Princeton Theological Seminary, here I come

November 3, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Candidate Process, Princeton Seminary, Religion, Seminary 

So, Mark … anything new going on?

I’m so glad you asked.


Princeton Theological Seminary

Ok, let’s back up a bit.

A few months ago, I told you about my change in career and life direction.  I’ve continued pursuing that direction.  (If you follow that link, it backs up even farther)  In late August I was enrolled as an Inquirer in my presbytery, confirmed by my presbytery in September.

I’m geographically bound (my wife has a job here that pays well enough for me do follow this path), so my choices for a Reformed seminary came down to two:  Princeton Theological Seminary and New Brunswick Theological Seminary.  Both are fine seminaries with different focuses.  Princeton focuses exclusively on the full-time student who is able to complete their M.Div. degree in 3 years (4 for a dual degree).  Princeton is a PC(USA) seminary, and is very academic.  New Brunswick (a Reformed Church in America seminary) focuses on the part-time student (though some students attend full-time) and emphasizes the practical aspects of ministry, with a concentration on urban ministry.  Princeton Seminary has an ivy-league-like setting surrounded on three sides by Princeton University, and has about 600 students at any given time, with about 475 of them in a Masters program.  New Brunswick is in a mixed college/urban setting, surrounded on three sides by the Rutgers University College Avenue campus (where I earned my undergraduate degree in Computer Science).  New Brunswick has smaller graduating classes of 50 or so.  Princeton has some ethnic diversity, but New Brunswick is so diverse that it’s hard to call any ethnicity a majority.  Both share about the same gender diversity.  Theologically the student bodies are quite different.  Princeton’s students are 50% Presbyterian, with the rest scattered among many denominations and non-denominational backgrounds.  New Brunswick has few Presbyterian students (and not even a majority of Reformed students) with a very wide spread of denominations and non-denominational backgrounds.  Both reside in my presbytery, and have connections to my Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM) and students from my presbytery.  Princeton is a very residential school – nearly all students live on campus in either dorms or apartments.  New Brunswick has very limited housing and most students commute (and many work full-time and study at night).

I visited New Brunswick last May during one of their open house events.  I had time one evening to meet faculty, staff, current students and other prospective students.  I was able to attend chapel, receive a tour of the campus (primarily the library), and attend a class.  What I discovered was a very family-like atmosphere – it was clear to me that the faculty and staff truly care about their students as individuals.  The class that I attended was professionally taught and intimate – about 30 students for a course that would have over 100 at Princeton.  The main building is about the size of one of Princeton’s academic or administrative buildings, if not a little smaller.  I felt that I could study there, but I also felt out of place demographically and theologically.

I have had MANY connections and experiences with Princeton Seminary.  My church employs 4 seminary interns each year, and we have 3 Princeton students not “of the congregation” under care for their own journeys.  I have attended events like the Institute for Youth Ministry Forum.  On the advice of a friend, I audited a class at Princeton last spring.  I have a large number of Twitter friends who are current Princeton students or alumni.  A few church members and staff relatives are employed at the seminary.  My presbytery work and the Revive! event last June brought me into contact with many other folks who fit all of those categories.

Last spring during the Youth Forums, and on days that I audited the class or had a Revive meeting on campus, I sat on the steps of Miller Chapel and tried to imagine myself as a Princeton student.  It was a lot easier than I expected.  Being there just felt right.

So I worked diligently on my application from August through the end of September.   I wrote my long essay and the short answers that were requested by the application.  I found friends who would write my references.  In short – I treated the application project like any of my other projects and pursued it relentlessly and with a smidge of overkill.  I submitted my application at the end of September.  My last reference was received on October 22.  I’d already had my interview on October 6, so my application was complete at that point.
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From October 20-22, Carolyn and I (she wanted to go) attended the Princeton Seminar – a three-day admissions event at the seminary.  We had time to eat and meet with student hosts, faculty, staff and others.  (The President, Iain Torrance joined Carolyn and I and our campus host for the first dinner – to our surprise and delight.)  We were able to attend classes and hear presentations from different administrative departments.  We ate at the campus dining facility – both private catered meals and along side the students.  We were also given a walking tour of the campus.

Two different things stood out during the visit.

First, I was comfortable there.  REALLY comfortable.  So comfortable that I’ve only felt as free of anxiety in a few other places in my life – at my home with Carolyn or at Camp Johnsonburg.  The morning before we left for the visit Carolyn asked me if I was nervous.  I thought about it and answered (to my surprise), “No.  I suppose I should be but I’m not.”  I found the classes fascinating.  I found the conversations stimulating.  I found the presentations interesting.  And throughout it all I had none of the nervousness that I’d expected to have – given that I was being evaluated even while I was doing the evaluating.

Second, I kept bumping into people that I already knew.  Carolyn and I ran into my spiritual director in the first 10 minutes on campus.  I met one twitter friend for the first time, and bumped into two others (literally bumped into in one case).  I sat in a class taught by my CPM chair, with one student who is a member of my church.  I ran into students from the class that I audited last spring.  I ran into people who worked on Revive with me.  I ran into people that I had only previously met at Camp Johnsonburg.  In short – all of my church-related worlds collided during this one visit.  It’s as if many, many, many of my church experiences intersected at a single point – at Princeton Seminary.  Biggest of all for me was the sense that I got from my friends and prior contacts that they were happy to see me at Princeton.  For an introvert like me, that is hugely important.

During the visit, I thought I’d heard the Director of Admissions mention that the Admissions Committee meets monthly, with a meeting “this Wednesday” – which I took to mean the day that our visit started.  I assumed that I’d missed the deadline and would be waiting a least a month.  The Wednesday after the visit I received a thin envelope from Admissions at PTS.  After a moment’s panic I opened it only to read “Your application is now complete and we will begin processing it.”  Heart-attack averted.  On Friday, I e-mailed a Princeton staff member who is on the Admissions Committee about a church-related issue, and got back the reply “I hope we see you as a student at PTS next year!”  I took that as a good sign.

This past Saturday, I received a thickish envelope from Admissions.  I brought it inside to the kitchen where Carolyn was cooking.  I casually tried to sort through the mail to make the pile of things I should open, and about halfway through the process just dropped the rest of the mail and tore open the envelope.  “Congratulations!  It is my great pleasure to inform you of the decision of our Admissions Committee.  You have been accepted into candidacy …” and that’s as far as I got before I started jumping up and down like a six-year-old (scaring Carolyn and the cat).  I immediately send a DM to one of my favorite friends who has served as native guide through the process, called my Session Liaison, and then tweeted the news.

This morning I spent some time in silent prayer about this decision.  Both schools have pro and con attributes and arguments, but there is one clear direction.

Tomorrow, while I am at Princeton for the Institute of Youth Ministry Conference on Emerging Adulthood, I will stop by Admissions and drop off my Letter of Confirmation and deposit.

I will begin my Master of Divinity (M. Div.) program starting in the Fall Term of the 2011-2012 academic year, making me a member of the class of 2014 at Princeton Theological Seminary.  Next September I will be a seminary student.

And I’m happy, nervous, and have this feeling of rightness about it.  I believe God is in this decision, and all of the little interactions over a number of years that led up to it.

Into the future

September 2, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Candidate Process, Seminary, Work 

Hello, folks.

I know that this blog has been dormant for a while.  The main reason was that I was being very careful not to post anything related to my job search that might upset a future employer.  As you know if you go back into my history, I’ve been mostly unemployed since August 2008.  More recently working with the US Census allowed me to create my own small business without upsetting the unemployment folks and that has been operating at a part-time sporadic level since last spring.

Throughout my unemployment period I repeatedly heard a call to ministry.  Sometimes it took the form of a thought that perhaps I should go to seminary.  Often it took the form of me simply noticing that I was choosing to spend my free time while unemployed increasing my volunteer work in the church.  I also found myself thinking that my church work was more important that my job search at times.  A number of times it took the form of a surprise opportunity to stretch my ministry skills into a new area, and succeed, and I credit God with providing those opportunities.  Once in the last 2 years I had a sense of God’s immediate presence, which felt a lot like my previous dream and vision.

All of this came to a head this past January.   Several events – conversations with people that I know, and my hard work back home the week that my church’s mission trip was caught in Haiti after the earthquake – led me to the point where I felt that I “can’t not” consider seminary.  So I took a few steps in that direction.  In the spring I audited a class at Princeton Seminary on pastoral counseling.  I spent a LOT of time talking to people who have already gone through the vocational discernment process.  My wife and I went to considerable efforts to determine whether or not our relationship could handle the change in career to one that pays less and demands more.  We consulted a financial planner to make sure that our cash flow and retirement planning would allow for me to have five years (the next year, 3 years of seminary, and a year after seminary looking for work) of very low income.  I prayed a LOT – sometimes for God to help me make it happen and sometimes for God to take away the call.  Ultimately I reached the point in August where my wife and I (among others – see below) agree that going to seminary and likely going into ordained minstry is the right choice.
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While this discernment was going on (and believe me, it will continue essentially forever but will be very focused for the next few years) I started the official process for becoming an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA).  My Session voted to recommend me to the presbytery Committee on Preparation for Ministry (CPM) as an Inquirer in March.  I met with CPM this past Monday evening and they voted to recommend that the Presbytery of New Brunswick enroll me as an Inquirer at the next meeting in 2 weeks.  So from the official side I’m on my way.  Our denomination has a very planned and regimented process of care, support, discernment and gate-keeping where the CPM committee will work with me (and my church Session, and to some degree the seminary) between now and the day that I may someday be ordained into my first call to make sure that God, the community and I all see that Call to ministry.  That’s moving now.

My plan at this point is to start seminary for my Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree in the Fall of 2011.  Our financial plan calls for me to work on a very part-time basis for each of the next 5 years.  So for the next year I hope to find some combination of small business work, project work (hopefully church-related or something similar) and a regularly scheduled part-time job (again, ideally church-related or something in the non-profit field) that makes up about 10-15 hours a week.  At the same time I’ll be continuing to discern, work on seminary applications, and volunteer at church and elsewhere.  My wife has a solid well-paying job here so we are not looking to move either for school or the future.

So that’s what’s going on.  If you have questions, please feel free to ask them in the comments.  I do plan to reactivate this blog going forward to keep you updated on the journey and to again open up the release of writing that I felt needed to be temporarily stifled by my job search.  Watch this space!