Saturday, November 29, 2008

Full Disclosure

(Full disclosure. That's a funny phrase that's come into use around me the past three or four years. It means, "In case you don't know I have an interest in this's what it is.")

What should iMinister's readers know about her so that they can understand where she is coming from as she writes about the Excellence in Ministry Summit? Hummmm

Firstly, iMinister is a cradle UU*. When it came time for her to choose a Theological school, close to 30 years ago, she asked for advice at every turn. UU school or non-UU school? Someone said to her...if you go to a UU school, you'll be surrounded by people who think like you do and you'll really have to work at it to develop your own theology. And if you go to a non-UU school, you will be surrounded by people who don't think like you do, and you'll really have to work to develop your own theology!" Others gave practical advice. "Go to a UU school and you'll make friends and good colleagues and be in on the politics." and "Go to a non-UU school. They have better scholarships." The later proved to be very true. As to the former...iMinister knew even then that politics wasn't her great interest and it seemed to her likely that UU ministers would be willing to form post-seminary friendships across theological school boarders. That has been true for the most part. If she had known before she chose her school that she'd spend her career in the outback of Unitarian Universalism, she might have put more stock in Seminary relationships.

She chose Boston University School of Theology, where the ghost of Martin Luther King still walked the halls and where 25 Beacon Street and two theological schools full of UU students (and the right to cross-register into their courses) were a subway ride away. She got a fabulous education there, balanced between academics and practical education, and had the chance to work her way through school as a dorm director as well as do several kinds of field work. She graduated $500 in debt, a condition that allowed her to begin her career working part time in a promising small church and jump-start it into growth. The Christian world was quite an eye-opener to her, considerably widening her religious horizons, and being a stranger in a strange land was a character-building experience. The world of New England Unitarian Universalism was also an experience. She was mentored by wonderful colleagues, mostly UU Christian colleagues, to the further enrichment of her faith, and came to understand the deep differences between New England UU'ism and the post-Fellowship Movement Suburban UU'ism which was her heritage.

Those were also the four most severe winters Boston had experienced; the Blizzard of '78, the two successively coldest winters on some record, and the earliest onset of winter. South Carolina, and then New Mexico looked really good after that!

iMinister feels she had the best of all worlds by attending a non-UU school in Boston, but she knows that some students in non-UU schools are terribly isolated and have great difficulty amassing the variety of UU experiences that prepare one for effective ministry. She thinks there are a lot of reasons to have at least one UU theological school and hopes that proponents of those schools will make that case in the comments!

*cradle UU: Someone born or brought early into this faith. Sometimes called "birthright" UU, but that's an unfortunate phrase for several reasons. Not only did it get co-opted by the anti-abortion crowd, it really does have unpleasant overtones of privilege to the ears of those who found and chose us later in life. If we weren't so dang RARE in this denomination, we wouldn't have to talk about it so much.


James said...

When it came time for me to attend seminary I was geographically restricted. As my spouse said at the time, "you can go to any school you want. As long as it's in Berkeley."

Actually, like someone in the Boston area, I had several viable options, including a UU school. However, looking at the scene, and my particular situation, I chose the Pacific School of Religion.

I, too, was close enough (half a block away) from the UU school to take necessary (and at least one unnecessary) classes, and to make those really important connections that have meant a lot in the ensuing years.

But PSR was just about perfect for a UU Buddhist, a very liberal Christian school where many, maybe most of the faculty held theological positions similar to those of early nineteenth century Boston Unitarians.

What it provided was a coherent program, an an expectation of acquiring historical and theological competence in the Western tradition. Something I did not see at the UU program, at that time...

I ended up earning not only my professional degree, the MDiv, but also an academic MA in the Philosophy of Religion - a program that let me explore Buddhism in an academic manner, as well.

I was able in one of the wonderfully sweet and rare moments, to have my cake and eat it, too...

Ms. Theologian said...

I could have been swayed to attend a UU seminary if either had offered me significant money, but HDS offered a huge scholarship. And since I worked full-time while in seminary, I found that I could take night courses at Boston College and Weston Jesuit Seminary and Episcopal Divinity School, and that was really quite helpful. But perhaps I would have stayed in an ordination track program if I had been at a UU seminary.