I'm only 20 and I have a calling to be a minister
April 11, 2014

Dear Theo,

I believe I have a calling to be a minister, preferably in the UCC. I'm only 20 and trying to get into college. I worry about what to do for seminary and how it will affect what I do for my 4 year degree. Where do I begin so I can answer God's call? Thanks so much.

Future Reverend

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Dear Future Rev,

I grew up in the UCC. I went to Sunday school, got confirmed, worked at church camp throughout high school and college—church camp was, in fact, where I heard my call to seminary.

And then, in one of my very first seminary classes, everyone was talking about Paul. Paul this, and Paul that. Who was Paul? Was he a faculty person, that they were all so familiar with him? But why were they calling him by his first name—even the other professor was! Wasn't that disrespectful?

Never that worried about putting my ignorance on display, I boldly asked, "who is this Paul you all keep talking about?"

All heads turned in my direction. Some mouths were actually agape. Finally, someone took pity on me. "Uh, he's the guy who wrote most of the New Testament, Theo."

I tell you this story because: in spite of your best intentions and most ardent efforts, Future Rev, you will arrive at seminary Not Knowing something that seems critical. You may be embarrassed by what you don't know, but don't be. That is what seminary is for—to teach you who Paul is.

You can go to any decent (and even some indecent) 4-year colleges and exhaust their course offerings in the Judeo-Christian tradition. But there are many things 20-year-old ministers-to-be might need to learn that aren't in the Bible.

You might need to learn compassion. College is a time for consciousness-raising and conscience-awakening: to learn about injustice and act on it. To risk your neck for someone else, especially someone who is way more vulnerable than you and doesn't share your privileges.

You might need to learn that it's ok to be yourself, as you exit that crucible of conformism, Junior High/High School. It's ok to be an outlier, to make mistakes, to do hard things and risk falling on your bum. College is the time to do it, when you are wearing a safety harness! Start a newspaper, take a semester overseas and live in a very different culture, try lots of things that are outside the box you have lived in for the last 4 years of high school: drawing, ballet, filmmaking. Go to every single on- and off-campus worship service and religious gathering. Soak it all up. Ask lots of questions. This book can help with how to be a "perfect stranger" in someone else's worship setting.

Any college major will be acceptable to a seminary admissions office: study biology or psychology or literature, whatever has a hold on your heart and mind. Study a little bit of everything, and get into wonderful debates with people who think differently from you. Write a lot, and edit your writing. Pastors have to write a lot of copy—from email to sermons to words for the sandwich board in front of church, and it's all ministry—it's all important. Writing and communication skills are fundamental to effective pastoring. And, grades are important, but not all-important. Mostly, seminaries just want to know you won't bomb out.

Most of all: have a rich, full life, and stop anticipating the day seminary will take all that away from you. Have FUN and don't worry too much about what ministers are supposed to act like. The best ministers I know are ministers who don't act like ministers, but who are fully and thoroughly themselves, and have a lot of fun, and show their flocks how to be wonderfully integrated and authentic human beings.

That said: watch what you put on your Facebook feed. Facebook is forever!

Bless you, and may you be a blessing,

Theo

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"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by four UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds. We welcome questions spanning all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas...and everything in between.

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