Tag Archives: Graduate School

Bring your Jesus with you: advice for religious leaders working in a secular world

Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic self-hood,
whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be.
As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks-
we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.
(Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, 16)

A plethora of religion nerds

Here’s the thing about seminary: everyone talks about religion — all. the. time.

I studied religion at a Catholic college and then later at an inter-denominational graduate school. And over those years, I met all kinds of religion nerds:

earth-loving Pagans who taught me to spiral dance,
liberal Catholics who were getting arrested protesting the School of the Americas,
Dominican brothers who could quote Aquinas by chapter and verse,
queer ministers who had been kicked out of multiple denominations before even getting to seminary,
mainline Protestants who were excited about the Emergent church movement….

You get the picture.

And we all talked about religion all the time. I don’t just mean in class. I mean at parties, and over dinner, after mid-week chapel services, at bars, on family vacations, with our therapists, all. the. time.

And it was challenging and annoying and enriching and edifying. And it was my whole world for a lot of years — that is, until I graduated.

Entering the “real” (aka secular) world

After I finished my Masters, I wandered around aimless and lost for a while before landing a job working in Oakland’s public schools.

And suddenly, all that God talk was gone, all the religion nerds were really far away, and all the spirituality got sucked right out of my life.

I won’t lie: It was a tough transition.

However, I feel more prepared for religious leadership now, after a year of working in a secular environment, than I did in the months after my graduation. I feel more able to maintain healthy spiritual practices and more in touch with my identity as a Christian. A year away felt like hitting the “reset” button for my seminary-wearied soul.

Advice for seminary graduates

I’m not going to go into the whole debate of a secular/religious dichotomy; I’ll leave that up to you and your dinner table conversation. But I am going to offer some advice to spiritual leaders and post-seminarians who find themselves outside the walls of religious work and struggling with the adjustment.

  • Find new spiritual community

Seminarians are inundated with resources for spiritual growth. Not that they’re necessarily helpful or relevant, but they are available. It can be a bit of a system shock to find yourself devoid of those familiar options when you leave. Instead of trying to maintain the fellowship connections you had in school, find new communities to invest in. Schools are transitory places, everyone is always coming and going: you can’t take that community with you. Find new avenues for connection: a church, a small group, a bible study, a prayer meeting, a worship service. After grad school, I left my church and started going to a weekly service, held on my former campus, that I’d rarely attended while I was a student. I found the change really helpful and healthy.

  • Develop new spiritual practices

The rhythm of life in graduate school can be drastically different from the rhythm of life in the “working” world. Switch it up! Try new forms of self-care, prayer, worship, devotions, and scriptural study that are better suited to your new life patterns and needs. (Personally, I think this advice applies to all religious leaders, everywhere. Don’t think that your spiritual disciplines need to stay consistent over your whole life. God is spicy and new all the time — don’t be afraid to explore that!)

  • Bring your Jesus with you

If you finished seminary and have somehow found yourself working as a barista at the local coffee shop: you are not alone. Many of the seminarians I studied with aren’t working in any kind of traditional “ministry.” That does not mean they are not ministering. If you are feeling like your spiritual life is lonely and dry without the religious community of seminary (as I was), re-frame the way you think about your vocation. You have to integrate your spiritual life into your daily work life; you have to deepen your own connection with God. No one else can do that for you. That’s why you’re trained to be the fabulous, creative religious leader you are!

  • Give yourself time to heal

Graduate school is not easy for anyone. And combining your spiritual life with your academic life with your professional life is a tall order. It can take some time to put the pieces back together. If you aren’t sure what your vocational path should look like, give yourself time to figure it out. (I love the Quaker practice of holding Clearness Committees to bring accountability and support to decision-making and discernment.) If you see people doing the kind of ministry you dream of doing, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask them questions. If you don’t see anyone doing the kind of ministry you dream of doing, don’t be afraid to start taking small steps toward making your vision a reality.

– – –

For me, serving an Americorps term of public service gave me the time I needed to create space in my spiritual and professional life to discern my next steps. When I started, it felt like I was moving too slowly, or getting off track, with my career. Looking back, however, I’m grateful for a chance to experience secular work — partly so I could recognize how much I missed spiritual work!

If you’re a seminary grad, what does your ministry look like? How did your spiritual community and practices change after graduation? What was the hardest part about the transition for you?

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Filed under My Faith Journey, Spirituality, Theology and Faith

Tending to your spirit in a secular world

Wow. A month? It’s been a month?

Allow me to explain.

I traveled for most of the summer, as I mentioned on here a few times. I visited friends and family, volunteered, went to weddings… the usual summer fare.

I returned to the East Bay in August, but the last month has brought massive change to my life – including a new apartment and a new job. So things have been hectic. Not to mention, I’m still living without internet, which makes blogging particularly difficult. But I’m back and I’m doing my best. Don’t give up on me!

So for those of you who are still coming back to read: thanks for your loyalty.

Living without religion

One of the things that happened in the last month is that I swore an oath to commit a year of service to my country, and I started a 10-month Americorps position. For those unfamiliar with Americorps, its is a kind of domestic Peacecorps; volunteers receive a small living stipend in return for working a public service job. I’ll write more on that experience later, but for today I wanted to share about the jarring experience of leaving seminary and moving to public service.

I’ve lived in Berkeley for 2.5 years, most of that time spent as a theology student in seminary. I talked about, read about, and wrote about religion all day long. My friends did the same. While we didn’t always feel particularly “spiritual” about the whole thing, we definitely invested our time and energy on the topics of God and scripture.

Sometimes it felt stale. But it felt familiar.

Now I spend my days in public elementary schools, mediating conflicts between second graders and navigating school politics. We don’t talk about God, or the Bible, or the church.

And it feels strange. Like something is missing. Like there’s a part of me that’s been left behind.

Some days it’s hard to believe that this is the same city in which I’ve lived for the past few years. I’m suddenly part of this whole new conversation, a secular conversation.

A Need for Worship

Having all the religion suddenly drained from my life context has been a challenge for the state of my spirit. I miss being able to casually bring up my faith life in conversation. I miss being among people who understand that Sundays are saved for church. I miss dinner conversations about denominationalism or difficult scripture passages.

So by the time Wednesday night rolls around, I am desperate for some quiet time in a sanctuary [I’ve written before about the Wednesday night candlelight service I attend.] How did I ever make it to the weekends before without mid-week church? My spirit needs those moments of quiet breathing, the chance to kneel at an altar and bask in the presence of God, the touch of a friend passing the peace.

Without the space of connection through worship, I find myself going spiritually dry.

But when I get the chance to be still before God, I find myself spiritually renewed, the peace that transcends understanding truly guarding my heart. I am learning that worship is important on a whole new level in my post-seminary life, and that religion will have to take a new shape in my personal and professional life.

What renews your spirit? How, when, and where do you worship? Is the divide between the secular and spiritual part of your life jarring, or are they smoothly integrated for you?

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Worlds collide

I grew up in the midwest, the heartland of America, where the oceans are made of dark dirt and fast-growing corn. And now I live on the San Francisco Bay, where life follows the rhythms of the Pacific ocean.

But I spent the last week far from home, traveling near Boston, and I got to spend some time dipping my toes into a different ocean.

Even more than the vast blueness of the water, I was most drawn to the color and texture of the shoreline: the plants and animals tucked into the tide pools, the sun-soaked rocks lining the cost, the dramatic splashes of color. The details are so stunning in this place where water meets land.

It’s like a merging of two different worlds.

This season of life has felt like that for me. Walking on the edge between past and future, the edge between graduate school and career. All the travel and change of the last few months has left my life feeling disjointed, sudden, and unfamiliar.

But, like the coastline meeting of water and earth, there has been much beauty in transition. In this no-man’s-land that belongs neither there nor here, the details from both places are able to stand out.

The parts of me that are sea and the parts of me that are land are both beloved and necessary here. And I am grateful for the meeting places of the world, and the meeting places inside my soul.


Friends, where are the meeting places in your life or heart? How do you feel when you encounter them? What do you learn from walking through those places?

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