posted by Amy on Mar 21
I’m going to transfer to a different seminary in the fall. Before I give a more complete explanation of that decision, I want to emphasize that it is not because of any negative judgment about my current school. I deeply appreciate its many strengths, and I feel blessed to have begun my preparation for ministry here.
Following are some of the great things about Palmer.:
Real Dedication to Kingdom Values. Palmer’s motto is “The Whole Gospel for the Whole World through Whole Persons.” The school consistently strives to live up to that motto in multiple dimensions. The student body and faculty are very diverse. Over half the students are Black; mostly African-American but also African and Caribbean. Slightly more than half the students are women. About 42% of the students are white. Ages range from 23 to somewhere around 70. Half the students are Baptist, and some 30 other denominations make up the other half. The spiritual, emotional, intellectual and practical dimensions of ministry are woven through the entire curriculum. Spiritual formation, pastor self-care, keeping Sabbath, and means of grace are stressed in almost every class, and are the primary emphasis of some of the classes. The atmosphere is warm, collegial and loving. The concept of “holistic ministry” is constantly stressed. Palmer teaches that it isn’t enough to proclaim the “good news” of the gospel. The church must actually be good news to the poor, with a commitment to justice, systemic social change, and social action.
Academic Freedom. Palmer is a “bigger tent” theologically than I expected. On its website it describes itself as theologically conservative but socially progressive. Faculty are required to assent to a specific “statement of faith.” Before I got here I wondered how comfortable I would feel in a “theologically conservative” school. It was fine. In fact, I have found myself rethinking my positions on some things, and becoming more willing to at least entertain different viewpoints from those I held before. I have never felt out of place or disrespected for my views. In papers where I am expected to say what I believe, I have been honest, and I have never been criticized or downgraded for my opinions, nor have I felt any pressure to tell people what I think they want to hear. Community and relationship are valued more highly here than conformity.
Great Teaching. Palmer has assembled a talented and dedicated faculty from all over the world and from many Christian faith traditions. Both “regular” professors and adjunct faculty are deeply committed to their teaching ministries. They are patient, persistent, and dedicated. They bring a high level of professionalism to their work. Most of the teachers are also currently working in pastoral ministry. In their teaching they bring a real understanding of and sensitivity to the practical challenges of ministry.I think that’s critically important.
Scholarship. There are professors here who could teach anywhere they wanted to. They are well known for their accomplishments in fields of evangelism, social justice, and biblical scholarship. I don’t want to name names, because I don’t want anyone who I don’t mention by name to feel slighted. I assume, though, that there are unique things about Palmer that attract and hold them, and make them prefer Palmer to someplace more famous or prestigious.
Commitment to Christ. This may seem like something that would go without saying about any seminary, but Palmer is unabashedly Christian. I was talking to an alumna of one of the six schools on my list (shortly before I found out that I did not get into that school.) She made a strong case for attending her alma mater, but she said, “You know, it’s not actually a seminary. It’s a secular divinity school.” At Palmer, classes usually start with a devotional, almost always led by the teacher. People share joys and concerns, and they pray for each other. I don’t think going someplace that is less devoted to practical Christianity will make me lose my religion or anything, but I really appreciate having been in a place that gives priority to spiritual direction and spiritual formation. I went to seminary because I felt called by God. It would have been a bit disappointing not to find God waiting for me when I got there. In my first orientation session, in August, 2008, the leader announced, “God has called you all to be together in this place.” I needed to hear that. Although the school is thoroughly Christian, there is a respect for other faiths and a willingness to engage in interfaith dialog.
Commitment to Pastoral Ministry. Many of my classmates work full time, or have other major life commitments. A significant number of students are already working in ministry, some as senior pastors. The class schedule at Palmer is designed to help working adults get a solid theological and pastoral education. Required classes are offered at night or on Saturdays. Some people come in from three or four hours away. They can take classes on two consecutive days, and spend the night, making the most of their time in school. This is a huge benefit to the Church.