (ie. psych eval) soon.  And I have to work on getting my NJ state-required vaccinations.  But that’s about all I’ve come up with.

Help me out, either with comments here or on Facebook or twitter.  Thanks!


9 Comments on How to prepare for seminary?

  1. Anitra Kitts on Mon, 15th Nov 2010 2:22 pm
  2. from my mid-life m.div experience:

    Start playing w greek/hebrew. That stuff (Hebrew especially) nearly wiped me out. So, if I had the entry point to do over again, I’d be more playful w becoming familiar with the languages. A ridicules amount of memorization happens here.

    Look up assigned reading lists for the profs you are likely to take. Pre-read w notes/highlights and with leisurely abandonment. The volume of reading is going to be huge and many revert to survival reading rather than absorption reading. I keep my copy of Miglore Faith Seeking Understanding close to my desk even to today. Its my grounding in theological thinking.

    Be in good physical shape with imbedded habits of exercise. There will be intense pressure toward the sedate life w reading/sitting in lectures for hours upon hours.

  3. Robin on Tue, 16th Nov 2010 10:27 am
  4. This has been interesting to reflect on, having just made it successfully through seminary despite the challenges of midlife, finances, and family tragedy, and now seeking a call. I am giving the same advice to myself in this new place:

    Prayer, contemplation, silence, lots of time with God. Psalms. Keep up with the lectionary.

    Reading: I Corinthians, The Brothers Karamazov, Mary Oliver, Genesis, N.T. Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Carol Howard Merritt (which you’ve already been doing!).

    Make a retreat. Go hiking. Go to the beach. Get outside!

    It’s an incredible privilege to be able to go to seminary, but especially when you go out of a completely different life.

    Grace abounds in your life!

  5. Cathy on Wed, 17th Nov 2010 4:33 pm
  6. Church history/Christian thought…books on this and having a basic understanding of this would be good. If you are going to take Hebrew/Greek (not sure if your seminary requires it?) might be good to play with.

    Take a vacation with your wife at some point before you start.

    I really don’t recommend reading a head of time…it isn’t something you’ll want/be able to do for every semester anyway, and you’ll probably have to reread when you have a better grasp of what the prof really wants you to focus on.

    Look into possible CPE sites and know when their deadlines are.

  7. Mark on Fri, 19th Nov 2010 6:58 pm
  8. Two of you have suggestion “playing with languages”. What does that look like?

  9. Katie Mulligan on Fri, 19th Nov 2010 9:27 pm
  10. Pick either greek or Hebrew and start to learn the alphabet. You’re welcome to borrow my texts. Greek was not anything I’d like to ever repeat, but I loved Hebrew. I’d be happy to meet you for lunch in mid December and walk you through the first couple of chapters in the Hebrew grammar.

  11. Anitra Kitts on Sat, 20th Nov 2010 12:11 am
  12. Its fantastic that Katie loved Hebrew. Although we’ve not yet met I can see her brilliance and her courage in her tweets/facebook. I hated Hebrew with a deep deep passion and passed with a “P” for perseverance only. Certainly not for mastery. I think its a brain wire thing that the world divides into “I love Hebrew” or “I love Greek” and I suspect it follows “I love math” or “I love English classes.” I’m in the Greek camp. Barely.

    At any rate, at SFTS, we did a fall term, along with other classes w stupid impossible reading loads, as our intro to a language and then had a Jan term focusing singularity on a language. Crazy Making. Spiritual formation in the sense that God and only God (okay and the mercy of my instructors) got me through and all else was humility.

    So, I’m saying be playful now before you start facing down the pass/fail grade. Be playful now and dance with the stuff so that when you’re facing that freaking end of the week vocabulary/parsing exam that quite frankly you didn’t spend enough time memorizing cuz you have middle-aged brain for one thing…

    (deep breath)

    well, thats why. Knowing what I now know – pre-playing with the languages, pre-exploring the grammatical structures – pre-memorizing might have help keep from completely freaking out in Hebrew.

    And, just to add to the fun, there’s a language to learn a language. At the very least, memorize that stuff. If you can comprehend the following sentence, “In linguistics, gerund (abbreviated ger) is a term used to refer to various non-finite verb forms in various languages,” then you’re ready for the freaking class.

    On the other hand, I’ve heard that PTS torture’s y’all with an August language session so the worst is over by the time you get to the balance of the classes.

    Good luck. In the end, there are really great computer programs that help w ongoing translation issues but more then that – certified smart people write great commentaries. Its not like we’re without options for preaching.

    Go ye forth and play with websites/tutorials as you can find them for Biblical Hebrew/Greek. It will be better that way.

  13. Robin on Sat, 20th Nov 2010 2:48 pm
  14. Languages were definitely not my seminary thing, though I liked Hebrew much better than Greek. I did Greek first year and spent — literally (I finally counted) — 35-40 hours a week on it. I did well, but the price was high. Luckily, for me all the other first-year subjects were basically a matter of review, fill-in-holes in my knowledge, and figure out the professors’ emphases for the tests, so I really could give the kind of time to Greek that it required of me.) If you are taking Greek first, learn the alphabet and some basic paradigms if you can. (Although, if you are anything like me and can’t memorize, then that would be pointless because you will have forgotten them all by next year.) Even better, get someone to explain how the language works overall — always a mystery to me — and read some commentaries on NT texts so you will begin to understand what you’re looking for.

    I stand by my first point however — the first year of seminary is a mass of language, Scripture, and church history, with minimal attention given to spiritual formation — so this is a good time for the latter. (I don’t know about your PTS, but others from other seminaries have told me the same thing.) You can do Greek and Hebrew when you get to seminary, but you will be hard pressed to immerse yourself in the great spiritual writers of the Christian tradition.

  15. Jonathan on Sun, 21st Nov 2010 2:44 am
  16. Hi Mark, I thought about this and just popped back now. One way to play with the languages is to get the textbooks now and ask students if they know good software for the specific language. I use an open source program called anki for a lot of the languages. I wish I’d had this when I was in seminary, because it makes organization a lot easier and will help with review later. There’s probably a good app for your phone. Start asking people now so you can find cards for the specific textbook–it would make a really helpful blog post for others.

    Depending on just how much free time you have, another option may be to do CPE now. I still resent being forced to do CPE, even though it was pretty easy for me. It is a good learning experience, but there were other good learning experiences I needed more. However, there’s no way around it. It’s possible you could apply now and even do it before seminary. CPE was pricey for us, because we had to buy a car and I lost a summer of work, and sometimes there is a fee also.

    I also worked different church jobs during seminary. It’s hard to find positions in PCUSA because there are so many seminarians around, but if you love youth ministry and are looking for some solo experience, you could check out UCC, ELCA, RCA, etc. churches. There’s a job board at PTS you can check, or there was one when I was there.

    Best wishes for seminary! It really is an adventure and I think it will be a lot of fun. Now’s a good time to start working on spiritual support for seminary. Another idea is to find a spiritual director or read fun books that will help you later.

  17. Mark on Thu, 2nd Dec 2010 8:38 am
  18. Thanks, folks.

    Just a few notes.

    1. I’m taking Katie up on her offer of borrowing the books and sitting down to go over Hebrew. (Thanks!)
    2. I have been working with a spiritual director since January. She’s been VERY helpful – particularly with the discernment process.

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