Guess Who's Coming to Seminary?

09/23/2016 10:54 pm ET Updated Sep 27, 2016

Quick, close your eyes and answer this question: who’s enrolling in seminary these days? The first thought that comes to my mind is a younger image of my dad who attended Princeton Seminary in the 1940's.

But if my dad and his buddies were alive today, they would see a very different campus. And I’m not talking the buildings. Instead, they would see a diversity of cultures, races, theologies, politics, ages, genders, and orientations.

One of the best/worst kept secrets is who’s going to seminary. The answer is strong innovative, passionate and committed leaders who are redefining what “minster” looks like, and what it does. But don’t take my word for it. Below are just a few of the individuals who are beginning the journey this fall.

John Lyons III is a 2012 graduate of Harvard College where he studied social and cognitive nerosicnes before he began his seminary career at Wake Forest Divinity School last month. Asked why he chose Wake, his responded, "It has a specialized concentration for Faith and Wellness which intertwines my call to ministry with my vocation as a researcher for holistic wellness solutions. This will help me in my pursuit to minister to both the faith and wellness needs of people.”

John will be joined in Winston Salem, NC by Taina Diaz-Reyes, geography major from George Washington University who enrolled in a duel M.Div./MA degree in Sustainability. She explains that "when I was in undergrad, I developed a love for the study of food, agriculture, and social justice surrounding the US and global food systems. Wake Div. has courses on these very issues, and operates under the philosophy that God seeks the restoration of Creation, and that we have a part to play in that restorative process.”

Joe Davis, ( who is an artist and activist in the Twin Cities, started talking classes at Luther Seminary, where he will pursue a Master’s of Theology and the Arts and serve as an artist-in-residence. He enrolled in seminary because he wants to " inspire and challenge people to question and move beyond the boxes we create for ourselves and God.” As he put it, “What better way to do that than through art and theology?"

Also attending Luther will be Anne Knighten. Anne served as a lawyer in California for over thirty years and most recently was a Judicial Staff Attorney for Riverside County Superior Court. She thought about going to seminary for a long time and now that she is there, is anticipating that the Christian Public Leader class will give her better insight into what she wants to do.

And Fenwick Broyad, who had been serving as the executive director of Community Connections in Athens, arrived in Nashville, TN to attend Vanderbilt Divinity School. Fenwick holds a BS in Physics from Xavier, a Master’s in Public Health from Tulane, and a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Georgia. Asked “why Vanderbilt?” he responded, “I'd slowly grown to feel that the work I was doing in the social services space was merely scratching the surface of real human need and that our attending to the material needs of our client-partners, absent an acknowledgment of the spiritual deficits undergirding their deprivation, amounted to the "giving of fish" and the cultivation of dependency upon systems whose ultimate goal should be to render themselves irrelevant.”

Fenwick is joined by his classmate, Colleen Maki, who recently served in Mexico through the Lutheran Young Adult's in Global Mission program. There, she worked with a network for Sexual and Reproductive Rights and spent the past summer as a canoe guide in the Boundary Waters. Asked why she chose Vanderbilt, her response was that she liked "VDS's commitment to academic study and scholarship around sexuality, gender, and religion … I want to expand my own knowledge of theology and sexual ethics in order to create change in the world. "

While theological education may not be "hot" like other graduate schools (US News and World Report doesn't even bother ranking them, which is a good thing), that doesn’t mean that it’s not rocking. Through their varied experience, passions, commitments and plans, these leaders give rise to new hope and possibility in regards to community life that can and will have impact on personal growth and global impact.

Theological education has gone through a silent revolution of reform and innovation that is continuing today. No longer is the Master of Divinity the only degree program. Instead, there are different degree program that combine theological exploration with things like social work, public health, law, science, and environmentalism. The schools listed in Seminaries that Change the World as well as others have developed and launched many of these innovations and for anyone looking to pursue a graduate degree.

And what do we expect out of these individuals who just started seminary and divinity school? Through their discovery and their courageous witness to the world, they in turn we will serve and lead in a complex, multi-faith world that is hungry for the kind of leadership that will come from their insight, innovation, fortitude, grace and love.

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