Going to Seminary | Part 3

by Elouise

 

70's Elouise

Fuller Seminary Student ID Photo, Fall 1973

It’s fall term, 1973. I look calm and reasonably mature. Inside, I’m a boiling cauldron of fear and anxiety.

I don’t belong here!
I’m too old.
I’m the mother of two young children.
Don’t ask me why I decided to come to seminary.
I don’t have an answer.

I feel apologetic about taking up anyone’s time. Is it OK for me to be here? I’m not sure I can make it in this highly academic environment of Mostly Men.

You see, D is the ‘real’ student. I’m just pursuing my personal interests. This isn’t a serious degree! Not like D’s Master of Divinity degree.

Are you afraid I’ll waste class time by asking a lot of questions? Relax! Asking questions isn’t my style. It would turn unwanted attention my way. It’s better to let others stick their necks out and get the attention. Besides, they’re real students; I’m just doing this for fun.

That’s right. When class ends, you won’t ever see me up front chatting with the professor about the profound ideas he (they’re all men, aren’t they?) just presented in his lecture. Even if I had time for that I wouldn’t do it. I don’t want to look like I’m trying to butter up the professor.

So who am I? A shadow that comes and goes as unobtrusively as possible? A wallflower? A sweet married lady who doesn’t know who she is? A brassy feminist who thinks she can barge her way into no-woman’s land? A ‘real’ seminarian?

My early days were the worst. It seemed I was wearing a sign that screamed Woman! Mother! Intruder! Don’t ask why I’m here because I Don’t Know! I just like to study, and I like being with adults sometimes.

The questions seemed endless.

  • Why are you in a Master of Arts program instead of the Master of Divinity Program?
  • Why a degree in Bible and Theology?
  • What do you want to do with your degree?
  • Do you want to teach?
  • Go on for further graduate study?

Here’s what I now know that I didn’t appreciate back then:

God loves beginners!
People who blunder along taking risks,
messing up and trying again.

I didn’t grow up knowing a God of grace and patience, especially when it came to learning. Instead, I grew up with a deep need to get things right the first time. I didn’t want to suffer bad consequences or seem foolish and ignorant.

At seminary, I feared everyone in the room knew and understood more than I did. I felt keenly my 9 to 10 years out of college, as well as the reality that my Bible College degree was unaccredited. I carried some shame about that, as though I had to apologize for something I couldn’t name.

As a woman, I believed I ‘had’ to succeed. What would people think if I didn’t? Whatever I did would reflect well or poorly on other women. It was a heavy weight; I believed it was mine to bear.

Unlike some human beings,
God doesn’t sigh deeply with resignation when faced with a beginner.

Instead, God smiles. Finally! Here’s someone willing to stumble, make mistakes great and small, get up, and try again without getting all defensive about it. Who knows? We might even have a little fun and a few laughs together along the way!

I felt like an alien because that’s what I was. Thirty (30) women to 500 men isn’t a great ratio. And nearly 10 years out of college is a long time. I felt awkward and unsure of myself because that’s exactly how I was. Yet I had been given an opportunity that would likely never come my way again.

I jumped on it like a dying woman who desperately needed food for her mind, body and spirit. It was the right time, no matter how out of place I felt.

To be continued. . . .

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 November 2015
Photo credit: Fuller Theological Seminary Student and Faculty Directory, Fall 1973