By Jim Purcell
In graduating from New York Theological Seminary on May 15 with a Master's of Professional Studies, it marked the conclusion of four years of work. For most of that time, I worked full-time, about 50 hours per week as a newspaper publisher. However, because classes were held at night, in Riverside Church, Manhattan, it made earning the degree possible.
Why seminary, though? And, why was it New York Theological for me? For most of my life, I was either a soldier in the Army or a newspaper writer, editor or publisher. My life had little, if anything, to do with the church. Nevertheless, in theory I was a Baptist throughout this time.
When that something that calls one strongly back to faith happens, though, it is something that cannot be ignored. I was not exactly a traditional student when I began seminary. At 39 years old, it was scary to think about entering a rigorous program at a Master's level. Then there was the fact I would have to commute to Manhattan from Central Jersey, about an hour and a half each way.
Still, I tried it at New York Theological, a class at a time, not really paying too much attention to a 'program' at first and being more concerned about enjoying the classes and everything they did in cultivating my faith in God. The student body was diverse, not only culturally and racially, but insofar as their educational and professional experiences. All of that made things more interesting. And, the professors were not only expert in their fields but motivating and inspirational, from a variety of faith traditions. It made the commute and the many hours of studying worth it.
The reality of life is that people learn hard life lessons, and hopefully those lessons teach compassion along the way. None of us are perfect in their faith or in any other way. Yet, in finding a call to vocation during mid-life, it takes an institution that is prepared to address students on that level to make the experience spiritually meaningful, and not just work toward a degree. At NYTS, work toward my MPS was marked by countless hours of studying and a journey that was remarkable.
My return to the church corresponded with my journey in seminary. Together, NYTS and my home church, Stelton Baptist, in Edison, New Jersey, transformed not only my career path but, more importantly, the person I was.
Sitting among my classmates at graduation was very special, because most of them are not unlike me – they had careers and families when they entered seminary, and they dealt with many obstacles in order to be earning their diplomas that day. Still, each of us did it even if we arrived to the same point by different routes. Indeed, it was and is the journey that has the real meaning.
Jim Purcell is a licensed ABCNJ minister, who divides his time between working for his Edison Township home church and in an Ocean County nursing home. He is currently in-care for ordination and working toward his goal of chaplaincy. As a hobby, he operates the religious blog Faith Outside the City.