What I miss about seminary (and what I don’t)

Next month, I’ll hit my one-year graduation anniversary. (Well, technically, this time last year I still had three months of field work to complete, but I walked in graduation all the same.)

It’s hard to say if it really feels like I got my Master of Divinity diploma a full year ago. The last twelve months for me have been divided into three big chunks: finishing a full-time internship at a church, being unemployed and waiting to be called as a pastor, and finally starting my first position. Life has been alternately hectic and painfully slow.

I graduated from seminary in Chicago in May 2016 and will be headed back there in a few weeks for a visit. The husband has a work trip and I’ll be going with him for a couple of days. I haven’t been to Chicago since the end of summer, so I’m looking forward to returning for just a bit. Lately, I’ve also been looking back on my time there as a seminarian and thinking of the parts I loved, or didn’t love as much.

First, now that it’s been a year, I can definitively say that I miss the feeling of being in school. There’s something exciting about starting a new semester and being surrounded by people who value education as much as you do. I love to learn and get a boost of energy from an academic environment. I’m sure a lot of people can relate. Of course, school (and higher learning in particular) can be completely exhausting, so I don’t look back on it thinking it was better than it was. All the same, I do miss studying in the library with a coffee, contributing in class, and walking around campus.

Besides that, the other significant element of seminary I miss is being around friends all the time. I didn’t have that as much in my final year, when I lived out of the city near my internship congregation. While I was taking classes, though, I lived on campus and knew almost all my neighbors. A lot of them were friends of mine, which made it easy to spend time together on weekends or grab lunch between classes. It’s easy to maintain friendships when you can see each other’s apartments across the sidewalk. When you all move to different states after graduation, it takes more effort–but if the friendship is strong enough and both people are making an effort, it will last.

Something I didn’t like as much about seminary: I have to say that I don’t miss being so strapped for money all the time. I had some scholarships and worked a lot so I didn’t have to take out enormous loans, but I did end up owing a fair amount of money at the end of my degree. Despite a lot of misconceptions, seminary usually isn’t free–it’s graduate school and someone has to pay for it. It was stressful to see that bill go up every semester. Now, I’m in repayment on my loans. Even though it isn’t fun to make those payments every month, it does feel good to be finally making significant progress on wiping my student loans out forever. It would be better if they didn’t exist at all, but gaining ground financially is the next best option. I am more in control of my financial life than I was a year ago.

I also like the feeling of relative certainty that I now have about the short to medium-range future. I know life has no guarantees, but within the bounds of reason, I can say that I don’t plan to move again anytime soon. People sometimes ask me where I “eventually want to end up,” and I tell them that I am happy where I am and haven’t given any thought to changing that. While in seminary, I was constantly in transition, with my work and school schedule shifting along with my living situation. There’s something to be said for not constantly planning the next thing. It fits into the idea of slowing down and living a peaceful life of gratitude, which is easier to experience when almost everything in your life isn’t changing every twelve months or so. There’s nothing wrong with liking where you are.

Like a lot of periods in my life, I look back on seminary as a mix of positives and negatives. The point is that I learned a lot and made good memories, but I can’t go back. I could try to prolong it, but it wouldn’t be the same and I’d be depriving myself of some new experiences. So, even though I do miss a lot of it, I’m looking forward to the next year with anticipation.