In the male-dominated classroom, the female seminary members found their place together.
I have considered entering full-time ministry for more than ten years. However, somehow, I came to the seminary campus and suddenly felt it.
When I stood at the entrance of the lecture hall and measured the seats for my first class, I noticed that the obvious gender gap was only getting bigger. Not only was I one of the first women to arrive that day, but I was also one of the few women in my class.
Excited as I am, a handful of doubts dimmed my joy:
The original purpose of the seminary was to train men to become pastors. Only in the last 60 years have these institutions started accepting and graduating female graduate students. Now, every year thousands of women browse spaces not created for them. Unfortunately, cultural development has been slow. For women working in seminaries, their presence is indeed a catalyst for change, but their presence also reveals how much change is needed.
When introducing the course on the first day of school, many of my classmates are looking at the people I serve in the mirror. They can confidently say that they are current or about to become pastors. But my path past-and still-is unclear.
To me, pursuing seminary is like embarking on a difficult and seemingly impossible journey. I was walking in the dark with a tiny flashlight, and I could only see enough paths for the next step. Going back to school means leaving work, under tremendous financial pressure, and humbly taking on long-forgotten academic responsibilities. The road to seminary is both tiresome and unexpected. I am very happy to finally arrive, but I am very tired.
God has given me kind sisters, and my traveling companions are willing to share their resources and wisdom, combine their light with mine, and inspire me in times of failure.
When I met a few women who also signed up for the "Master of Theology" program, we compared our pre-marital life-exchanged points about family, secular career, and ministry opportunities. I have active and supportive friendships outside the seminary, but I lack women with whom I can associate. These women can share my joy in learning a new Hebrew phrase, and my actual debate on theological concepts The enthusiasm of meaning matches and matches my choice of seats in the classroom, which will help me feel involved in the discussion without attracting my attention. These relationships are exactly what I discovered among female classmates of different ages, backgrounds and denominations. We are alienated, but we are alienated-bound by our common academic pursuit. Only by building a deep and rich community can we flourish on our journey.
On the first day of class at Denver College, Maggie Burns assumed that she would eat lunch in the student center alone. Within a few minutes, a smiling woman sat next to her and began a conversation. The two found that they both love outdoor sports, had a thriving career before seminary, and were in the same course. For the next few years, they attended the Sabbath together every week, signed up for the same classes, and prayed together regularly.
As her circle of female friends continued to expand, and the encouragement she received from them, Burns' love of preaching also grew. She is the only woman in her two sermons. Her close friends helped her practice and confirmed her talent.
Burns began to preach in her church and was enthusiastic about young girls seeing female representatives. She said: "If those women weren't so encouraging, if they didn't care about me so deeply, I wouldn't have another preaching class."
Like Burns, more than 60% of the women I talked to said they were only in the classroom with one or two women. Many people face derogatory comments from their male colleagues. A few people have never attended classes with female professors. Almost all of these women directly attribute their success in seminary to fostering female friendship.
Women's experiences in seminary are very wide ranging from special to frightening. Many people face huge obstacles and backlash on campus. They often have to defend their career goals and open up space in a minority environment. Due to the complex (or even hostile) speech of women around the ministry, loneliness may be profound.
Many obstacles faced by female students may seem small, but when combined, it seems more like a marathon than an obstacle. For example, several women I interviewed often quarreled with male classmates and interrupted their answers or questions. According to a recent study by George Washington University, this is a fairly common problem, which concluded that men disturb women 33% more frequently than men. When you are the only woman in the class, these 33% can effectively silence you and discourage you from participating. Burns said: "We have been discussed in class." "And only in class (due to COVID-19), the problem has become more serious."
Although Burns and her female peers cannot solve many of the problems they face, they can deal with them together. "Does this happen to you? I'm not crazy, am I? I'm an ordinary person.
When the number of students in a class greatly exceeds the number of students, the pressure to sound smart or to provide only fully formed ideas becomes heavy. Usually, women are asked to give play to their unique insights, and professors or peers ask them to speak on behalf of all women, thereby further expanding the experience of others. It is a challenge for anyone to defend their theological interpretation thoughtfully in a real-time learning environment. Is it possible to verify the speaker’s right to speak in one way? So tired
When gender and racial dynamics became challenging, Jaleesa Hall, a graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary, said her friend would only say hello, saying, "Girl, I'm tired." Women of color have been shaped by white people in browsing history. I often feel more lonely when I’m in a theological institution. Continued micro-infringement intensifies the struggle of this system. A woman pointed out that professors often re-express their answers to questions in class. Although she has always performed well academically, others are surprised that she is an excellent writer.
As of 2019, only 0.06% of all students enrolled in theology courses in the United States are black women, .02% are Asian or Latino women, and only .001% are Native American women. Because of these great challenges, friendships, advocates and dialogue partners provide a safe space to deal with and lament.
"When a black woman tried to understand what the Bible means to my people and my status in society, black women and black professors helped me think about women in theology to truly understand what it means to me and how I see it God," Hall shared. "It's vital to find spiritual formation in it."
While in Wesley, Hall received a sacred master's degree in urban ministry. Through the "Community Participation Researcher Project", she met a group of friends who shared her vision of community participation.
The women supported each other as dialogue partners, formed study groups, and helped each other prepare for the sermons assigned in the context of classroom and ministry.
Hall said: "These women helped me bring the world into the classroom, and found out how to look at the Bible in context and what it means for our work."
For international students, navigating in the space of the seminary will complicate loneliness and loneliness through different cultures, different languages, different theological perspectives and even different career goals from their peers.
Moe Higa, a current student at Trinity Evangelical Theological Seminary (TEDS), saw God's preparation even before the first day of school. Higa is originally from Okinawa, Japan, and is the only Intervarsity Japan staff member with 20,000 college students on the campus. Higa pointed out that Christians make up less than 5% of the population of Okinawa Prefecture and only 1% of the entire Japanese population.
She said: "I have always felt lonely." Higa explained her desire to go to seminary, saying: "I just want to study the Bible. I want to know more about God. I need that kind of education."
In the summer before joining TEDS, Higa participated in the South Korean gathering of young East Asian leaders of the Lausanne Movement. There, she met an upcoming TEDS nun. Now this is a second-year student, the two women are still very close and currently living together on campus. She said: "It's only a year, but it has changed people's lives. I am very grateful." "[We love] live together. We cook together, eat together, and do homework together. We have even been together for spiritual training. ."
Higa’s friendship with this woman has always been a safe place to deal with the cultural differences of living in a foreign country. They can share their passion for ministry, fight on challenging theological issues, and even plan to serve together in East Asia after graduation.
Hall never thought she would go full-time. Long before her career in seminary, she had developed a passion for community involvement and even established a campus organization during her undergraduate program at Clark Atlanta University (CAU). Through the organization, Hall met CAU's first female priest Valerie Tate Everett (Valerie Tate Everett). Hall was then invited to serve as the priest's assistant. "Yes (the leader of the first female pastor) and she saw God in me (makes me) saying,'Wait a minute. God calls me to church and the world. She was the first person to tell me, "You Going to seminary. ""
Even though Hall went on to earn a master's degree in public administration at the American University in Washington, DC before considering attending Wesley, the woman played an important role in shaping Hall's seminary journey. A few years later, she is now the CEO of a non-profit organization founded as a researcher at Wesley. Adhering to her passion for ministry and long-term vision, the "Raise Village Foundation" provides education, health, and advocacy to impoverished communities in the District of Columbia.
Like Hall, many women pointed out the importance of building relationships with faculty and staff in their institutions. In my seminary career, female teachers recognized my academic and ministry gifts and became my close friends. They often pray for me and do the same for other female students. They provide us with advice on seeking a career in the ministry or college and generously share their career struggle stories. They also support our non-academic work by providing feedback on sermons, articles and other projects.
Female teachers can point out choices that are not immediately obvious to female students, opening the door to possibilities that these women think. For some women, female teachers are the first women they preach in church or write letters for mixed subjects. They lead by example, model the career development path of female students and pose challenging career questions.
Sarah Bruins, a graduate of Western Theological Seminary, said that friendship is vital not only in school but also in the early days of preaching. As the first female pastor of her church and the only woman in the leadership team, Bruins was a pioneer. Her seminary friends helped her reduce her sense of isolation and invited her to deal with challenging relationships and other pastoral dynamics.
She said: "It is important for me to build this kind of relationship during this period of time for people who understand it."
Bruins’ closest friendship to seminary came from a group of men and women. The women in the group consciously maintain a normal rhythm of communication after graduation. She said: "We realized during the transition period that we value the support of other goddesses." "We have established a network of six women, and we continue to have monthly meetings by phone or online now."
Hall reflected: “Friendship reminds you to return to yourself.” “Because when you are a woman and you are a leader, it is still a lonely place, especially in a male-dominated space. Friendship reminded me that I did a good job because I was supported."
The Knox Women's Theology Association is a student-led group originally founded by Debby Viveros and the goddess scholars of Knox Theological Seminary to provide women with dialogue and mutual support on theological and academic concepts. In the first game of the group, a classmate of Viveros who had decided to quit the seminary completely, with the encouragement and support of the Knox Women's Group, decided to move on.
The women I know as my peers, colleagues, and close friends have proven that I am a minority ministry, empowering each other. When I planned my future after graduation, they sighed for me and grew up with me. These women taught me to love God better, his word and his church.
Like our predecessors, the Goddess Academies will faithfully open up challenging spaces and persevere in obstacles and self-doubt. We hope that one day, women will become honorable members of the body of Christ, receive the same praise, pursue our career happily, and be welcomed by all fields and dialogues. Until then, we will continue to walk through the door and sit down, confident of where we belong.
Lauren Januzik is an MDiv student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She is the youth director of the church and has a passion for discipleship and cultural participation.
Published on December 18, 2020
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