Welcome to Seminaries (and Divinity Schools) That Change the World, a community of diverse institutions that share a common commitment to be present and engaged in healing, building and leading in our neighborhoods, towns, cities, country, world.
So you want to change the world…
What inspires us?
For many, the commitment to engage in the world comes from a specific religious tradition or identifiable faith community. For others, it’s derived from a strong desire to explore and deepen a spiritual life that may not have any institutional or communal affiliation.
Whether you were born, raised and still identify with a faith tradition, or identify as “spiritual” but not necessarily “religious,” theological education can play an important role in helping connect faith journeys with justice and service.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know what a great platform theological education can provide. That’s probably because there tends to be a lot of misguided stereotypes about theological education. Maybe you’ve heard that seminary is only for people who are “really religious” or who “think they are better than everyone else.” Or maybe you’ve heard that a theological education is for people who have heard a personal “call” to be preachers in a pulpit.
Whatever you’ve heard, we’re here to tell you: it ain’t like that anymore!
Today’s seminaries and divinity schools are students for a diverse array of service and social-justice based jobs. What was once seem by many as an elite operation for training clergy and professors has become a place where people come together to identify and address the most compelling issues in our society, plan strategies to address them, and launch new ideas and programs into action.
The content of this website will introduce you to countless students, faculty, and alum (some of whom are preachers, but most of whom are not) from around the country who are walking the talk.
What sustains us?
Nothing illustrates the new energy and possibilities in theological education better than an experience I had several years ago. I was helping host an event held across the street from Vanderbilt Divinity School for young people who were completing years of voluntary service with year-long service programs. At the beginning of the event, I asked how many of the participants were considered seminary. Out of a group of fifty, not one raised their hand. I then introduced the speaker, Rev. Becca Stevens, who shared her story of fighting sex abuse and rebuilding the lives of sex workers, a project which eventually led to the creation of Magdalene House and the establishment of a micro business called Thistle Farm.
After Becca spoke, I asked the question that I’d started off with. Who would consider going to seminary? Every person raised their hand.
It’s not that everyone had figured out how systematic theology worked or suddenly felt prepared to pass a bible content exam. Rather, these young people had witnessed the courageous and creative actions of one individual who drew on her faith to engage in the world and to tackle one of the most devastating issues of our day. Becca's role as a clergy gave her immediate access to individuals as well as a platform in the public square where she could challenge systems and present new possibilities.
Why Seminaries that Change the World?
The point of our "list-making" is not simply to recruit more people seminary. Instead, it is to present the radically different understanding of hope, advocacy, justice and joy that defines the institutions listed here. These communities of learning and action call us to persevere in our weariness, to be steadfast in the wake of obstruction, and to be joyful in the knowledge that we are called to be faithful regardless of the success rate.
So look at these schools, but look at others as well. Our list has its own integrity, but it is neither infallible nor all-inclusive. There are other great intuitions worth looking at. If this venture has caught your attention, caused you to think, enabled you to imagine, or provided access to educational options, then we have done what we set out to do.
Launch your journey and know that along the way, there are plenty of people here to listen to your questions and provide what answers we can. I believe that you can call any of these schools and the person the phone will not try to sell you a seat for a master’s program, but instead will take immediate interested in your discernment process and (to quote Fredrick Buechner) find where "your deep gladdens and the world's deep hunger meet."
-Rev. Wayne Meisel
Center for Faith and Service Announces 2016-17 Seminaries that Change the World
September 15, 2016, Chicago, IL – The Center for Faith and Service, based out of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL, announced today the fourth annual list of Seminaries that Change the World (STCTW). STCTW highlights a select group of seminaries and divinity schools offering innovative courses, programs, and opportunities for students seeking to engage in social justice and service work while in seminary. Each year, the Center publicly announces the list on Huffington Post. This year’s list includes thirty-one institutions, representing a broad range of theological and political perspectives.
Rev. Wayne Meisel, one of the architects of the AmeriCorps program and founder of the Bonner Scholars program, created STCTW four years ago to act as a resource for service minded young-adults looking for ways to grow spiritually. Meisel, who now serves as the executive director of the Center for Faith and Service, explained: “At some point I learned that for many people, their faith inspired, sustained and deepened their commitment to community service and social justice. So I began a journey of looking for institutions where these individuals could connect their faith and service. The result is this list.”
The 2016-17 list of Seminaries that Change the World includes:
Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary
Bethany Theological Seminary
Brite Divinity School
Calvin Theological Seminary
Candler School of Theology (Emory)
Central Baptist Theological Seminary
Christian Theological Seminary
Claremont School of Theology
Columbia Theological Seminary
Drew Theological School
Duke Divinity School
Earlham School of Religion
Ecumenical Theological Seminary
Fuller Theological Seminary
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary
Iliff School of Theology
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
McAfee School of Theology (Mercer University)
McCormick Theological Seminary
Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry
The School of Theology at The University of the South | Sewanee
Union Presbyterian Seminary
Union Theological Seminary in New York
University of Chicago Divinity School
Vanderbilt Divinity School
Virginia Theological Seminary
Wake Forest University School of Divinity
Wesley Theological Seminary
Yale Divinity School
As part of its selection process, the Center looks for schools that are providing significant scholarship support to students engaged in community-based social justice or service work. Innovative degree programs, field education internship opportunities, issue-based courses, and alumni job placement are also considered.
“So much of the talk about theological education and the church is shaped by a narrative of decline, but that is not my experience with our divinity students,” said Gail O’Day, Ph.D., dean and professor of new testament and preaching at Wake Forest School of Divinity. “The Center for Faith and Service has recognized the positive energy and passion that seminary students can and do bring to the pressing issues of our day and tells a story of transformation and possibility that points a way forward for religious leaders and religious institutions.”
In collaboration with schools that are part of Seminaries that Change the World, the Center will be sponsoring Theological Education Week, October 26 – November 1, 2016. Through this initiative, the Center will be reaching out to career service offices to offer programing and resources that educate career service professionals and undergraduate institutions about the new landscape and opportunities available through theological education.
About The Center for Faith and Service:
Based out of McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, Illinois, The Center for Faith and Service works to develop new programs and identify existing resources that support the church to be present and relevant in the lives of young adults. Through a variety of initiatives, including Seminaries that Change the World, The Center partners with seminaries, summer camps, colleges, youth corps, denominations and local congregations to create programs and resources that help young people connect their passions for service and justice with their faith.
To learn more about the center and its programs, visit www.faithandservice.org
More information about Seminaries that Change the World can be found on www.stctw.org
Don’t just assume a Masters in Divinity (M.Div.) is the right degree
For years, that standard bearer for theological education has been the Masters of Divinity, traditionally a three-year full-time residential program. The M.Div. is required for most students seeking ordination in particular denominations. But it might not be the best fit for everyone. Look at the wide array of master’s programs out there. Don’t chose the M.Div. because you think you should or because of its "prestige.”
Consider a joint-degree
In recent years, many schools have developed joint degrees with programs including law (J.D.), business (MBA), non-profit management, public policy, and social work, to name a few. In a world of unpredictable economies and job markets, having a joint degree may well provide you with the unique kind of job skills and open opportunities you were looking and working for.
Know what you care about, and pursue your social justice issue
If you are involved or deeply interested in a particular social issue (prison reform, immigration, environmental stewardship, domestic violence, etc.) inquire as to what courses, programs and connections exist that relate to that issue. Can you do your field education placement at a non-profit that deals with this issue? Does the school or its affiliates offer courses that deal with theological or pastoral responses to the issue? Is the school partnered with any organizations dedicated to the issue? Working with non-profits and other community organizations can also help with your discernment and develop skills that aren’t necessarily focused on in traditional seminary curriculum, but that could prove crucial in your post-seminary job search.
Look at a school’s Field Education programs
One of the best things about theological education is the commitment to integrate study and practice. Field education (also known as contextual education) can and should be a rewarding and defining experience. Take a good look at the opportunities that a school offers in this area. Does the school offer internships with organizations or causes you care about? Can you tailor your experience to the path you plan to take after seminary? Will you have the opportunity to intern/serve in a variety of contexts (think non-profit, church, community organization)?
Basing your decision about where to go to seminary on location is a legitimate thing to do. Schools are not merely located in communities; they are part of the community. When you become a student, you also become a neighbor. If location is driving your school choice because of the activity that is going on in the community, make sure that the school either has strong ties with community partners, or is prepared to support you in building them.
Interfaith and Intercultural Competencies
Whatever your theology and politics, whether you’re interested in traditional parish ministry, chaplaincy, social work or non-profit management, interfaith and intercultural awareness and competencies are important. Research what courses there are about other religions and cultures. Ask how your education will prepare you to live, serve and lead in a multi faith world. Ask: Does the school invite leaders of other faiths and beliefs to speak and teach? Does it serve communities of people of different faiths, race and culture other than your own? Is there January terms, study trips, or other opportunities for you to learn and develop meaningful relationships in a cross-cultural setting?
Feel out the culture
Every seminary has its own unique culture. Culture is influenced by things like where students live, eat, study, and work. Do you want a residential campus where there is robust campus life? Or do you see your self commuting in and out and focusing your community life elsewhere?
Check in with current students
It might be nice to hear from your college advisors and old alum about what the school as like ten, twenty or thirty years ago, but that won’t mean much as it relates to what you will experience. It’s more than OK to reach out to current students and recent graduates to ask about their experience. Every seminary student or recent alum I know would welcome an inquiry and will give it to you straight.
If you can, keep your job
Increasingly, individuals who are working in the world are seeking programs that offer flexible schedules, online or on-site intensive courses. If you (or your partner/spouse) are already established in a career or ministry that’s enjoyable and pays the bills, think carefully before you uproot and move to a new place to go to school. It is possible to go to school full time while you are working full time. Explore programs that offer online courses, or allow you to spread your courses out over a longer period of time. It may be possible to have your cake and eat it to … you just may not have time to eat it.
Life after you graduate – i.e.: finding a job
Unless you are flush with cash, you are going to need to get a paying job once you graduate from seminary. Ask: What kind of jobs are recent graduates doing? How many students leave school with jobs? Although it is up to you to make your own way, it is worth asking up-front what might come next, rather than waiting until the end and wishing you had.
Beware of debt
Debt matters. It is a bad idea to choose a school just because of money, but cost has to be a factor when deciding if and where to go to school. While you shouldn’t go to a school just because it offered you the most money (we’ve met some pretty miserable people who found themselves stuck and uninspired when they chose a school they knew wasn’t the right fit just because it was “free”), you also shouldn’t go to your “dream school” regardless of what it costs. Do the math. Do it again. Don’t take on more debt than you’ll be able to reasonably manage once you’re done.
Get comfortable with discomfort
Just remember, if you go to seminary, you’re not doing it to be comfortable. The goal is to be challenged, to grow, and to better serve the world. If that is not what you are looking for, don’t go.
By: Wayne Meisel, Executive Director of The Center for Faith and Service
Originally published on The Huffington Post
As the son of a preacher, the last thing I ever wanted to do was go to seminary. Oops! Granted, I waited eleven years after graduating from college. I tried to slip into class on the first day without anyone noticing but the professor called my name out and asked if Don Meisel was my dad. Goodbye, anonymity. Hello, teacher’s pet.
Why was I so embarrassed to tell people, even my parents (especially my parents!), that I was going to seminary? What would everyone think? My parents: Oh, we’re so proud of you! My friends: What the...? And me: What the... ?
Why does going to seminary carry so much weight, a kind of baggage that students in other graduate programs don’t have to shoulder? There are certain assumptions that go along with attending seminary; for a long time they kept me from really exploring the idea.
I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, but where? Law school? Don’t like to read that much. Business school? Not very good with numbers. I kept coming back to the idea of seminary. I knew that I needed to find a way to sustain my commitment to the service and justice work I had done all of my life. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried or what kind of progress was made, there was always more to do. I was getting discouraged. From there, I realized it was more important to be faithful than successful and that if I wanted to go deep in my faith, seminary was the place to do just that.
I’ve made a list of the 11 assumptions about going to seminary that swirled in my head back in those days and shared them with current seminarians. Their responses are below.
And if you’ve never thought about going to seminary but have gotten this far in the article, then go to our website, Seminaries that Change the World, and read more. No one needs to know... yet.
1. YOU HAVE TO BE GOOD TO GO TO SEMINARY.
I’m not entirely sure what ‘good’ means, but based on my experiences growing up in East Tennessee I’d assume most people think you have to be ‘good’ to go to seminary in the sense that you can’t drink beer, cuss, have sex, enjoy crass humor, etc. If that is true then my peers and I should not be in seminary. Most of us are not ‘good’ in that limiting sense of the word. However, we are trying to make the world a better place and create fulfilling and just relationships among ourselves and with others, and we can only do that by bringing our whole selves, past experiences, fears and hopes and a good dose of humor (and often a beer).
2. SEMINARY AND DIVINITY SCHOOLS ARE EXPENSIVE
I’ve heard that seminary and divinity schools are expensive in that the cost of educating seminarians is high; however the amount of financial aid (scholarships, grants, fellowships, etc.) available makes it one of the most affordable graduate degrees. Many seminaries are largely supported by endowments that greatly subsidize the cost of tuition and housing in order to reduce the limitations on those called to seminary. I receive enough grants from my school, church and denomination that I do not have to take out loans to pay for this degree, and there are very few people in other graduate programs that can say the same thing. I am grateful and excited for the ministry opportunities I can accept upon graduation without having to consider student loan payments.
3. YOU HAVE TO HAVE IT ALL FIGURED OUT BEFORE YOU ARRIVE AT SEMINARY.
This is a total lie! I still don’t have it all figured out — but life is a discernment process that is filled with callings that will change as new experiences come. I came to seminary very unsure about my future, and found fellow classmates who were in the same boat and willing to journey with me. Through classes, community work and an internship, I’ve found a greater understanding of what I want to do when I graduate, but I know that will continue to shape as I continue my studies. I’ve learned to embrace the adventure of the unknown!
4. YOU HAVE TO HAVE DECIDED TO GO TO SEMINARY EVEN BEFORE YOU WENT TO COLLEGE.
There are many paths to seminary, not all of them straight and simple. Those who have both decided to go before entering undergrad and then actually go on to seminary just as planned are a rare bunch! You are neither less prepared nor less fit for seminary if you one-day feel the tug of the Spirit to go to seminary against your best laid plans. You’re in faithful company.
5. YOU HAVE TO MAJOR IN RELIGION TO GET INTO SEMINARY
I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life before I entered college (and still don’t, most days!). I started freshman year as a Biology, Spanish, Music triple major. That didn’t last too long, and I eventually ended up with a degree in Music Education. I never took a single religion class in undergrad, and I’m learning a lot in seminary! But seminaries are looking for people from a wide variety of backgrounds... not just religion majors. Your life experiences, passions and personality make you unique, and all of that brings diversity into a seminary classroom (which is a GOOD thing!).
6: EVERYONE WHO GOES TO SEMINARY ENDS UP BECOMING A PASTOR WHO PREACHES ON SUNDAY.
Not everyone in seminary is interesting in becoming a pastor, and some do not even have a desire to preach. Seminarians are diverse in their skill sets and interest. Some Seminarians choose to study religion because it informs the work they choose to do. Some of my colleagues are interested in working with the government, holistic medicine, social justice, non profit organizations, and some are interested in academia. Seminarians are school teachers, spiritual directors, counselors and much more. You can be who you are called to be no matter how different it sounds to the world.
7: ALL SEMINARIANS ARE DORKS.
Some definitely are, but if you have ever seen the Princeton University Ultimate Frisbee team, or the USC Trojan football team, you’ve seen some seminarians doing their thing. Seminarians love to learn and think about theology, but we are also people-persons! We love to talk with, chat to and interact with folks from all different walks of life. We’re not dorks, we just care... a lot!
8. YOU ONLY STUDY THE BIBLE AND THINGS LIKE HEBREW AND GREEK WHEN YOU ARE IN SEMINARY.
When I decided to complete my graduate studies at divinity school, it was not because I felt a call to traditional ministry. What I did experience was an overwhelming desire to study in a place that would provide me with opportunities to explore the ways in which my academic interest area (religious ethics) moved off the page of a text book and into real life while allowing my deep rooted passion and commitment to community service and social justice to flourish and grow. While in graduate school I realized that the call on my life was to work in the name justice, kindness and to walk humbly. Now, as the Director of an AmeriCorps program, I realize that there was no better place for me to study than Yale Divinity School. My work in the community service field is my ministry. A ministry that I am well equipped for thanks to my theological education.
9. SEMINARY STUDENTS ARE NOT INTERESTED IN COMMUNITY SERVICE AND SOCIAL JUSTICE.
Seminary students are at the forefront of community service and social justice issues. We are the next generation of dreamers trying to change the world. We are in in the community amongst the people being that instrument of change that Jesus calls us to be.
10. IF YOU GO TO SEMINARY IT WILL LIMIT YOUR CAREER OPTIONS.
I believe going to seminary could potentially broaden one’s career options. A lot of my former classmates from Harvard Divinity School and Candler School of Theology have been involved in non-traditional ministries following their seminary work — including non-profit management, hospital chaplaincy, social work, public health, law, etc.
11. YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE SEMINARY OVER OTHER PROFESSIONAL SCHOOLS.
I was afraid this was going to be true, but more and more seminaries and divinity schools are finding ways to make dual degrees possible, with social work, public policy, law and various other programs. And, by doing a dual degree, you can cut out some time (and money!). I’m doing a dual degree with social work and it cuts out a year, so I do the two degrees in four years. I would never have been willing to go to divinity school if it wasn’t for the opportunity to do social work as well. I’m so glad I didn’t have to give up either option!
Eleven feels like a pretty incomplete number, so if you have a 12th assumption that you have turned into a myth, please share!