By Ethan Gregory
I am getting excited about beginning my theological education at Perkins School of Theology in less than a month. The decision of which seminary/school of theology to attend was pretty easy for me. I applied to three, all United Methodist of course: Perkins, Garrett, and BU. I was accepted and received the same amazing scholarship at all three, but ultimately Perkins at SMU, where I did my BA was where I felt called.
As I was applying for grad school, I was doing so at the same my brother was applying to schools for his undergrad. He applied to five different schools, some private (all United Methodist too) and some public; however, he only had to fill out one application. The Texas Common Application allowed him to apply to all of the schools he wanted to, while only needing to complete one application. As I watched him through this process, I wondered what would it be like if we had a United Methodist common application for our schools of theology/seminaries.
Each of the applications I filled out while applying was fairly similar. All of them required the same personal information, references, and the essay questions were similar, although with a couple of unique questions depending on the school. This process did not bother me. I knew I wanted options, and this is what it took; it was all part of the process.
As I have thought about what a common United Methodist application would look like, it seems to me like it would be simple to accomplish and provide nothing but benefits. We only have 13 United Methodist seminaries/schools of theology. Admissions representatives could meet from each school to compare and contrast the necessary information they require for their applicants and put together a common app that each would accept. The application and website could be coordinated and hosted by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM). At a time when enrollment in theological education seems to be down, it makes sense to me to make the process of applying as easy as possible. I think a common application would make it easier for applicants to see what all of the United Methodist options are, and it would place a great emphasis at a denominational level on promoting our schools of theology and seminaries.
A little more complex than the application, I have also been thinking about the M. Div. degree itself. I have several other friends who I graduated from SMU with, who will also be returning to the university for grad school. My friends, however, are engineering majors and will be returning to complete the last year of their 4 + 1 program and will graduate in May with their Master’s while I will still have another two to three years.
I know we have fewer United Methodist schools of theology/seminaries who are apart of a larger university, but I have been wondering, at least at schools like SMU, what would it take to create a kind of 4 + 1 degree for the M. Div. This will take more thinking that creating a common application, but I think it is perhaps even more important.
Do not hear me saying I am not excited about spending the next three to four years working on another degree. I am! I have been looking forward to starting my M. Div. since I felt called to ministry as a freshman in high school. With the total number of clergy under the age of 35 in our denomination at less than 10% of all clergy, I think that we should be examining all avenues for streamlining the process. A 4 + 1 M. Div. would shave at least a year or two off of the candidacy process, and it would help to increase the number of students directly out of college in seminary.
Let’s continue to rethink seminary and theological education.
Ethan Gregory is a member of Arborlawn UMC in Fort Worth, TX. He was a lay delegate from Central Texas to the 2012 General Conference. Ethan is a certified candidate for ordained ministry and will be a first year M. Div. student at Perkins School of Theology this fall.