My Experience as a Second-Career Student at Princeton Seminary, part 2

May 26, 2013 by · 9 Comments
Filed under: Princeton Seminary, Religion, Seminary 

This post is a continuation of post 1 from yesterday.  I recommend that you read that post first.

2.  I feel like I don’t know as much as others.   If your first degree wasn’t in Religion or Theology or something along those lines, then you will enter seminary knowing less than some of your classmates.  Some of them will take the option to test out of classes like Greek, Hebrew, Old Testament, New Testament, or Systematic Theology based on their undergraduate work.  Others will in essence take those classes over again.  In your first year, it will be common for you to hear terms in class that you have never heard, but that others around you understand completely.

DON’T panic.  You can catch up.  Google is your friend – most of the names and terms that you will hear are easily defined online.  I remember the first time in Old Testament class that I was taking notes, and an unfamiliar name came up.  I looked puzzled, and a young friend leaned over and wrote the correct spelling of the name on my notes.  It was a great help.  One staff member who was herself a second-career student at PTS told me the story of how she heard the term “hermeneutics” and wrote in a paper about the theologian “Herman Neutics”.

DO get help from others.  The professors and teaching assistants understand and are usually willing to help you catch up.  Contrary to popular belief, the Old Testament class is not intended as a “weed out” class – the professors truly want you to get through and do your best.  The same goes for the language classes.  Your fellow classmates will also be willing to help – both the young and the old.

DO know that the situation will reverse itself later.  In your second and third years, the classes shift from those with a flood of information in huge lectures to classes that require more thinking and discussion in smaller settings.  Your life experience and work experience will be of benefit to you.  You may be taking preaching and have to write a funeral sermon, and some of your classmates may have never attended a single funeral.  You may take a speech class where you learn to say the Words of Institution for Communion, and your years of hearing them said over and over will greatly help you memorize.  In a pastoral care class you may be called upon to role play a situation that you’ve experienced, while your younger classmates have not.  At this point, your willingness to share your life and experience will help them.

Also, you have undoubtedly worked in the world, and the same practical work skills (organization, time management, self-direction) will be of great benefit as you learn how to study again.  The seminary degree is one where doing all of the assigned work is impossible – you have to figure out what readings must be read, and how to skim them, and how to write.  It’s likely that you’ve done that in your career.

3. I feel like I’m missing out on things.  This is particularly true if you live off campus.  A lot of the community building that happens takes place in the evenings, in the dorms, and between the apartments.  If you come on campus for classes, bring your lunch and eat alone, and then go home you will miss out on community.  This can also happen if you live in the dorms or apartments.

There are a few ways to fix this.

DO eat lunch at the dining hall every day that you can, even if you bring your own lunch.  A lot of the social structure of the campus gets built in the dining hall.  DO join groups of people that you don’t know periodically.  DO meet friends of friends – some of my strongest friendships can come from those connections.

DO come back to the main campus at night for events and organizations and special worship services.  Some of the neatest things that happen at seminary happen outside of the classroom.  I participate in the handbell choir that meets every Wednesday for rehearsal, and that time of the week feeds me.  Others attend worship services with groups or participate in other organizations.

DO socialize with classmates of every age outside of class.  Outside of lunch, too.

Now, this may sound like you have to be a social butterfly, maximum participation extrovert.  That’s not true at all.  You know when you need to study, and you know when you need to take time for yourself.  I’m a fairly strong introvert, and I manage this.  One thing that I learned the hard way (by almost burning out) is that seminary forms all sides of you – the academic, the spiritual, the social, the practical.  You won’t make it if you concentrate on homework and reading.  Sometimes you have to make the decision that right now, this minute, it’s more important for me to connect with other people than to keep up in a specific class.  And you have to listen for the working of the Holy Spirit in those moments.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is to sit in the dining hall hoping that someone will sit and distract you from work.  Because those conversations turn out more often than you’d think to be important moments in your formation.

4. A few last thoughts.

Attend chapel.  It’s worth it.  And the preacher is often a senior.  Someday you will be that senior, and want others to attend your service.

The schedule isn’t set up for those who work.  It’s just not – that’s not their priority.  Even if you construct the perfect schedule that balances your classes and work and whatever outside life needs there are, it’s not going to work every week.  Shoot, the schedule isn’t even set up for those who have Field Ed (except for Wednesday afternoon), and that’s a requirement.  Here’s the thing – ministry isn’t on a perfect schedule either.  You have to learn to be flexible, and to build resources into your life to compensate for those unexpected emergencies.

Ask for help when you need it – with schoolwork, with mental health, in spiritual crisis, when your car breaks down.  There’s an aura at Princeton that seems to require us to act as though we have our stuff together all of the time.  The truth is the total opposite – nobody has their stuff together all of the time, and it’s rare that any person has all of their stuff together at the same time.  The school is starting to work on breaking down this need for apparent perfection.  What that means for us is that we need to work on it from the other side.  Let your dirty laundry show some, let people know that you need help, and offer help to others.  I hear from others that this is an issue unique to Princeton.  Let’s fix it.

Have fun.  It’s not possible to study and work and pray and such all of the time.  Be sure to take time out to enjoy yourself and recharge your batteries.  A 20-minute power nap helps many people to work for several more hours.  It’s the same with fun – a fun afternoon helps you to work all weekend to finish a paper.  All work and no play makes you a terrible minister.

 

Last – if you are planning to attend Princeton or considering it, please feel free to contact me with questions.  If you will be there for the 2013-14 year (my senior year), please find me and we’ll chat.  I live in the area and expect to do so after graduation, so I’ll be around.

 

My Experience as a Second-Career Student at Princeton Seminary, part 1

May 25, 2013 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Princeton Seminary, Religion, Seminary 

I’m a senior at Princeton Theological Seminary.  I’m also a second-career student – my first career was in the Information Technology field for 20 years.  I live off campus at my home near the seminary.  This makes me unusual at PTS.  I’m an odd duck, but this duck has learned to swim.  Hopefully other ducks can learn from my experiences.

This seminary is really set up to provide a residential experience.  The dormitories are surrounding the quad and are near the classroom and other buildings.  The apartment housing is separated from the main campus by several miles, but forms a community of its own.  PTS has intentionally created a residential community where people will interact outside of class as well as inside.  Living off campus I miss some of that.  A duck in another pond, as it were, visiting occasionally.

The student population is overwhelmingly in their twenties.  There is a small but significant percentage of people who are older – anywhere from thirties through sixties – but for the most part the students either came straight from college or had a couple of years between college and seminary.  In my mid-40’s, that makes me unusual.  An older duck.

Last, the seminary does not allow part-time study for the M.Div. degree.  There is limited part-time study for the M.A. degrees.  There are very few evening classes and I have yet to see one designed for Masters’ students.  The expectation is that school is your first priority.

It’s important to know that the seminary knows that it has set things up a certain way, catering to the needs of mostly-younger students who live on campus.  It’s not designed to make things harder for second-career students or to turn them away but we need to realize that we are a small population.  There are beginning to be signs that they recognize the need for part-time studies, and that the percentage of students who are older is increasing.  But so far, it’s a twentysomething full-time on-campus world.

I think that I have found my way through that.  It’s easier for me because my wife works and has a well-paying job, so I am able to attend school full-time without needing a lot of outside work.  It’s also nice to come home to a single-family house rather than a dorm room or apartment on campus.  But I miss things that happen on campus and it’s a different experience.

Here are some thoughts on what you should know and what I recommend that you do if you’re a duck like me, in order to get the fullest experience on campus.  The first thought today, another three in the next post.

One note – there is a lot of “us and them” language below.  It really doesn’t work that way most of the time at school.  It’s more like each of us is at a different place along different spectra – maturity, age, spiritual growth, academic achievement, etc.

1. They’re so YOUNG.  Yeah, they are.  It’s a bit jarring the first time that you have a conversation with someone and realize that they were born after you graduated from high school.  Some of your classmates are about the right age to be your children.  For some older students, their children are older than their classmates.  It takes some getting used to.  You will make references to things from your youth that get blank stares.  You will remember events that were just history book entries for your classmates.

You have something to learn from them.  They speak the language of younger generations, and you will someday minister to those generations.  Many of your younger peers come from college with a Religion degree, while your degree may be in something else entirely (in my case, Computer Science).  They will know things that are really useful in class that you have to catch up on.  They may have greater technological savvy than you do (though maybe not – at seminary we joke that there is no math requirement).

Even more important than that is the fact that we all grow and mature at different rates.  You will be more mature than some of your younger peers.  Some of them may be more mature than you.  All of us are on a journey of growth and discernment of vocation and theology and becoming who God calls us to be.  We are developing our pastoral identities.  We have something to learn from the younger folks, and they have something to learn from us.

So a few things to do.  DO make friends with younger folks.  Try to experience life through their eyes as well as through your own.  You will be helpful with life experience.  They will be helpful with perhaps more energy than you have, and their differing life experiences.  Spend time with them doing what they enjoy.  Introduce them to what you enjoy.  Share common enjoyment.  You’ll find that you learn as much from them as they do from you, and that this a gift to both parties.

DO make friends with the other second-career people on campus.  PTS runs a second-career group (up to 40) and a third-career group (40 and older) through the chapel office.  Take advantage of those lunches.  Find the people that you can talk to when you need to have a conversation without explaining Reagan’s presidency or the Saturday-morning cartoons that you watched when you were a kid.  Find the people who learned to learn the same way that you did so many years ago.  Find the people who share the life stage that you are in, and know what you are dealing with.

This list continues tomorrow with part 2.

Theology on Tap

September 14, 2007 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Church New Member Process, Religion, Young Adult 

Theology on Tap

The Princeton, NJ Nassau and Witherspoon Street Presbyterian churches, the Presbyterian Church of Lawrenceville, and the Princeton Seminary have jointly started a young adult program called “Theology on Tap”.  Every 2nd Thursday this fall (and if last night is any indication, it will continue beyond fall) at 8pm young adults gather at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room of the Nassau Inn in Princeton for community and some light theological discussion.

Last night was the first event.  I estimate that 20-25 people showed up by the time I left at 9:30 (gotta be at work today).  There was a mix of church members, church leaders (clergy and staff), and seminarians plus perhaps one or two “bring a friend” folks.  I heard some folks saying that they’d invite friends to the next one, and I know that the postcards (with the image above) were taken to be given out.  We may have more people next time.  Ages ranged from the low 20’s through me at near 40, to a few who I suspect were older than 40.

Each of us was given an 18oz glass (call it a pint) with the PCUSA logo on one side and “Theology on Tap” on the other.  We used them for drinking and were able to take them home.  (I’m not clear on whether or not to bring them back for the next meeting.)  Only one was broken – my fault – I stood up to let somebody by and the chair hit the table behind me and it tipped and CRASH!  Oops.

The meeting organizers bought food for the group, and the rest of us paid for our drinks.  I suspect that the glasses were the biggest expense and otherwise this program is pretty inexpensive to run.

After a short introduction of everybody to everybody, we broke into small group and were asked to discuss any burning theological questions.  The questions weren’t easy.  At my table (from memory, I think I’m missing a few):

  • What does Jesus’ death on the cross mean to me?
  • Is God still involved in the world today?  Does prayer work?
  • A brief discussion on the Trinity and the paradox of three-in-one
  • A statement on morality and society
  • Where do people of other faiths fit into God’s plan and/or salvation?

As I said – that’s what I remember.  I think we covered 6 or 7 just throwing ideas around.  The crowd was highly educated on the relevant issues – the few who weren’t ministry professionals or seminary students were highly involved laypeople like me.  After the theology the group continued with basic socializing.

For those on Facebook, there is a group for Theology on Tap in Princeton at Theolodoodle.

Now for my personal impressions.

I’m a fairly strong introvert, though I can present a brave face to new people and the less sensitive might not pick me out as an introvert.  Because of that, parties (and hanging out at a bar counts) tend to sap my energy.  I generally don’t enjoy them.  I tend to arrive early and leave early.

Last night was nothing like that.  I felt comfortable with the folks that I met and felt that “instantly comfortable” feeling with the new folks that I met.  I left at 9:30 not because I wanted to, but because I had to get sleep before going to work today.  That’s rare for me – I usually leave because I want to but last night I left because I had to.

The other rare thing is that I liked everybody that I met.  That is nearly unique in my experience and it is unique to church-related events (Youth Advisory Delegate events, church camp, and this).  I enjoyed meeting Barbara, Kate’s friends Sarah and Sarah (apologies if the spelling is wrong) and Grier at our small table.  I enjoyed meeting the others in other groups and next time I’ll make sure to mingle more with people that I don’t know.  I was also pleasantly surprised at how well I fit in at almost-40 with the folks from age 23 to slightly-older-than-me.

The theological discussion was also deep and meaningful for its brevity.  These folks have actually thought about the questions and have something very real to say.  It was all said without judgment of those who hold an alternative view.

I’m 90% sure that I’ll be there for the 3 scheduled meetings to come.  I might miss next month because of my schedule.  I’m also going to see if Carolyn wants to come.

If you’re in the Princeton area and interested in meeting some great people and talking theology, stop by on the 2nd Thursday starting at 8pm!