So I've made it through 3/4 of my first week of classes and so far so good. The professors are great and the work, while voluminous, is doable. I'm taking Systematic Theology, Pastoral Care in Congregations, Creating Healthy Congregations, and Paul as Pastoral Strategist. It's a good mix of theory and practice, and I was happy to discover that most of the papers I have to write are less along the lines of academic/research papers and more reflection/theory. We're not expected to just regurgitate the facts and ideas of theologians who came before us, instead we're asked to integrate our own theology with that of classic and modern thinkers and defend/critique those beliefs.
For the most part I haven't had too much trouble functioning as an introvert among many extroverts; everyone here is so friendly and we're all a bunch of church nerds, so I have no problem plopping my tray down at a lunch table and joining in on a conversation about the misogyny of 1 Timothy, the problem of enacting change in older congregations, and what curriculum we used in Sunday School last year. (I know it may sound incredibly boring to some but it's incredibly exciting to me ;-)
Today though, was an off day. In my Paul class yesterday there were mainly 2nd and 3rd year students, and everyone else seemed to be able to burst forth with these insightful and brilliantly expressive comments on the text, while I sat in intimidated silence (and was never called on the few times that I did raise my hand, which made me feel even more invisible.) Coming off of that, this morning I just felt out of sync. I walked into the dining hall for breakfast and all the seats were taken at the one table where everyone had gathered so I ended up sitting by myself at another table. In my Systematic Theology class I was the only first year student among mainly 3rd years, so everyone else knew each other and moved their seats into clusters while I ended up with empty seats all around me and feeling pretty isolated. I did manage to join a study group though, simply by saying "Can I join your group?" (which is a helpful tip for introverts: when feeling isolated, force your way in ;-) After class, nearly everyone stayed behind to continue to "catch up" with each other so I walked to the cafeteria alone and ended up sitting with more upper level and D.Min students that I didn't know, and who didn't seem too interested in getting to know me (::sigh::, I miss newbie orientation already!) One 3rd year student did talk to me; she's in the midst of writing her ordination paper and she gave me helpful advice about the classes I'm taking and the ordination process, but she's like the UCC ministerial candidate poster child - well-dressed, articulate, she easily expressed her concepts of ministerial leadership and Christian faith - I couldn't help but look at her and think "here's a woman who will have no trouble finding a job when she graduates," and at the same time think "I'm not even in the same league as she is so what hope do I have?"
So I finished my lunch, walked back to my room alone and flopped down on the bed. Thinking that the strain of not getting enough sleep, taking new classes, being away from my SO, and my need for an 'introverts recharge' after a very social 2 weeks was the cause of my 'out-of-syncness,' I just laid there for 20 minutes until I literally ended up in a fetal position. When I looked at the clock and saw that it was 12:55, I forced myself to get up and go over to the chapel to attend the weekly Unitarian Universalist worship service. I needed a pick me up and I knew some of the UU students, so I thought what the hell, better to mope in public than in private! I'm glad I went.
I commiserated with some the other newbies who are also feeling their newbieness for the first time as we mix with the upper level students, I got to sing some UU hymns that I haven't heard in years and were always my favorites when I was a UU, and we heard a great sermon that used the imagery of ripening fruit as an analogy for the path we're on in seminary. The woman speaking talked about her mother who suffers from dementia, and one day while they were picking plumbs in her garden her mother told her to pick "only the ones that want to come." Her mother no longer had the ability to recall the word "ripe" but she still could express the idea of what the word meant. "Like fruit on the vine, none of us should be picked before we have ripened," the woman went on to say in her sermon, "and when we are ready, we will come." It was then that I realized that in comparing myself to all these 3rd year students I was looking at the ripened fruit and allowing myself to feel inadequate because I still have a ways to go before I get to that point. But I will get there.
I made some new friends at the UU service and got an invite to an art class they're having tonight. I headed back to my room feeling much better then I did this morning, and to top it all off, I ran into one of the women in my building who handed me a vase full of gorgeous flowers and asked me if I could keep them in my room while she was away for the weekend visiting her spouse. "I'm afraid that they won't retain their beauty if there's no one there to look at them," she said.
Ok, now that I've gotten my apartment set up, agonized over being separated from my SO, had my first "oh-my-God!" moment when I saw the syllabuses for my classes, and dealt with a few new-student jitters, I can honestly say....I freakin' LOVE this place!
Yesterday was the first day of orientation, and they had us running from 8am through 8pm with activities - opening worship; faculty introductions; info sessions on field ed, the computer system, spiritual life, and financial aid; we met with our program advisers, our faculty advisers, had a tour of the campus and the library, met with our spiritual formation groups, which we'll continue to meet with during the year, had an all-school picnic, and finished up the night with an impromptu campfire sing-a-long complete with guitar & banjo, s'mores, and a rousing rendition of Kumbaya. The campus is beautiful. It's on a wooded hill-top with lots of great, old buildings, and as I sat last night watching the flames popping in the fire pit and listening to the crickets alongside the strumming guitar, I was so glad that I chose to come here rather than NYC. I've already made a ton of new friends, gotten lots of advice on what classes to take, and been invited to join study groups.
The whole day was energizing. The faculty is amazing. As they spoke it was obvious that every single one of them is extremely passionate about teaching; they were all so down-to-earth and funny, yet brilliant and inspiring. Despite their revered reputations in the academic world they all seem so approachable and are truly invested in their students lives. The problem is, now I want to take ALL of their classes! ;-)
But the crowning moment came when the President of the seminary spoke about the history of the school (as the oldest graduate seminary in the country) and it's reputation for innovation, social justice, and counter-culture thought. "We welcome those of you who are counter-culture and encourage you to be true to yourselves," he said. "We've had some pretty freaky people come here, and we wouldn't have it any other way."
Anytime the president of a seminary uses the word "freaky" - in a postive way - you know you're in a special place.
I have never been more certain that I am were I need to be.
As promised, here are some photos of my completed room here at Seminary. It's about the size of a budget hotel room but it's plenty of space for what I'll be doing in it (eat, sleep, study, repeat every day for 3 years). It pretty much looks like page 57 of the Ikea catalog, apart from the nifty coffee table which I got at a church tag sale for zero$ (thanks Michelle!). It's small, it's functional, and it's all mine. :-)
Well, I’ve been in Boston since Monday and I finally feel settled enough to devote some time to blogging so here’s my first Seminary Ketchup!
Sunday went a lot smoother than I thought it would, or feared it would. Uhaul called us on Friday to let us know that the equipment we had “reserved” was in high demand in our area and they weren’t sure where they were going to send us to pick it up. Fabulous. I had to be at church by 9:30 to preach and the Uhaul place didn’t open until 9:00. I had visions of dropping my SO off to get the truck and then racing to get me to the church on time. I don’t know if it helped or not, but my SO played the clergy card and told the Uhaul women that our pickup location better be close cuz I had me some preaching to do! Lo and behold Uhaul called us back on Saturday and said they had a truck available that afternoon and we could pick it up a day early at no extra charge. (Yes, this is UHAUL we’re talking about, the company where ‘customer service’ and “hey, it’s not my problem if we ran out of trucks lady” are usually synonymous). They also set our return date as the 2nd rather than the 1st so we actually got a 4-day rental for the price of 2. Of course, our return location got changed at the last minute and we had to spend even more time negotiating Boston’s confusing roadways to get the truck back……one-way-streets, rotaries, commercial roads with steel dividers down the middle and right exits that make you go 5 miles out of your way before you can make a turn to get to something on the other side of the road….when New Englanders say “you caan’t get thaare from haere” they ain’t kidding!
I did my final preaching stint on Sunday and was overwhelmed by the generosity of my home congregation. Our pastor organized a seminary-send-off ritual in which I was presented with gifts and the entire congregation did a laying on of hands. The gifts were amazing: a bicycle chain bracelet, to remind of the past that brought me to this present; a framed blessing that my Pastor received from her pastor when she went off to seminary, given to me with the hope that one day I will have someone special in my congregation who is seminary-bound to pass it along to; and VERY generous gift check donated by members of the congregation which will pay for a good chunk of the many, many books I’ll need to buy for school. Thank you to you all!!!
My SO and I packed up the Uhaul on Sunday afternoon, and threw the cats into a panic as they were locked in the bedroom/bathroom while furniture and boxes were going out the door (Kitty Brain: we’re not moving again!!!). We hit the road at 7am Monday morning and found surprisingly little traffic – thank God for Staycations!
The conversation on the way up: SO: It’s going to take us forever to unload this truck by ourselves (we had help loading it). Me: Nah, this is a seminary, it’s a place full of givers - people will see us with our truck and naturally offer to help – I know I would! SO: What world are you living in??
We got to Boston just before 10am and proceeded to spend 2 hours unloading the truck…by ourselves. Quite a few people walked by and said “hello” but no one offered to help. Welcome to the real world mocat! Lesson number one: Even aspiring pastors can be putzes. Oh, and did I mention that my apartment is on the third floor and there’s no elevator? Actually, I’m glad I’m on the third floor. It’s quieter and more private with no foot traffic going by. In fact, I think I ended up with the best unit (for me) in the building. I’m on the top corner so I have neighbors on only two sides instead of four, and there’s a lovely bunch of trees right in front of my windows so I have privacy and a great view. I’m also on the quad side rather than the parking lot side, which means it’s quieter and I get the morning sun instead of the blazing hot afternoon sun (of course I may be singing a different tune in the winter!). My building is on the left in the photo above, my unit is on the corner behind the trees.
I spent the last two days puttering and now have my apartment set up to my satisfaction. I’ve posted some ‘before’ shots of the mess below, I’ll take some ‘after’ shots tomorrow and post them so you can all see my humble abode in all it’s glory. ;-)
Another reality check: In ten minutes I dropped $450.00 in the bookstore – for four classes. Each class has 4-7 books on the required texts list, and one class has an additional 9 books on the ‘partially required’ list – which means I’d be spending an additional $250 on books in which I may be required to read only one chapter in each. Uh-uh, not gonna happen. I’m going to take my resident hall representative’s advice and take the “partial” books out of the library.
Reality check number three: My Systematic Theology class has an 8 page syllabus, and another 8 page list of books by theologians of every possible stripe of which we have to choose one to read concurrently with our other 15 required books. We have four assigned papers, an in class presentation, and discussion groups that we need to meet with on a regular basis outside of class. The class has 54 students in it, and ‘class participation’ is a good chunk of our grade (I’m used to being the only one in class who participates so this should be interesting as we all try to out shout each other). Our first paper is due the second day of class.