Summer Seminary Grad Seeks Answers
For some, Summer Seminary left them with even more questions about their path to ministry. Jennica Davis-Hockett, Leadership Development Associate at the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), paired a Summer Seminary graduate with a first year seminarian at Meadville Lombard Theological School to get some answers.–Ed.
Emily Conger grew up in New Jersey in the Metro New York District , and is now in Boulder, Colorado in the Mountain Desert District . She is currently pursuing her Master of Divinity at Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago .
Carter Smith is currently a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Asheville where she is majoring in Religious Studies . This past summer, she was a participant of the UUA’s Summer Seminary program for youth interested in pursuing ministry.Carter: What was the very first experience you had that called you to ministry? Emily: I first felt called to ministry during high school. I just had this sense that someday I was going to be a minister. With each step since then I’ve recognized how the things that I was doing and the experiences I was having were part of my professional development and part of my journey toward ministry. CS: What kind of experiences were those? EC: I went to Rutgers University and was really involved with the queer community there. The queer group [I was part of] asked me to become the president. They saw leadership potential in me and I made a decision that my ministry during college was going to be with the queer community. For my final semester of college I went to South Africa . There I was working in the townships, and was visiting people in their homes who had TB and HIV and just hearing their stories and learning about their lives. I saw that as a way to learn more about the rest of the world, gain more life experience, and learn more about myself. After that I moved to Chile with a couple friends and ended up traveling around in South America solo. Most of the time I was traveling with new friends I made on a bus, or in a restaurant, or in a hostel. I was getting to know a lot of folks from around the world, and about myself and my place in this world. CS: How did you finally make the decision to go into ministry? EC: Along the way, I kept having the sense that I wasn’t quite ready yet. I worked at Planned Parenthood for many years, and that was an amazing way to live out my passions. [When I became] involved in the congregation in Boulder, I was asked to lead the young adult group, the youth group, and OWL . So they saw something in me as well. I was in discernment about whether I actually needed seminary in order to do the ministry that I knew I was called to do. Part of the inspiration for taking the plunge at this time came after going to QUUest Camp last year and serving as the chaplain for that Mountain Desert District youth camp. It was an incredible experience, and at the end of the week I felt so filled by the experience of doing youth ministry. I realized that I wanted to become a minister to really fulfill the call so I could serve even more people even better. CS: What kind of role did your family play, how did they react? Or your partner? EC: My family has been extremely supportive, and so many people in my life have been following me on this journey. I’ve had people ask me, “When are you gonna do it already?” My partner is also really supportive. We met during YRUU when we were in high school, he’s Unitarian Universalist, his family is incredibly supportive and has helped to make this process very smooth so far. CS: What changes have you made to go into this new part of your life? EC: To start going to school full time and to really invest in this time in my life, I decided to leave Planned Parenthood, and just continue with the Boulder U.U. Fellowship job, which is very flexible. Because Meadville Lombard’s program is a low-residency program , I am continuing to live in Boulder. We get to stay connected to our vast network of support. I get to follow my dreams and my life’s calling and keep the place where I want to live. CS: Right now, what are your plans for once you finish seminary? EC: I’m still in discernment around that. I’m going to use the experiences I have during seminary to help me figure out what’s a good fit for me because I’ll get to see how those roles really feel. I’m hoping that I can gain some insight into myself and how I can best serve the world. CS: Do you have any advice for youth or young adults considering going into ministry? EC: Allow yourself to sit with the questions and be in discernment. Play with what it means to be a minister. Talk to people about it. Talk to ministers, to people you know and who know you. I would reach out to some of the seminaries to see what they’re looking for and what their programs are all about, and see whether it resonates with you. Really trust your gut as a guiding force to say, “Yes, this is who I am.” I read an article recently that says people go into ministry when they find that there’s absolutely nothing else that will fulfill them in this world. Being a minister is not just about something you do during the day, it’s about who you are as a whole person. It is not something to be taken lightly. Use your support systems, build larger support systems, talk to people and trust yourself and your own guiding force.