Some Extras You May Not Know About…

hos praying

photo found on flickr.com by David Amsler

Some people are on the path of religious education from a very early age. I would say that about 50% of the people I meet in either a seminary or a religious studies department knew they would end up where they are in their early years of high school or jr. high.

I…on the other hand…am as shocked as anyone that I study theology and history. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and I still get pleasant surprises on what exactly it means to be “in” theological education. The reason I bring this up today is that even this week I learned something new about the whole seminary process that I had no idea about earlier.

This revelation made me realize that when I first applied to go to seminary, there were two massive aspects of getting a M.Div. that I had NO idea about: CPE and internship. This made me realize that there may be those, like me, who sign up for theological education not knowing anything about some details of the process. So, for those few of you at home searching around the internet for clues, here are two big ones that you may not know about.

Internship: Although a lot of discussions (both here and elsewhere) about seminary focus on the classes you take, some might be surprised to hear that many seminaries have mandatory internships. Internship is usually a very large chunk of time where a student works at a church in order to get real life experience of what being a pastor or religious leader might be like. When I went to Luther Seminary, internship was usually during a student’s entire third year where they might work in a multitude of different scenarios. One friend worked for a year as an assistant pastor at a huge church is Las Vegas, while another friend became head pastor of a tiny church in rural North Dakota. At Garrett-Evangelical, I have a friend who isn’t able to go away for her internship, so she does part-time work at local congregations in Chicago. For schools where internship is a requirement, this provides their students a real opportunity to test out what their profession will be like and learn from lived experience.

CPE: Most schools that hand out master of divinity degrees require their students to spend a sizable amount of time doing “CPE” or Clinical Pastoral Education. What is this? Well, in addition to classes and other responsibilities, many schools necessitate that their students work in a clinical setting like a hospital or nursing home. As someone from the outside looking in (this wasn’t required in my program) it is something that can be incredibly emotional for students, but also a powerful experience. I have come across very few people don’t say that they didn’t grow or learn some deep truths from their time in CPE and that it better prepared them for some of the more emotionally challenging aspects of their future job.

I think a few of you might read this and feel excited about these possible future encounters, while others might become overwhelmed. For those of you that are overwhelmed, reach out to those you may know who have already gone through the process or ask some questions of the schools you are thinking of attending. In the end, you might realize that these are adventures that you are really excited to experience.