Late last night I received a thought-provoking comment on yesterday’s post, Conversations that matter. Here’s the heart of my reply, edited for clarity.
Sometimes people assume seminarians have just finished college, then moved on to seminary, and will then become pastors of a church. My response begins with this assumption.
The demographics of the seminary I served were decidedly different from those you describe. Young, usually white men right out of college were a distinct minority during the 28 years I was at the seminary.
Much more prevalent were working adults, some already retired. Many were the first members of their families to pursue a seminary degree. They wanted to make a difference in their churches and organizations. They weren’t wealthy.
Many worked night shifts to survive, keep food on the table for their children, and pursue a seminary degree. Most were mature, wise and exceedingly persistent. Commencement was always a moment of pride, gratitude and tears before a packed-out house of families, friends, church members, colleagues, professors, seminary administrators and staff members.
Many entering students were already serving in churches. However, they too needed help. It’s no picnic to be a pastor or ministry leader in a church of any size or denomination.
The challenges and opportunities of teaching in an unusually diverse seminary were many. We lived and worked with age differences, racial and ethnic differences, inner city, suburban, and occasional rural differences, denominational differences, social and economic classes. You name it; we had it. Not just in the student body, but in our increasingly diverse faculty.
The hope many seminarians bring is that this educational experience will be heaven on earth. It isn’t! For some it’s hellish, full of pain, anguish, hard work and feedback they weren’t expecting.
As difficult as my up-bringing was, I still had and have the so-called advantage of being white. This is huge. Not just where I now live, but across the USA.
Yet it’s also a huge disadvantage given the isolation this brings in the form of housing patterns, church membership patterns, and the daily reality of white skin versus almost any other color of skin. It doesn’t matter what country you came from. If your skin isn’t white, you pay for it. White female privilege means I don’t even have to think about 1000 things others must think about daily.
As part of the older generation, we have the duty and privilege of paying forward what we’ve received. Not just because of or in spite of the color of our skin or our gender, but because someone invested in us. More times than we probably remember. Yes, we must keep an eye on the children, including young adults and even older adults we see from time to time.
They and we need these connections. Without them, we’re already dead.
Without them, we’re already dead? Yes. Dead in the water that’s meant to keep flowing upstream, against all odds.
Many thanks for listening and doing what you can to pay forward what you’ve received.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 October 2018