Which Seminary Should You Attend?

dunikowska-knocking-on-heavens-door-2004This article by Duff McDonald struck my fancy yesterday regarding “MBA Programs that Get You Where You Want to Go.”  Want to work on Wall Street?  Start a new business selling organic meat? Become a marketing consultant? Instead of Harvard, Wharton, or Kellogg, maybe you should consider Ross, Fuqua, or Sloan.  Or – in the wisdom of my excellent colleague EH, if you want to work in Southern California all your life, maybe you should go to Marshall at USC.  If you want to spend all your years in Maine, an MBA from  Maine Business School (they make it easy) makes sense.

I doubt that most Americans could name a seminary or divinity school.  But for all you The More You Know fans, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is connected to 12 seminaries.  Among my PCUSA colleagues, there are many graduates of other non-PCUSA related seminaries and divinity schools.  If someone asked me where she should go to seminary, I’m not sure I would ask “What kind of ministry do you want to do?”  I would probably ask “Where do you want to live?”

I went to seminary because of geography.  I also heard from a colleague that he was advised to “go to seminary someplace you’d like to live because you’ll never get to choose where you live again.”  He was a big believer in God calling us to places where we don’t want to go.  Very John 21:18.  Exhibit A:  I never thought I’d ever be living in The Prairie State.  (But now that I’m here, it’s pretty great.)

At the risk of offending my colleagues, I’m going to this whole “Which seminary should you attend?” question a whirl and I’d appreciate your feedback.

If you want do general parish ministry and eat excellent barbecue for 3 years, go to  Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary – Austin, TX.

If you want to do general parish ministry and make lifelong Southern connections, go to Columbia Theological Seminary – Decatur, GA

If you want the ease of on-line seminary, go to University of Dubuque Theological Seminary – Dubuque, IA

If you want to do general parish ministry and be near The Mother Ship, go to Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary – Louisville, KY

If you want to study urban ministry, perhaps in a non-parish setting, go to McCormick Theological Seminary – Chicago, lL

If you want to learn how to start new churches, go to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary – Pittsburgh, PA

If you want special focus on youth ministry and/or be a Senior Pastor, go to Princeton Theological Seminary – Princeton, NJ

If you want general parish experience with added chops in spiritual disciplines, go to San Francisco Theological Seminary – San Anselmo and Pasadena, CA

If you want an historical black church experience (and you can wait because they are not currently offering classes) go to Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary – Atlanta, GA

If you want general parish education, especially with a focus on Christian Education, go to Union Presbyterian Seminary – Richmond, VA & Charlotte, NC

If you want certificate programs in leadership, and especially training in being a coach, go to Auburn Theological Seminary – NYC

If you want training to serve the church in Puerto Rico, Latin America, or with Spanish-speaking churches in the US, go to Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico – San Juan, PR

[Full disclosure: I went to seminary in Boston (where there is no PCUSA seminary) because of a relationship and I took classes at Boston University School of Theology (preaching), Harvard Divinity School (Greek and NT), Gordon Conwell (polity), and Andover-Newton (MDiv & their CPE connections because I planned to be a chaplain as I had never seen a woman in the pulpit.)  I also have a DMin from Columbia Theological Seminary – a PCUSA affiliated institution  – because of their Christian Spirituality program.]

The reality is that the seminary one attends may or may not lead to whatever call one discerns.   “The Big Three”  clergywomen recently called to large urban congregations – Shannon Johnson Kershner, Amy Butler, and Ginger Gaines-Cirelli – are graduates of Columbia Theological Seminary, Wesley Theological Seminary, and Yale Divinity School respectively.  So there.

Clergy – I’d love your feedback on the advice you received about where to go to seminary?  And how did you make your decision?  And did it matter?

Non-clergy – I’d love to hear your assumptions about particular seminaries.  Do you assume all Fuller graduates are conservative?  That all Princeton Seminary graduates are big time?

Image source here.

6 responses to “Which Seminary Should You Attend?

  1. I visited San Francisco, Louisville, Columbia, and Union seminaries. I came to the conclusion that I would get a good MDiv education at any of them. Each had their own niche…but overall they would be OK. I choose SFTS because they were the only one, at that time, which offered a certificate program in spiritual direction. The particular name of that program in the Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction. It was that program which, literally, saved my you-know-what in seminary.


  2. I need to leave my own comment re: “The Big Three.”

    A couple colleagues I trust privately shared their issue with that term. I have changed it to put quotation marks around it. It’s a term that has been repeated by other news reports as they’ve shared the story of these three clergywomen all about the same age all getting called to large urban congregations at approximately the same time. I didn’t intend to give the impression that they are the only clergywomen serving large congregations or that big churches are better than small churches. (Honestly, I believe that all solo pastors have more difficult ministries than associate pastors or heads of staff.)

    Just wanted to clarify.


  3. I think you’re on to something, Jan. A significant factor in my seminary choice was that I wanted to be a pastor like the ones I knew who’d gone to Andover Newton (I am UCC). Seminaries are not one size fits all, and our choice will focus our understanding of ministry in ways we are not prepared to imagine at first.


  4. I visited Pittsburgh and McCormick, the two closest to my home, and ended up at Pittsburgh simply because it was closest. I was encouraged to avoid Princeton (too conservative) and to go to SF (where “it’s all happening”) by people who were speaking as if geography made no difference. (If that were the case, I would have aimed for Chicago or Yale d-schools and addressed the Presby fallout in other ways.)

    Pittsburgh’s institutional culture often felt to me like that of a 1980s law firm (with which I had experience). But I made some incredible friends and found a couple of great mentors, and was there just on the cusp of what I believe will be a transformative approach to theological education.

    Like Elaine, the training I did in spiritual direction at the same time as seminary made all the difference in my personal spiritual and theological growth — but I did it in a separate program in my home city, commuting back and forth to PTS every few days.

    And that reminds me — with its MW and TTH class schedules, Pittsburgh was definitely designed for local students. I have no idea where I found the energy to maintain that schedule.


  5. Pingback: This Week’s Links « Timothy Siburg

  6. I was advised to go to seminary far enough away from my home church that I would be essentially forced into having a different kind of church experience (as opposed to staying mostly in my church home in which I was so comfortable and happy). That was incredible and important advice because a) my church home was in now way average or representative, and b) it meant that I was not in the position of my pastor or CPM saying “you need to get out of here” which I think would have been very difficult.


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