Monday, February 25, 2013

A Simple Proposal

The Concordia Seminary (St. Louis) magazine (Winter 2013) just arrived in my mailbox, the title emblazoned across the cover: "The Challenge of Student Debt." This has been an issue at both our seminaries for a while. It is an important topic for our church today, which needs good, well-trained pastors. I have a simple proposal: congregations, pay for your students.

Our young men who go to the seminary do so often with much sacrifice. It's time for pastors and congregations to step up to the plate. Some do, I know. But others do not. Some are so small they perhaps cannot. But is that an excuse not to try? I know of some large congregations who give their students a pittance. (Some large districts are like that with synod, too.) It is sad. We should consider the sending of our young men to the seminary as an important part of missions.

I was lucky. When I went to the seminary, my pastor made me a promise to get me through debt free. He didn't know quite how he and the congregation would do it (they weren't that big or wealthy), but they would. Somehow. God would provide. My pastor made sacrifices for me. Since then, I have made the same promise to the young men I send off to the seminary. I am now on my third student, whom we bid farewell and godspeed to just yesterday, and I made the same promise to him. Do I know how we will do it? Nope. We're a small church. We don't even have our own building! But we'll do it. God will provide. It is too important not to do this.

Saint Athanasius' newest seminarian
And I hope that my students who become pastors do the same for the students they send to the seminary, and that this has a ripple effect through the synod. Some students will still have undergraduate debt they carry with them to their parishes, but I think this kind of promise (or at least this kind of attitude and desire!) is important for us to have. If we did, I believe we'd have more residential students and less clamor for "alternate routes" that cost less and in the end (really) provide less preparation, formation, and training. We cannot just be negative and speak against those programs in our synod we would rather not have (SMP, Delto, lay ministers, etc.), we have to be positive and support and build up and make more possible the alternative - our full-time, residential students and seminaries.

So my advice: pastors, congregations, promise your students. We will pray for you and pay for you. You are important. We need you. And we'll show it.

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