I was standing outside the seminary chapel, overlooking the seminary pond, and wondering, What the heck, why? The question was to God; the subject, seminary. I’d been prompted toward seminary by questions, behests, and the patient urgings of mentors, professors, and family. Not to mention my own inner sense. It took me a while to see it—a year or so—but eventually I couldn’t deny it. But with that certainty came questions. Prime among them was why?
When my cohort started seminary, I heard my peers and classmates’ stories. For some, the call to ministry had been clear for a long time; seminary was a long-anticipated experience. Others simply knew they were to be at seminary. For what exactly? That was yet to be determined.
This seminary journey has been one of discovery, more accurately, of uncovering—callings, gifts, potential ministries, and loves that were, at best, cloudily visible before this concentrated time of learning and study and community.
I never considered ministry as a vocation until a professor suggested it when I was 21 years old, a junior in college. A seminary classmate of mine who is a gifted preacher was certain she would not preach—until her first preaching class. Now we all know that she’s called to preach. We were all terrified, at worst, and nervously anticipating, at best, Hebrew study—until, guided by our professor, we learned to befriend and read the Old Testament slowly, letting the discipline form our hearts and our minds.
The loneliness of discerning a call to ministry was cured by Wednesday nights at Uccello's over pizza puffs and calamari, meetings with a mentor calling out gifts we hadn’t yet named, talking with a professor after a difficult lecture about lingering questions and nagging doubts, and gathering in a living room around a warm fire with friends to debrief our oral comprehensive exams.
A Calvin Seminary alumna described her time in seminary as, “I’m growing into this calling and this calling is growing into me.” I find myself resonating with her statement. From reluctance and bewilderment, to outright anger at God for derailing other life plans with a call to seminary, to grateful thanks offered on the eve of graduation for such rich gifts as we have experienced—yes, we are growing into this calling, and this calling is growing into us.
A gift. That’s what this has been.
Through every day of reading; through each night of group study; through every class discussion, lecture, and assignment; through every iteration of wondering to God, Is this really what you’ve called me to? This?; through the high highs and low lows of each internship; through summer barbecues and fall dinners and winter morning coffees with classmates who become friends and then partners in ministry; through learning more deeply about ourselves, about others, about God—these are gifts. It’s not lost on me how remarkable it is that God has given us this time, space, place, and community to learn more deeply with and about God and the world. What a privilege!
About the Author
Joella Ranaivoson is an associate chaplain at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich.