Take a class (not at your school)

Taking a seminary class that only lasts a week—sounds pretty amazing, right? While it isn’t for everyone, January term (or J-term) courses are an opportunity that many seminaries offer. These intensive classes can last anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks, taking place between Christmas and the start of spring semester.

Currently, I’m in the middle of one of these J-term classes, which focuses on caring for victims of sexual and domestic violence. What makes this class particularly special is that I’m not taking it at my own seminary, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. Instead, I’m temporarily attending the neighboring McCormick Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian school.

Until I began this class, I didn’t fully understand the benefit of learning at another seminary, even if it was for just a week. What I am finding is that this course exposes me to viewpoints I otherwise would not have heard. I’m making connections that I would not have typically had the chance to make.

I’m also learning new information and skills from more than our (highly qualified) instructor. The other students are teaching me by sharing their stories and asking challenging questions. Being a student in a different environment has made this J-term unique for me.

Quite a few seminaries provide an opening to learn from other institutions. Here in Chicago, LSTC and McCormick are both part of a larger group called the Association of Chicago Theological Schools. This is an ecumenical alliance of seminaries and divinity schools in the area. They share resources and encourage their students to sign up for classes at other ACTS schools. A similar organization is based in Berkeley, Calif., called the Graduate Theological Union.

Not every seminary or divinity school offers this exact model of learning, but if this is an interest for you, I recommend exploring the possibility of taking a course or two at another school, especially one that is outside of your denomination. If you are able to study at another school in the area, you might find that you are exposed to parts of your community you didn’t know existed. If the seminary is not local, you can meet new people across the country or world.

As I continue in my degree program, it becomes more and more clear to me that pastors and Christian educators need to know how to navigate ecumenical conversations. After you leave seminary, you won’t only be working alongside Lutherans, or Catholics, or Baptists or whomever. We have a lot to teach each other. As you move forward in your vocation, may you be blessed with rich ecumenical experiences, too!