Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary (APTS) is a very special seminary in that its orientation lasts for three days. 7:30AM – 5PM, Wednesday to Friday. It was the most tiring educational experience I’ve been through thus far – but it was also extremely refreshing.
We started on Wednesday with Breakfast and introductions, and let me tell you the entering class of APTS is extremely diverse and very eclectic; I am in very good company here. We moved from breakfast into Morning Worship with Dr. Jennifer Lord. She lead us around Shelton Chapel showing us every nook and cranny, explaining to us what everything was for and expanding on the symbolism of bricks, arches, and stained windows. It was a beautiful prayer service. We went out and met every member of the faculty, got to spend quick session meeting all of the people that would be our instructors for the first semester. We were informed that we would no longer be using APA or MLA writing formats but Turabian. A lot happened on Wednesday. The day was rounded out with an ice cream social catered by Amy’s Ice Cream, it was delicious. The most important part of the social was socializing with current students; it was delightful getting to hear their stories, meet their kids, and most importantly playing with their dogs.
Thursday was “camp” day. We set out at 8:05AM after breakfast for John Know Ranch. We spent the first 30 minutes or so in prayer, and learning about the camp. Around 9:45is we started our team building exercises which lasted until 12:30. It was so much fun getting to know more about y classmates, and learning how very different we all are, while at the same time seeing the massive similarities between us. The best part was working together to find shade trees to stand under. At lunch I led the group in a rousing rendition of the Johnny Appleseed prayer. After lunch Jackie Saxon discussed with us the spiritual difficulties of attending seminary. She relayed to us the importance of being involved in local churches, and not just using our chapel services as church. We had an hour of free time, which I used to sit in the air-conditioned building while others chose to go out in the heat and hike or swim (crazies). We returned to the seminary around 5ish.
Friday was the final day and somehow that made it feel the longest. We had breakfast & a prayer service with President Ted Wardlaw. Then we Master in Divinity students were taken to a room to be handed a massive test. The test is issued by the Association of Theological Schools and it gives examples of issues arising in ministry and we had to reply to these issues by bubbling in the answers we most likely would choose. Luckily we have a while to finish it. After that test was put away, another was issued. A writing test – we were instructed to write about an influential person in our life or about an influential book (besides the Bible). It was actually pretty fun since it was such an open topic. We had community lunch, then an orientation to the library. Dr Suzie Parks gave a brief seminar on inclusive and expansive language, which was interesting. The most interesting demonstration came from the department of Ministers Facing Money – which revealed the amount of debt from education alone that our class was carrying (around $475,000 for 43 people). There were more talks, my mind left the building and then my body did too as we all left to go pay our bill for this semester.
I found the whole experience to be very difficult, enriching, and completely inexplicable. I was made tired physically, while spiritually I felt refreshed, it was almost like those times when I went to summer camp with youth groups. Yet at the same time I learned a lot that weighed heavy on my mind. What if I am wasting my time here? What if I never get ordained? What if God was calling me elsewhere and this is just a three-year detour? Questions that will be answered soon enough I guess. But for now I’m trying to learn the Hebrew alphabet and vowel forms.