How seminary is different from grad. school

In some ways, seminary is graduate-level education in Biblical studies, theology, Church history, ethics, perhaps Biblical languages, and so on. But on today, September 11th, one of the most obvious differences between seminary and graduate school became obvious to me: our worship service between classes on this anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Members of our ecumenical seminary gather at 10:30 every weekday to worship, and the form of the service can be a little different each day as we try to honor many religious styles and traditions (primarily Christian). So we have music from around the world, from the early centuries to the present. And we have worshippers from around the world, too, due to international students, visiting professors from other continents, and so on.

Today, American students and non-American students gathered in Marquand chapel to worship, and the music and prayers and mood both acknowledged the pain that many, especially in this location so close to New York City, endured on that day and every day since then, as well as emphasized our love of God and God’s loving kindness through all of this. Some readers of this blog will recognize “Bless the Lord, My Soul” from the Taize book of music, one of the songs we sang. But to hear it in four-part harmony, with piano, violin, drums, and organ, is pretty powerful. I had to hold back tears throughout the service. Another tremendous gift on this day was the presence of a singer who must be studying at Yale Divinity School’s Institute of Sacred Music. Her voice transported us, not completely out of the grief, but through it.

These services are wonderful formation experiences for people preparing for ministry–they’re labs where we try out various styles of prayer and music and art. But they’re also the main food that seminarians and the seminary community–professors, administrators, security guards–find necessary to sustain themselves as the body of Christ. Seminary goes far beyond book learning, and far beyond professional preparation.

It was strange for me to step out of that service with music and prayer and grief and grace still inside me, and then walk into a regular classroom where students were quizzing each other on German vocabulary before our first test.

The funny thing was that students were asking the teacher how to say “God bless you” in German, even though that phrase was not part of our chapter studies. I kid you not. So here it is, in case you were wondering: “Gott segne dich” (singular) or “Gott segne euch”  (plural).

Gott segne euch.

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