Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Great Expectations

This is it.

I had my final advising session with my academic advisor this afternoon.  I submitted my portfolio and he asked me to reflect on the past three years and look forward to the future.

Part of the portfolio that I submitted was a final reflection on my time at Candler.  We were supposed to look at our application essay to Candler and talk about how things have changed.  I wrote this on the plane on Monday night coming back to Atlanta and call me a sap, but I almost cried as I reflected on the changes that I have undergone over the past three years.

I couldn't stop smiling during my interview today.  No, I do not have a job lined up.  No, I do not know where I am going to be in six months.  But I did it!!  I am one month and ten days away from finishing my masters!!

Here is the final essay - let me know what you think (you don't have to cry).


I recently read a blog post where the blogger – a mom with a one-year-old – joked about the fact that she was a much better mother before she had her first child and realized just how difficult it was. Not having children of my own, I was not sure that I could relate – until I started to reflect back on the last few years of my life, particularly my experience at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University.

I came to seminary with great expectations. In my autobiographical statement, I talked about my strong sense of call, the long legacy of pastors in my family and my practical experiences in the parish both growing up and in college. I thought that I was ready for seminary and I was sure that I was going to excel. In fact, I was not really sure why I even had to go to seminary. I had studied theology in college; most of my MDiv classes would just be a review, right?

My confidence was only strengthened when I attended the first year orientation festivities. Time after time, I heard my fellow students talk about their vocation uncertainty; they did not know why or how they had ended up at Candler and many of them were brought to tears as they struggled to find their identity and purpose. I felt lucky; I knew why I was at Candler. I felt my call to ministry early on in college and by the end of my freshman year I was majoring in Philosophy & Religion and researching seminaries. When I heard people talk about how they studied business, art and science, I just knew I would have the proverbial leg up when classes started. God was calling and I had studied this stuff for four years; seminary was going to be easy.

Needless to say, I have been deeply humbled by my time and experiences at Candler. I quickly learned that a college degree in Philosophy & Religion was not going to help me when it came to the rigorous academic standards placed on Candler students by the coveted faculty members. I quickly learned that growing up as a Preacher’s Kid and serving my church and association in various capacities was not going to convince my Committee on Church & Ministry that they should waive their ordination requirements for me. I quickly learned that no one at Candler – a school full of phenomenal preachers – was going to be impressed with the natural preaching ability and voice that my home church members and college chaplain praised me endlessly for. I quickly learned that growing up white and middle class in small town Connecticut had given me a naïve lens in which to see the world through. I quickly learned that a strong and certain sense of vocation and call was not going to make the academic and contextual rigors of seminary easy.

Add to all of that a different (and southern) city, a new marriage, first time financial independence, a few unexpected trips to the Emergency Room and living 1,000 miles away from my family and you essentially have the perfect recipe for a meltdown. I am happy to say that – even through all of the things that I just described – I managed to hold myself, my marriage and my GPA together. In fact, all three of them are thriving and I feel happier and healthier than I ever have.

I realize that this is not a paper titled, “How I Survived Seminary,” but I do think that the story of my seminary ups and downs tells a story about a girl who entered seminary thinking she already had what it would take to be a great pastor – and along the way realized God was working in her life and opening her up to something more.

On paper, my sense of vocation and call has not really changed. I am still working towards ordination in the United Church of Christ. I have been accepted into a CPE internship at Grady Memorial Hospital for the summer and will start the search & call process in September. I still see myself initially as a local church pastor and may eventually like to enter a DMin program and/or work at the conference or national level within the UCC. I still feel a strong allegiance to the children and families served at Children’s Rescue Mission, a Christian-based educational mission in Teupasenti, Honduras, a place I was fortunate enough to visit twice. I am still pondering my role with the nation’s military, wondering how God is calling me to serve our nation’s soldiers, veterans and their families. Those who knew me three years ago might read this and think that nothing has changed.

Sometimes, however, it seems as though everything has changed. These past three years have challenged me in a way that I never dreamed of. I was knocked down by the academic challenges and struggled to get up when life kept on happening. But Candler helped me to stand back up – and I learned from all of this that I even though I do not have all of the answers and skills that I will need to excel in the ministry as a full-time vocation, I have the tools to get me there and a strong heart to sustain me as I work through the challenges. I will willingly admit that I was a much better seminary student before I actually came to seminary and realized just how difficult it was. I do not want to look back one day and have to admit that I was a better pastor before I actually became a pastor. My hope is that I will enter my first call with humility, touched by the grace of God and will work with my congregation to be the best pastor that I can be.

But I still have great expectations.


  1. LOVE IT! I also cried when I wrote mine (we have so many memories...and it's all so close to being over!!) And not gonna lie, I teared up a bit at yours! Love you!

  2. This is brilliant Sar - and I did get a little teary reading it!!

  3. Beautiful essay. I got teary, too! I know you must be so proud of yourself and you deserve a nice long vacation after you graduate :) When does your internship at Grady start?


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