Not everyone who graduates from seminary becomes a pastor. When people learn I'm one of those people, they usually ask me what happened, why I'm not ordained. There are many reasons, including a messy divorce (is there any other kind?) and the demands of being a single parent. But recently someone asked me what I'm doing with my degree. I thought this was a good question.
So what happens to those of us who don't go on to be ordained, is there life after seminary?
When I first considered going to seminary, unsure if it was the right thing to do, I asked advice from many people, including several pastors. One of them reminded me that a person doesn't need to be ordained to be a minister, saying that anyone can proclaim the word of God. Later, when it became clear that I wouldn't become a pastor, these words returned to me as I began to think of other ways to be of service.
So after graduation I joined the congregation where I had served as a part-time intern, St. Mark Lutheran, Pennsburg, Pa. Once I was a member, I sought out opportunities to put my education to use. I began by teaching the seventh-grade catechism class and working with the youth group. This was a great way to use my seminary education, while learning more about the congregation through connecting with our youth and their families.
After a few years of that and volunteering for various church events, I decided that joining the council would be a good way to serve. I've now been on the council most of the last 14 years. I sometimes complain, but I've enjoyed being on council and feel my seminary education has been a real asset. My education and experience have given me a better understanding of the challenges of ministry as well as how to meet the needs of the congregation to support our ministry in the world.
Along with the council, I have continued to teach, volunteer and use my writing skills to support the ministry of the congregation.
I've also been able to use what I learned in seminary outside of the congregation as a part-time hospital chaplain, providing support and comfort to the sick and their loved ones, as well as to the staff.
In addition, the skills I learned in seminary have helped me in business, where I was responsible for planning projects, building teams and supporting business partners. These were all skills I honed during seminary while working within congregations, where I managed projects and built teams to meet our goals.
So yes, there is life after seminary for those of us who weren't ordained. Rather than let it simply gather dust, I use my education to serve my congregation, community and the church as a whole. As I shared what I have learned, my faith has grown, enabling me to join with other people of faith as we follow the call to be Christ to the world by carrying on his ministry of hope right here, where we are, as we share the good news of God's healing love with our aching and broken world.
We don't need a degree or any special skills to be ministers. All we need is faith and each other, for sharing faith with each other causes it to grow.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers