Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending time with students at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. Randolph-Macon is a small, liberal arts college nestled in the “Center of the Universe”, a railroad town half way between Richmond and Fredericksburg.
The school put on a fair for graduate schools, internship programs and potential employers. Students were encouraged to treat the fair like a first interview, including business dress and with resumes in hand. This was a most exciting event for me because I am alum of both Randolph-Macon College and Union Presbyterian Seminary! It was a treat to share about my experience as an R-MC Yellow Jacket and my decision to attend seminary after finishing my undergraduate studies.
I had a great time meeting with several students who expressed interest in attending seminary to further their theological studies. As we chatted, I explored with them their sense of call and how they would like to impact the church and the world around them.
One student mentioned feeling a call towards parish ministry where she might use her gifts to support the ongoing efforts of congregations modeled after 1,001 New Worshiping Communities and to learn from resources like the Next Church movement.
Another student felt called toward missions and was exploring options to serve in programs across a number of denominations that encouraged young people to engage in relational and servant ministries as a means to discern a greater call in ministry. We talked about programs like the PC (USA) Young Adult Volunteer program and the Peace Corps. He also expressed a desire to consider life-long ministry in the mission field.
Another young man caught me on my way out the door. He was interested in continuing studies in religious education but had many assumptions about seminary. It was clear he had not been informed that seminary was like other graduate school programs where students gathered to learn, grow and prepare for their future career. We laughed at one point because he remarked, “I thought seminary was like going away to spend long days in prayer!” He found it helpful to hear what he described sounded more like life in a monastery and that, while prayer and reflection were an important piece of life in seminary, he could find similarities to his experiences in a college classroom.
Upon reflection, I am left feeling hopeful for the future of the church. There were common threads of excitement, encouragement, and hope in our conversations. The young women and men with whom I spoke were all raised in some flavor of Christianity and acknowledged the challenges they faced despite affirming a call towards ministry. These young people were not naive to questions and comments about their vocational discernment from their peers:
The church is nothing but a mess of hypocritical, closed-minded people.
You cannot simply think that Jesus Christ is the only way to truth?
We know so much more about the world around us. Where does that leave space for religious belief?
I’m spiritual but not religious. I would never fit in a church.
You will be so poor!
And yet, they felt hopeful about the impact they will make in their respective community and the world around them. I have no doubt that lessons will be learned, tough questions will be faced and growth will occur in the fertile ground of their hearts. However, their passion for service to others in the name of Jesus Christ shined through. Thanks be to God!
“Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12 NRSV
Do you have young folks in your respective community who are discerning a call to ministry? Consider inviting your local Church Relations Officer for a visit or contact our Director of Admissions, Rev. Mairi Renwick for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicole Childress Ball, Church Relations Officer