Today we continue on our in depth look at relationships and how life is affected by being in seminary. A large portion of our students, both commuter and residential, have families. As such, people with spouses and children face a unique set of circumstances while studying to fulfill God’s call on their lives. I’m no expert on the subject, so I’ve asked two fellow class mates to share their perspectives – Jeff Courter and Ken Crews. Jeff and Ken are both second year students- I have asked them to share because they have had experiences living on and off campus, being full and part time, having a spouse also in school, etc. I feel like their two stories help to show what it’s really like for folks with families to study at McCormick.
First up is Jeff:
Living in the residential building with my wife and children has been interesting, to say the least, especially now that my wife is also going to school. Five students in one family – someone please stop the madness! Books and papers are everywhere. We don’t have family meals – we graze, like sheep. We have become a small band of hunter-gatherers, foraging in the refrigerator in search of nourishment to keep us alive, stopping at exotic stores like Aldi’s or Save-A-Lot to stock up on food to be consumed without having to be cooked. We have acquired a taste for raw produce.
How does this lifestyle affect my seminary studies? My apartment life has become a lab experiment in communal tribal living…this living arrangement is intentional and happenstance at the same time. We live in a mixture of organization and chaos…It is not painless, and we have each seen more challenges in our lives than we have ever undergone until now. Negotiating conflicting schedules, adjusting to using public transportation instead of driving in suburbia, now being connected more by school breaks on the calendar than by family events – this year has added new stresses to our family life. Yet each one of us looks forward to a brighter future, each of us anticipating doing what we love to do in new careers. After all, that’s the promise and premise of education – to enable and equip us to fully engage in a vocation, in the fullest sense John Calvin used that term.
For me personally, I have thoroughly enjoyed living with and among colleagues and peers. I get to discuss things that most Americans avoid – spiritual issues! It’s a little like being part of an underground culture, without the persecution and oppression (thank God for that!). For me, the community of faith is essential. It’s what we are called to build. It’s the embodiment of the Kingdom of God in our world. It’s why I came here, and what I long to help develop and create.
This has been an exciting time for me. I have learned from women and men who have great learning, who have devoted much of their lives to research and are handing that experience down to us - not only on subjects like theology, history and languages, but also essential knowledge about practicing spirituality and self-care, and understanding human relationships in pastoral ministry. McCormick’s instructors are some of the most interesting and caring people I have ever met.
I have also met some of the most enthusiastic and committed men and women as fellow students. My hope for both our denomination and the greater Christian Church has grown, due to seeing and hearing from my peers. What excites me is being able to share my vision, and hear the vision of others, which are often similar to mine. It’s like “we get it” together, seeing our responsibility to social justice, to the transforming good news of Jesus Christ, to our stewardship of God’s creation, and to a greater sharing of love and fellowship to the world. These students are my partners in a Christian movement of transformation of our world, from what it is to what God wants it to be. While our callings and paths may diverge after this time together, we are linked in this great endeavor, and will carry one another from this place in our hearts and memories.
This is a transitional time for all of us. Many come to McCormick with new relationships – new families, new spouses, new children…many come here after relationships end. We also establish new relationships while we are here! But most of us will go forth from here to someplace else; our time together is temporary, and we understand this.
Even so, whether permanent or temporary, life is all about relationships. People will come and go in our lives, some for longer periods of time than others, some affecting us more than others. Some become relationships we call family, and some become our spiritual family. McCormick is an institution devoted to helping us grow and develop our relationships with God and one another. To me, this is the most important lesson we can ever learn. Our relationships define us, and affect our families, our churches, our societies, and our world. Even temporary relationships are important, and can change us permanently. Relationships are like any other growing and living thing – they must be nourished and attended to in order to thrive. We must be intentional in our interactions with one another, in order to make our relationships positive ones.
My family is changing, as all families do. Two of my children are in college, and my youngest is applying for college. My wife has returned to college. Seminary and college are each a preparatory and transitory phase in most of our lives. My children are moving on with their lives. My wife and I will move on from here as well when I am finished with my studies. While this is not my last year, the day is coming when I will finish and leave McCormick. I will likely grieve having to leave, because I love being here. But this is a preparatory phase, not a final destination. There is a larger objective for us outside McCormick.
I sometimes think of McCormick like a sort of cyclotron – a particle energizer which accelerates subatomic particles towards the speed of light. The more I learn, the more I accelerate, and the more energy I absorb, it seems. Sometimes I am anxious to burst forth and do what I came here to be equipped to do – ministry! I love being here, but I am also ready to be sent forth, like the disciples of Jesus. The day for me to go forth is coming quickly – life moves fast, as my family life has shown me.
Meanwhile, I am trying to make the most of every minute, every learning experience, and every relationship I have while I am here. The more energy I absorb, the more I will take with me.
Last, but certainly not least, is Ken:
What was I thinking when I responded to God’s call to attend seminary? The reading assignments alone can be a full-time job (thanks Ken and Bob!), not to mention actually having to attend class, write papers, try to conjure up some creative idea for a PIF project, and make time for the occasional study break! Now add two children (Owen 9, Evelyn 5), a wife (Heather, you can ask her age!), a dog (the amazingly lazy, Sasha), a part-time job, and a commute to and from Indiana everyday to the mix and you have yourself quite the adventure. While all of this creates a rather demanding time schedule, I wouldn’t trade any of it for all the riches in this world. Why? Because, I am precisely where God wants me to be. I am able to engage in deep conversation with wonderful friends in a unique community, and at the end of the day be delighted when my daughter, Evelyn, finds it comical that she and dad are both learning their letters – English for her, and Greek for me!
Be assured, this adventure is only possible because of the support of many amazing family and friends. It has meant that my wife, Heather, had to return to full-time work outside of the home because I left a well paying job to follow God’s call. She never hesitated, and has always supported me in my journey. It has required many family and friends to sacrifice time to look after our children as I pursue my studies and Heather works full-time, and it has required that my children sacrifice time with mom and dad while we’re both away from the home more. Sometimes it has even required professors and EA’s to sacrifice classroom space when my kids had to sit through class with me (thanks Paula, Katie, and Sylvia!!!).
Although attending McCormick has required quite a bit of sacrifice, it has been so much more rewarding. My family and I have grown closer to one another because of all the change in our lives, and we have all grown closer to God as we move along this path together. We are always discovering new ways in which we come together as a family, and new ways in which God is working in our lives and providing for us as we move along the journey. Our journey through seminary as a family is proof that God uses many unique people in many unique ways to accomplish the work of divine love.
May God bless and keep you all, and your families (whatever shape they take!)….
So there we have it! If you have questions pertaining to your family, don’t be afraid to ask the friendly Admissions office workers, or even our dean of Students.
We’re not done with this series yet, so keep checking back for more students responding to what it’s been like for them and their relationships while in seminary!
Peace and Blessings,