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Category: Faith, Religion & Spirituality / Topics: Education Religion Trends

Divine Refuge

by Dan Seagren

Posted: April 12, 2009

We find interesting things in unusual places…

We find interesting things in unusual places. I remember some sixty years ago when I enrolled in college. I was discharged from the US Navy on August 19 (the deadline was August 20), not quite 19 years of age, and of six schools, one let me in (schools then were swamped with veterans). But I had to find my own housing which I did.

So when I read Newsweek (February 16, 2009) I was stopped abruptly on page 15 by this headline: Divine Refuge in the Storm. In short, Lisa Miller wrote that “applications to seminary and divinity school rise during tough times. After 9/11 and the last down economy, enrollment surged 8 percent.”

Historically, Miller quotes Sister Mary Ann Walsh: “a significant surge in vocations to priesthood and religious life followed World War II, where our society was grounded in seriousness, the spirit of self-sacrifice and the willingness to follow a dream.” I was caught up in this, too.

At 18, hardly dry behind the ear, Uncle Sam allowed me to think seriously of my future, of my dreams (if I had any). As a teen, I knew the draft would not overlook me and I spent my years wondering not if but when. This hardly allowed for dreams or yearnings about what I wanted to do, to become. When I passed 19 as a freshman, I began to struggle with my vocation. No, not what I should major in but with how I should live and discover my dream. The rest is history.

I identified with this article. Lisa pointed out that everyone, it seems, has a “Plan B.” This could include, of all things, the ministry. Not as a draft dodger (the war was over) but as a salty citizen. Lisa surmises that “this yearning could be an escapist fantasy, a wish to contemplate divine abundance in an environment of scarcity . . . to wrestle with abstractions in the midst of relentless pragmatic concerns. Or it could be a calling to help others."

Some Divinity schools have already seen enrollment move upward for 2009. The Jewish Theological Seminary, Lisa writes, has seen the number of people applying to the Ph. D. program double. Some surmise that maybe people are wearying of a materialistic society, or because jobs are scarce out there. The article also cautions that many ministers earn too little to repay student loans which may account for lower enrollment in studies leading to ordination. Many go on to other kinds of charitable or pastoral work.

Lisa Miller's article is a welcome treatment of a rather sensitive subject not fully fathomed by many. These vocations to contemplate divine abundance or to wrestle with a calling to help others is worthy of consideration, both in times of want as well as plenty.


Dan Seagren is an active retiree whose writings reflect his life as a Pastor, author of several books, and service as a Chaplain in a Covenant Retirement Community.

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Posted: April 12, 2009

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