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March 2014

Six things I learned at seminary

by Ryan "Ishmael" Arnold, M.Div. Junior

In January, I trekked to Luther Seminary to take two classes on campus: Intro to Christian Education and Telling the Story. It was a wonderful experience, and I learned so much about how to communicate faith both in small groups and in larger public settings. We also had the opportunity to create our first short sermon, or sermonette, and deliver it in front of other seminarians for feedback. Way cool. There were a lot of other takeaways from these two weeks, and I now understand better why they call them "intensives."

Here are six other things I learned while there:

The best learning happens after class.
The classes were awesome, yes, but what I didn't anticipate was all the community and learning that would take place outside of the classroom. After our morning class, most students went straight to the 11 a.m. daily chapel service. To participate in a service with more than 100 other future clergy was very personally meaningful. From there we'd shuffle over to the cafeteria for lunch and chat about the morning class and takeaways from chapel. Later, we'd typically head out for dinner and drinks to decompress. Many of my peers also work in church settings or other faith-based organizations, and we'd spend a good bit of time saying things like, "Have you heard of this?" "Have you tried that?" or "It sounds like your congregation would be a good fit for ..."

We all have a voice.
One of the favorite exercises we did in class was to select a favorite passage of Scripture and deliver it in front of class. The verses people selected came from all over the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. Amazingly, each passage we selected was different, no repeats. To hear 90 minutes of the spoken Word, delivered by people passionate about the words they speak, was empowering. I came away with a few ideas on how to replicate that at my home congregation and am excited to try this out in the near future.

We're diverse, but not quite there.
Our cohort of 30 seminarians is fairly diverse in many ways, which is incredibly promising. On the other hand, in class we watched a documentary titled, "There is a Time for Burning," a movie from 1966 that outlines efforts to build dialogue between two Lutheran churches in Omaha. One of the churches was all white, the other all black. The documentary was filled with tension. Ultimately, attempts at dialogue failed. Looking up at our classroom, I noticed the vast majority of students in class are white, and realized there is still more work to be done if we want to truly be an inclusive church. We'll get there.

Bishop Eaton can fist bump.
While at seminary, the presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, spent some time with many of us that are part of this hybrid online/on-campus seminary experience. Bishop Eaton is dynamic and engaged, willing to speak up and out about any question that was asked, and at times would outwardly reflect on what she had just spoken, very existential. I even had the chance to get a picture with Elizabeth—and we did a fist bump. I'm looking forward to seeing how she'll lead our denomination over the next six years.

The snowbirds are right.
It was cold—really cold—in St. Paul. At times I found myself asking, "Really Lord, this weather? For a Florida guy? It's too cold, please send someone else!" Then I'd wake up in the morning, look out from the dorm room window and see snowflakes falling from the heavens, covering the land in a pure white blanket. This got me thinking about grace, and the clean start each of us are given at the start of every day. At that point I realized: yeah, maybe this is where I'm supposed to be.

Learning is fun.
Though I missed home—my church community, my wife and my 15-week-old son, Graham—the two weeks in St. Paul were fun! To be on campus with other graduate students, with the sole purpose of learning and absorbing as much as possible, is very freeing. I loved every bit of it. I'm already looking forward to the next two weeks on campus in June, and whatever those experiences will hold.

To read more about Ryan's time at Luther Seminary, visit his blog:

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