discern

What am I doing next? Is seminary the right place for me? What will I do if I get a theological degree? These are all questions that most of us ask at one time or another when considering theological education. For most people, discerning a call to some form of ministry, be it traditional or innovative, is a long and very personal process.  No website can tell you exactly what you need to know to finalize your next steps toward your vocational goals.  However, as you consider graduate theological education, our hope is that you will take a serious look at the Boston University School of Theology -a place where seekers of all kinds are welcome to explore their calling through rigorous study, generous community life, and open spirituality.  Is Boston University School of Theology the seminary for you?  Take a look through the list below, considering your needs and hopes alongside what STH has to offer you.  If you find yourself interested in learning more, please be in touch with the STH Admissions staff to talk about your interests, ask questions, or plan a visit (617-353-3036 or sthadmis@bu.edu).

Why Choose STH?

Academic Excellence

Perhaps above all else, Boston University School of Theology is known for its academic rigor and for fostering in its students a love of creative and critical inquiry in the theological disciplines.  With six degree programs available, including programs at the master’s and doctoral levels, and the ability to study across disciplines through the wider Boston University, curricular customization is not only possible, but expected of all students.  Our students can also take advantage of the resources of the wider Boston Theological Institute, a consortium of nine different seminaries throughout the Boston area.  The BTI provides unparalleled access to courses, library holdings, lectures and events at seminaries that span the gamut of theological thought.  Such an ecumenical approach to learning is assumed here, and you will undoubtedly be stretched by your studies—shaping, re-shaping, and ultimately strengthening your theological understanding and academic background.  Our students regularly go on from here to become leaders in academia, teaching the next generation of church and community leaders.  Students with interest in pastoral ministry enter their churches with a thick understanding of their own beliefs, as well as what they can expect to encounter and achieve in the parish.  A strong academic background will serve you in whatever traditional or innovative ministry you find yourself in the future.


Social Engagement

The Boston University School of Theology’s historical nickname, “The School of The Prophets,” came about because of the legacy of prophetic vision held by its students, faculty and alumni/ae.  “Because of the religious convictions of the founders, the openness of the [School] to persons of all races, genders, and creeds attracted such people as the first . . . woman to earn a theology degree; the first African-American doctor of biblical studies; and ultimately Martin Luther King, Jr., the leader of the [U.S.] civil rights movement . . . in some respects, the fruit of the first century of the [School’s] investment in the study of religion was Dr. King’s vision of a “world house” in which persons of all religions and cultures would live together in peace.”   “In offering reminders of our legacy we realize that the past is but prologue . . . we intend not [for our students] to repeat [this] history, but neither [do we want them to] ignore its legacy and obligations.”  STH is a place to catch a world-changing vision.  


Vibrant Spiritual Life

Recent STH alumnus, Rev. Jim Olson, described the intersection of academic rigor and spirituality well, saying, “STH does not ask students to park their faith at the door of the classroom, nor does it ask them to park their intellect at the door of the Chapel; quite the contrary.  We expect students, faculty and staff to interact with each other with integrity and honesty, and that includes integrating one’s spiritual and religious life into all the other aspects of the seminary experience.”  As a seminary that welcomes people from a wide variety of religious expressions, and yet has its roots in the United Methodist tradition, personal spiritual development is encouraged but never forced.  Opportunities for growth each week of the school year include:  worship followed by a community meal, Sabbath practices, small group gatherings, prayer meetings, eucharistic celebration, student groups, and Seminary Singers.  Students become involved in the life of area churches, or choose to attend Marsh Chapel, the University’s center of Religious Life on campus, which has a vibrant congregation of its own.  The School of Theology remains committed to providing its students with ample resources to grow and shape their spiritual lives.


The City of Boston

The School of Theology has the great good luck of being situated in one of the most vibrant, world-class cities anywhere—Boston.  The cultivation of learning, virtue and piety within our student body takes place in the context of a city that helps, rather than hinders, all three.  There’s nothing like class field trips downtown to tour the very churches and historical sites that you’re learning about in American Church History class, or sitting in the same pew where George Washington once worshipped.  For those interested in social justice, the city’s hundreds of non-profit organizations and urban ministries, many started or run by STH alumni/ae, can provide wonderful training ground for your own ethical development and ministry skills.  And the beauty of the city—from the Charles River esplanade just mere steps from the School of Theology to the Public Garden and Symphony Hall—will offer you spaces to enjoy the city’s culture, meet new and exciting people, and get a true urban experience.


Letter From a Current Student

Below is a letter from a current student to people considering future graduate theological study at the Boston University School of Theology.  Rod is pursuing his MDiv, and plans to pursue Ordination and serve a church once he graduates from the program.

Dear Prospective Student,

At the age of 22, having completed my undergraduate studies, I wasn’t quite sure which theological school I would attend.  With regards to my search, I was guided by a few principles.  I wanted to study various human understandings of God; I wanted to be ordained by the American Baptist Churches of Massachusetts; and, I wanted to be somewhere other than Memphis.  My other criteria were that the institution had to have an outstanding academic reputation, a solid commitment to community modeled after the life and work of Jesus Christ, and a vibrant urban experience.

altUpon assessing my choices, I was impressed with the fact that Boston University School of Theology wanted academically strong students that would be involved in the institution through the community, not just those interested in achieving their personal educational objectives and moving on.  I also realized that this was a great opportunity to get exposure to a diverse population of students from a geographical, socio-economic, ethnic, and cultural perspective.  STH has provided me with countless friends and colleagues for life.

“I believe the central mission of [BU STH] is to prepare global leaders of the global church.”  These words by our former Dean Ray Hart are significant.  STH has stood for over nearly two centuries as an incubator for the best minds in the field of theological education.  Accordingly, the School’s offerings and programs have evolved with the changing global and cultural times in which it has found itself, while remaining faithful to its United Methodist tradition.  Theological education has been largely shaped by the character of the student that pursues it.  In fact, fewer students are entering theological schools with the intention to pastor a church or parish.  A March 2006 New York Times article details that, over the past 30 years, the percentage of seminarians interested in pastoral ministry has declined 10 to 15 percentage points.  Thus, a new breed of theological students desires to take its religious and theological understandings into other careers.  The School confronts this truth with renewed vigor and interest.  Our community faithfully commits to the core mission of developing sound, competent pastors for the church, while exploring myriad ways to spread the gospel and love of Jesus Christ through various disciplines and career paths.  STH is the right choice you, no matter the path you choose to travel.

Finally, BU STH has always been known for its outstanding faculty; I have developed some wonderful relationships with my professors, even participating directly in one professor’s research efforts.  Indeed, STH gave me tools that have contributed directly to my success, both professionally and personally.  I strongly encourage you to consider the School for your theological education.

Sincerely,
Rod

What can I do with an STH degree?

Graduates from Boston University School of Theology have gone on to a variety of different careers after earning their degrees. As you think about what a BUSTH degree would mean to you, here is what some of our Alumni/ae have done:

Master of Divinity

Area IV Neighborhood Coordinator; Campus Minister; Church Finance Director; College Chaplain; Deacon; Director of Church Services; Director of Spiritual Life; Education Administrator; Elementary Education; Executive Director; Family Counselor/Chaplain; Healthcare Chaplain; Instructor; Law Enforcement; Management Consultant; Maternity Case Management Coordinator; Medical Administrator; Mental Healthcare Professional; Non Profit Administrator; Nurse Practitioner; Pastor/Parish Minister; Pastoral Psychologist; Physician; Priest Associate; Production Systems Manager; Professor; Program Coordinator; Program Director; Rector; Registered Dental Hygienist; Religious Studies Teacher; Residence Hall Director; Seminary Admissions; Spiritual Care Coordinator; Street Outreach; Student Services; Substitute Teacher; Teacher; University Admissions; Vicar; Young Adult Minister; Youth Minister.

Master of Theological Studies

Assistant Archivist; Budget Analyst; Campus Minister/Director; Chaplain; Construction Manager; Consultant; Development officer; Educational Administration; Funeral Director/Embalmer; Healthcare Administration; Healthcare Chaplain; Information Scientist; Lecturer; Legislative Director; Librarian; Med. Social Worker LISW; New York Program Director; Non-Profit Administrator; Non-Profit Director; Physician; Professor; Program Coordinator; Program Director; Project Manager; Psychologist; Realtor; Registrar; Researcher; Residence Director; Seminary Admissions; Teacher; University Administration.

Master of Sacred Music

Coordinator of Performing Arts; Director of Development; Director of Music; Director of Music & Organist; Director of Music Ministries; Healthcare Chaplain; Music Director; Music Ministry.

Master of Sacred Theology

Architect; Counselor; Executive Director of Non-Profit; Military Chaplain; Office Manager; Parish Minister; Physician; Professor; Rector; Teacher Ministry; Worship & Liturgy Coordinator.

Doctor of Ministry

CPE Supervisor; Consultant; Global Mission Volunteer; Hospital Chaplain; Military Chaplain; Parish Minister; Pastoral Psychotherapist; Teacher; Therapist.

Doctor of Theology

Adjunct Instructor; Compassionate Outreach Pastor; Chaplain; Missionary; Parish Minister; Professor; Program Coordinator; Program Director; Research Fellow; Senior Consultant.

Discerning Your Academic Interests

  • How do you know when it is time to begin or return to seminary study?
  • How do you know whether your love of an academic subject can translate into a viable profession?
  • How can you discern the next steps in your academic career?
  • How can you tell which seminary will move you toward your vocational goals?

Taking time to intentionally explore these and other questions may help you as you consider your next steps in graduate theological education.

Review the methods of discernment below, and take part in as many as you are able on your way to answering the questions above.  The hope is that the more methods you try, the clearer your academic goals will become.

  1. Talk to your academic mentor.  If you are currently in a degree program or have recently graduated from one, your academic mentor should be a good resource for you.  An academic mentor could be a Professor, a Dean, or a school-appointed academic advisor—whoever has been a help to you academically.  This person has likely helped you shape the curriculum of your current program.   Ask your mentor for an opinion of what your academic strengths and weaknesses are.  More than just “in what classes did you receive a high grade,” this question of your strengths and weaknesses should be an honest look at your propensity for a given field of study—do you excel in the humanities, are you fascinated by history, do you not enjoy independent research but love languages?  What does your mentor think about your next steps, given your natural strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Look at your transcript. Though this is not always the case, oftentimes if you have a natural talent in a given field of study it is likely that you have done well in that subject as far as grades are concerned.
  3. Think about third grade.  Think back to when you were younger and in classes at an elementary or high school level.  What were the subjects that excited you the most back then?  If there is something that has always piqued your interest, perhaps this is a field to explore further.
  4. Review your notes from previous classes.  Many of us have piles of papers, class notes, and reading materials from previous classes.  This is the time to go through them!  Reviewing what you learned could help re-excite dormant interests and get you on the right academic track.
  5. Read your favorite books again.  Just like reviewing class notes, reading books that you’ve held on to for years could help you to remember why you held on to them in the first place.
  6. What comes to mind in your free time? If you enjoy a class, odds are that you will think of the concepts arising from that class in your personal time.  But just because you enjoyed a class or did well in a class doesn’t mean that you should pursue that subject as your life’s work.  What are the classes that you have taken whose concepts have continued to intrigue you perhaps years after you first took it?  Are there subjects whose books you read again and again?  Have you ever looked into further reading in a subject after the class ended?  Perhaps your excitement shows that these are the subjects on which to build a career.

CHOOSING A SCHOOL

  1. Talk to the Admissions Office.  Sure they’re trying to interest you in their school, but talking to a variety of admissions professionals will help you to learn the differences in schools, degree programs and career opportunities available after graduation.  First narrow down your interests to a handful of professional goals (for example, “I want to be a lawyer, minister, professor or counselor.”)  Go online and search for schools with programs in your areas of interest.  If you can’t physically visit a variety of schools, call their admissions offices and ask to speak with an admissions counselor.  Be prepared with as many questions as possible, and ask each admissions office each question.  Some of their answers will differ, but you’ll begin to hear themes in their responses.  Remember to ask in more general terms about their programs (“What can one do with the Master of Theological Studies degree?” or “Would I need to follow that degree with a certification process in order to counsel, or could I begin my counseling practice right after graduation?”), as well as questions about their programs themselves (“How does your MBA prepare people for the business world?”).
  2. Ask to speak with a current student.   As you talk to the admissions office, ask them for the contact information for one of their current students in the degree program that interests you.  When you connect with them, ask them about their own discernment process—how did they know that this field of study was right for them; how did they decide this school over another one; how have they enjoyed the program so far?  Ask them, knowing what they know now about the field and program in which they’re studying, what would they tell a prospective student.  Ask them what their plans are after graduation.
  3. Visit as many schools as possible.  For many people, visiting a school is the best way to determine if it is a good fit.  Though you may get a feel for the school by speaking to an admissions representative or visiting their website, there is nothing like moving through the campus and sitting in on a class to tell you if you feel comfortable there.  The reality is that visiting several schools can be an expensive endeavor, and not everyone is able to do this.  If you are having trouble affording a visit, perhaps you could check with your current school, church, or a civic organization about supporting your trip.  Sometimes funds are available to help finance such a visit

Practices of Discernment

Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live—but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life. – Parker Palmer in “Let Your Life Speak”

For many of us, there is a spiritual aspect to the question of vocation.  Since what we do for a living encompasses so much of our time and energy throughout our lives, it is best to find a vocation that truly utilizes our gifts in the best way possible.  Some of history’s greatest theologians and mystics took the subject of discernment very seriously, and uncovered spiritual practices to help a person delve into the process.  Overall, they found that the key to discernment is listening.

Chinese Character for

The Chinese character for “to listen” is composed of the characters for ear, you, eyes, undivided attention, and heart. It means that in order to listen, we must use our eyes, our ears and our open heart, together with our undivided attention. True listening is a spiritual discipline that can help us lead lives that are inspired by our faith.

here are some suggestions on ways to engage in spiritual discernment as you begin or continue your own process:

  • Talk with a mentor, such as a pastor or professor.
  • Find a Spiritual Director. A Good resource for finding spiritual directors is Spiritual Directors International.
  • Walking prayer. Take a walk around the block, or in a park, or around the house. Listen to the voice of God within and around you. If you are interrupted, note the interruption; there may be a message for you.
  • Centering Prayer. Find a quiet place to sit and pray. Take a comfortable position and relax. Close your eyes or softly focus them on the floor in front of you. Clear your mind and just listen. If a thought interrupts you, acknowledge it and move back to a clear mind. Start with five minutes at a time, and keep doing it regularly, going longer when you feel ready.
  • Lectio Divina. This is a method of reflection that uses scripture. Choose a scripture passage that speaks to you, or find one randomly. Bring yourself into a prayerful state and read the passage. Read it again, and look for a word, phrase or image that speaks to you. Sit for a moment with whatever comes up for you for five minutes. Then find a way to express the experience, be it writing, drawing, painting, dancing, etc.
  • Conversation with God. Sit in a chair and have another chair facing you. You can have another person sit in the chair, or put an object there. This is God’s chair. Ask God your question, giving all the relevant details about what is leading to the question. Then switch chairs and sit in the God chair. Now try to take on the mantle of God and let God speak through you and respond to your question. Switch chairs and respond to what God has told you. Continue switching back and forth until the conversation is over. You may want to record the conversation or have someone take notes, if you feel comfortable.
  • Petitionary Prayer. Say a prayer that asks for clarity in your discernment. Then wait for a response. Remember that the response can come in any way, shape or form, and at any time.

These are just a few ways that one might engage in spiritual methods of discernment. None of these are guaranteed to work; just as everyone’s spirituality is different, everyone’s discernment process will be different. Yet if these practices do not yield an answer, they may at least yield the next step on the path. Remember to look for an answer, and not necessarily the answer you want to hear.

As you go through your discernment process, please feel free to contact our office at sthadmis@bu.edu or 617-353-3036. We would be glad to be of assistance to you.

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