Friday, September 9, 2011

Back to the Castle

It has been a while since my last post, mostly resulting from the busy summers required of students between their first and second years of MDiv study (Master of Divinity).  After their first year, students in the ELCA candidacy process to become a Lutheran pastor are required to complete a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education, commonly known as CPE.  Most of these programs take place in hospital settings, though others are available in nursing homes, homeless shelters and a variety of other settings all across the country.  It is a challenging but rewarding time in which students are able to gain hands on ministry experience, often times in some fairly difficult situations.
     Students completing their second and third years of seminary moved either away from campus to start their internship year or moved back onto campus after having completed their internship year over the summer, as well.  Some of these internship years start and finish in June, many others in July and a few in August.  For them, the summer marks a time of moving into their year of ministry experience in a church or back onto campus having gotten a taste of working as a pastor. 
     All in all, summer is a time for ministry here at Wartburg.  It is a time to go out with the blessing of God on our lives and return to reflect on how God has moved in our ministry experiences.  It is refreshing to increase the wealth of ministry experiences that we, as a community of Christ, can draw on every year in our class discussions as well as in the papers and projects that we create in order to articulate how God is moving in the church and in our lives.  The seminary does not find God in isolation but reaches out every year across the country and the world both to share the good news of Christ with those we encounter and to encounter Christ in those whom we meet elsewhere in the world. And then, afterwards, we return to Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa.

Today, Friday, is the last day of our first week of school, entitled "Prolog Week".  Prolog week is actually a separate 1 credit course from the rest of the semester.  It serves as a week long intensive in which students and faculty explore various topics of importance to the campus community, the church, the world and preparation for ministry.  The Prolog Week courses are different depending on the year of study that a student is in.  Prolog Week for Juniors (first year students) is designed to orient students to issues in the church and in the community of Dubuque.  They do field work out in the city of Dubuque in which they are required to interview residents in order to learn about issues that Dubuque faces as well as see the strengths that it has.  Students in their Middler year (second year) study various approaches to textual criticism and scriptural interpretation.  The course provides a good framework for beginning Middler studies of the Hebrew language and the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament).  Senior students are those who have just come back from their internship year.  For them, prolog week is a time of group reflection upon their experience and integration of their internship ministry with their presence back on campus. 
      All in all, it was a good week and it is even better to be back.  The campus community at Wartburg Seminary is once again united as a whole, which we will experience this evening at our all campus community Prolog Week Picnic.  Students and families will be able to dine and fellowship together as we meet new students, reunite with old friends and share Christ with one another.  We look forward to it every year and, this year especially, as we have the added treat of a performance by the Haitian dance troupe from St. Joseph's, a ministry community to which we send our students for J-term experiences.  It will be a good night which we wish we could share with everyone and which confirms the sentiment we all feel- it is good to be at Wartburg.

Monday, May 2, 2011


Hopefully the title of this post is fairly self-evident for those who are in the process of discerning their call to seminary, those at seminary, those transitioning out of seminary to first calls, or anyone else who has ever been to seminary.  Seminary, especially Lutheran seminaries, are laden with transitions.  From one's official decision to accept and pursue the call to the time one transitions out of seminary after graduation, one is continually transitioning.
      The immensity of transition is apparent around campus now that the seniors will no longer be at Wartburg Seminary in the near future. For one thing, many seem to be relaxing more and studying less.  More importantly though, many of our seniors are starting to appear not so much as students any longer but as pastors.  This is simultaneously encouraging and daunting.  It is encouraging because the call to be pastors is what our seniors have worked hard to pursue so their work seems to have paid off.  However, it is also daunting for the campus community to be transitioning to new student leadership, trying to get in last efforts of preparation for the change that is to come in the lives of the seniors and trying to grapple with the reality of how soon the next graduation is coming after theirs.
     Yet, on the other end, many here are also filled with a different hope and anxiety for those transitioning into seminary.  I have talked to many who are considering seminary study in the fall and their transition process is equally encouraging and perhaps even more daunting than that of our graduating seniors.  While the seniors will be getting more settled through their next transition, those who are looking at starting their seminary studies are planning to uproot their lives in pursuit of God's call.  That is a tough transition with many open ended questions associated with it.  Will I like seminary? Can I survive in a new place? How will my family adapt to my seminary transition? How will I adapt to my seminary transition? Along with a whole host of other questions that make most anxious. 
     But, in the midst of the anxiety that accompanies the transition to seminary, there is much encouragment.  For one, God has those who have gotten so far already, and God will be with them in the future, as well.  Furthermore, the anxieties are experienced now mean that the transition into seminary has already started.  The anxieties that accompany the transition onto the campus of seminary begin long before anyone ever gets to campus, so in being anxious about moving into a life of seminary study one is already transitioning to seminary.
      Perhaps the reader does not find the same encouragement that I do from the transition process, but it cannot be doubted that we have an ever present God if people moving all over the place throughout different times and places experience similar calls in their individual lives.  The call is not something that is concocted by one group in one place, but rather comes from our ever present God moving us through the power of the Holy Spirit.  As we transition to different places from one another and have all sorts of anxieties as a result, we are united in the fact that we are making our transitions out of our love for God in response to God's call.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First Day of Frisbee

It is officially warming up.  The sun is shining today and the opportunity was not wasted at the Wartburg Seminary campus. An email was sent out over the student server sharing a call to join in on the wonderful game of Ultimate Frisbee. The call was answered.
    At 2 p.m. this afternoon half a dozen seminary students paraded on to the field to pursue the glorious adventure of throwing a platic disc back and forth between different people.  The appeal of this event may be obvious, but let me expound on its significance. Ultimate fribee is a sport that is a cross between soccer and football, but played with a frisbee instead of a ball.  Teams line up on opposing endlines and one team commences play by hurling the disc to the other end of the field in a move called a 'kickoff' (see the similarity to football?). The other side, upon receiving the thrown disc, moves to get open so that the team member who picked up the frisbee can throw it to them.  When a player receives the disc, she or he cannot run forward, but moves the disc down the field through fine displays of teamwork, strategy, and gutsy moves of hustling down the field to receive the thrown frisbee.  It is a joyous occasion when one team moves the disc all the way to the other end of the field and past the endzone line and scores a point.  It is a wonderful game and I am glad to say that the Juniors won this afternoon's match!
     I tell you that to tell you this. There is something simply great about getting outside with brothers and sisters in Christ and doing stuff together, even if it is things as ridiculous as chasing down a round piece of plastic.  In the fellowship that we share with one another, we share Christ.  This shared experience of Christ is enhanced even more when it is set in God's creation, under the great blue sky and soaking in the sunshine.  All in all, it was good to be here at Wartburg Seminary today where we shared in the sunshine with one another and, most importantly, we shared Christ.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lead On, Mr. President

    This past weekend was the innauguration of Wartburg's 13th presdient, Rev. Dr. Stanley Olson. President Olson has come to us from the ELCA Synod ofice in Chicago and has a strong history in the church.  He is a relatable and confident leader that we trust the Holy Spirit has led to Wartburg in order to guide the community as we continue to live out God's mission in the world.
     The innaugural service included a sermon from the ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson who challenged all of us to look at our feet and the feet of our neighbors in order to put focus on how God continually calls us to move in mission.  This message set the tone for the rest of the service as we ritually welcomed President Olson into the office of the Wartburg Seminary presidency and bestowed upon him the seminary medallion. The tone is the missional call that we all accept when we accept the summons of the Lord.  We were not placing a new person into a position of prestige, but, rather, we were affirming a brother in common mission of God to lead in this missional community.
     It was an exciting day for all of us.  President Olson gave an address in which he outlined plans to strengthen Wartburg in the future as we move forward, continually seeking God's call.  As good Lutherans, we ruminated on this address and the innaugural service with lots of coffee and food (without coffee and refreshments I, for one, would be hard pressed to say that God could have been present at all).  But, alas, we shared goodly fellowship with the Presiding Bishop, President Olson, the Wartburg Seminary Board members, Bishops, other ELCA Seminary Presidents and ELCA College representatives, students, faculty and a number of family and guests.  It was good to share the experience as a national Lutheran community which helped us remember and experience that our call is not solely to Dubuque, IA, but to all that God has made.
     So, as you are now officially sworn into office, we look forward to working, studying, worshipping and living with you, President Olson.  Welcome to your new office as the 13th Presdient of Wartburg Theological Seminary!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Where the Call Takes Us

This has been an exciting last couple of weeks for our Senior and Middler students.  Two weeks ago our senior students heard the Regions to which they will be assigned for their first call process.  Senior seminarians in the ELCA are first assigned to a region and then to a specific synod within that region.  Many of our students were assigned to Region 3 (North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota) and others to Region 5 (Iowa, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Upper Penninsula Michigan), but others will be heading much further east, south and west.  The Holy Spirit has led our seniors through their regional assigments and, from there, to the specific synods within each region to which they are called.  We are all praying for them as they now enter the call process for the specific congregations to which they are called.
      This past Wednesday our Middlers (2nd year MDiv students) received their internship assignments for this upcoming year.  This week was an exciting and anxious time as they learned where they will be spending the next year of their lives.  The internship year occurs during the 3rd year of the Master of Divinity track and is a very formative part of the seminary experience.  Students are paired with supervisors who will guide them through hands on experiences of leading services, preaching, visiting the sick, and general experiences of full time parish ministry.  We are excited for the Middlers who will be moving on to internships next year and the blessings that God is leading them toward.
      All in all, this week has been a reaffirmation of the call process as a whole.  Though anxieties and stresses come with being led by God to new places and new ministries, we have no doubt that when we get their God will be there with us.  I for one, before coming to seminary, did not fully realize why I was coming to Wartburg, I simply knew that this is where God wanted me to be.  In coming here I think that most everyone has found that God is present in very real ways.  Likewise, as we are called away from Wartburg, God is there with us.
    So, congratulations to our Senior and Middler students! May God guide you down every road to which you are called.


Monday, March 7, 2011

This Place is Getting Bigger All the Time

In terms of size, Wartburg Theological Seminary isn't much bigger than a lot of other seminaries.  With an average class size of about thirty new Masters of Divinity and Masters of Theology students coming new each year, the seminary averages about 90 students on campus at any given time and 120 students total if interns are counted.  When I visited from my alma mater of about 4,000 students, the small size of Wartburg's campus was evident from the beginning.  Though many students have families which make the campus feel quite a bit bigger than the student numbers reflect, it is not the largest place to study.
       Yet, as I was sitting in class last Friday surveying the view of campus through the window, I was struck by how big Wartburg seems to me now.  It is not nearly as small as when I first set foot on campus and actually seems to have grown in size since then.  I am not totally sure why this is, but I have a few guesses. 
       First off, I have gotten to know people on campus better than when I first came to visit.  This is natural and inevitable, but it has led me to view campus as having many more views, personalities, friends, and possibilities than it originally appeared to have.  As you get to know people better your shared experiences with them grow in depth and breadth.  Now, only after having been here for a couple of months my relationships with others seem to have changed this campus to be much larger than it originally seemed.
       Furthermore, this campus seems to have gotten bigger for how my understanding of God, church and the world has been challenged since I have started.  Though I had encountered many topics we have studied at seminary at different times in my life, seminary study has forced me to look at them together in light of my pastoral preparation.  They have laid a contextual and theological challenge for me to explore connections and disconnects between different ideas in new ways.  The act of theological exploration has led me to view Wartburg's campus community in which this sort of exploration takes place as bigger than it previously appeared.
      All in all, Wartburg is growing on me.  In my perspectives of the community in which we live, the classes we take, the texts we read, I am seeing this place continually in new and different ways.  I have to say that, from a student perspecive, Wartburg Seminary is getting bigger all the time.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Spending my Saturday in the Text

In some ways I long for the thrill of waking up on Saturday morning with the sole and express purpose of watching cartoons.  Our family growing up had a limited number of channels which did not include much cartoon programming throughout the duration of the week, so Saturday morning cartoons were a special treat.  The thrill of getting up on Saturdays, however, has waned for me and actually turned into a longing for sleep.  I would rather spend my mornings in bed so as to relish in the relaxation and lack of responsibility that comes with the weekends.  Yet, seminary study has brought change to my Saturday routine.
   On this blessed Saturday I am reading heavy, heady texts for my Systematic Theology course.  Systematic theology requires a lot of every student, forcing one to reflect and analyze every aspect of one's belief system.  The course is challenging to both heart and mind through in depth exploration of what it means to be a Christian and a Lutheran.  This exploration is a lengthy process that requires a lot of time and effort to adequately reach its aims and destinations, which is why I am devoting my Saturday morning to it.
   In some ways it is lamentable to sacrifice little moments of beloved free time that I have cherished for a long time such as my Saturday mornings.  Studying seems to be a never ending process that is hard to satisfy.  Thus, one can never really be done studying.  There is always more to read and always more to write.  This fact would seem to add even more to one's regret over sacrificing free time to a pursuit that can never be accomplished, but for those of us with a clear call to full-time ministry it is unavoidable.  We enter into study that requires us to sacrifice time, relocate our lives,and interrupt our plans.  This is a process that places a number of undesirable claims on us, and yet, we can do no other.  God call's us from whatever we are doing to give up things like free time on Saturday mornings into theological study, reflection and preparation.  So, while there are many moments in which I say to myself, "There are a thousand other things I would rather be doing right now!", I have to honestly admit that there is no place I would rather be.  Instead of sneaking theological reading time into lunch breaks and coffee hours, I am here, immersed in theological reflection and preparation at Wartburg Theological Seminary.  There is no place I would rather be...