Updated: Jan 28
I am remembering my days at seminary with my wife (the seminarian).
The school was in a small town that was out of the way from everywhere else. It was an undergraduate school with a theology school a major part of its entity. The undergraduate school was ranked as an ‘elite drunkard school.’ An undergraduate student had died in a bad car accident while driving drunk, a few years earlier than our presence there. The undergraduate school then employed (contract laborers) the seminarians and their spouses to become licensed bartenders. My wife and I enrolled in the bartender’s certification program held at the school and became licensed bartenders (in that state). That became a source of income (unsteady as it was), as the small town offered few jobs.
Not long after we arrived on campus, placed in bungalow rental housing owned by the school, a man came by offering new students insurance. It seemed similar to the insurance they sold my mother before each year I attended elementary school. The man was actually a seminarian spouse and he said someone had to volunteer to hold that position, which was him. We were not interested in the insurance, but we were introduced to a couple that was older than us. We were in our mid-fifties, but he and his wife (the seminarian) were closing in on sixty, if not there yet. His wife was a second year seminarian, with my wife in the first year class. By the time the second year rolled around, the woman was kicked out of school for doing poorly in her classes. My wife said she was struggling with the paper writing and testing. It was due to her age; she probably had not been in school for some time, and a university setting was most difficult for her. They packed up and left in shame, which I strongly felt for them. So much for just wanting to serve the Lord. No old people need apply. I wondered how getting kicked out of seminary would leave an aging couple with student debt, if their diocese refused to pay for the failure. Hopefully, the diocese paid the debt.
My wife’s age was not a problem for her. She had a doctorate that she earned while working full-time and raising three children. She gave up being a vice president of a non-profit organization she co-founded, in order to serve the Lord. Her brain was lightning fast. She was smart as a whip. There were few things she did not have the capacity to learn. She enrolled for a class in Hebrew and I audited it with her. We were both struggling to learn Hebrew, although it was a very interesting and worthwhile class. Still, after a few weeks and the first test came about, I had studied most waking hours for a week and only made a 60 on the test (my wife made a 68 I think). So I dropped out of the audit, because I had other things I could spend every waking hour doing that were more rewarding than a 60. My wife passed the course, as Hebrew became easier as the class went on. She would take Greek the next year and pass it too.
My wife was in a class that (I imagine) averaged about 36-38 years of age, with my wife and the woman who was kicked out not included. Still, there were those closer to our age, well into their forties. I lost count how many said they left law practices to enter ministry. The ex-lawyers were an elitist group, to say the least; and they truly fit the mold of Pharisees. One couple that were both lawyers, only the wife was a seminarian, but the hubby had applied for entrance also. He was admitted later and they both graduated together. The sad part about that story is the hubby was caught soliciting a minor for sex and convicted and sentenced to a lot of prison time. They found tons of child porn on his computer. I think he makes it safe to say that graduating from seminary school and even getting hired by a diocese (if he was) goes to show that the priesthood these days are not like those who originally created Christianity.
I called most of the seminarians in my wife’s class “young priests.” By that I meant that some of them looked like they were just old enough to have graduated from an undergraduate program, looked for work and could not find any or found work that was too hard and did not pay, so they saw the priesthood an easy job. They were like the Clint Eastwood movie (Gran Torino) catholic priest that was half old Clint’s age. There was absolutely no life experience for a priest that young to rely on in ministering to old people. That seemed odd, since the Episcopal Church average age of parishioner is over sixty (I imagine). But then, the more I interacted with the ‘young priests’ (which was not much), they seemed to have a plan to be youth ministers or music teachers for mega-churches, with no plan to run a parish all by their lonesome. They seemed to plan on only ministering to other young people.
When my wife was about to embark on the road to seminary, she was advised not to fall into the trap of becoming a ‘college social animal.’ We had no use for the partying or frat housing that certainly was part of the undergraduate school campus. Still, there were seminarians who must not have been advised, as some seemed like Otis from the Andy Griffith Show, always wanting to go drinking. The sad thing was the one most like Otis found a best friend forever in another seminarian who loved to go drinking as much as he did. I imagine they did homework while getting drunk together. In fact, it would not surprise me if the two were gay and found a liking for one another in ways that went beyond drinking beer.
I remember how the School of Theology would regularly throw dinners at the local hotel’s grand dining room (or some other large facility on campus) and everyone would dress up and always mill about near the bar and get to know everyone. At that time, I had written and self-published two books on Nostradamus, with the second book republished by my wife and I, as we had become a print-on-demand publisher and the print-on-demand publisher of my second book had kept whatever royalties that book generated (not much, I imagine). So, we had just reissued a ‘second edition’ of my second book. As that was my ‘work,’ because writing about Nostradamus had become my calling to ministry, which my wife knew fully and supported completely, when asked by the seminarians and spouses we met at these functions, I would say, “I write about Nostradamus.” None of the conversations went far beyond that point, and I saw how those ‘Christian’ students going to school to be ‘Christian’ priests and spouses hated me in their hearts, simply because I had a calling they did not understand and did not want to know anything about. After the first three or so of these dinner functions, people avoided me like the plague [a Nostradamus topic]. My wife told me to not worry. Her love and support encouraged me to stay the course, no matter how much resistance I encountered. While we were at seminary, I wrote and self-published three more books on Nostradamus. I also maintained a website (pea*************mus.com, long since defunct), where I posted my writings on various elements written by Nostradamus, with increasing interest over the three years there.
I remember feeling like I was living in Disney Land, as the whole campus was built to look like the Magic Kingdom, with most people being there temporarily, like on vacation (paying way more for what things cost in the real world). As a student-spouse in temporal housing, it was like getting to see what went on behind the fences, where the public was not allowed. The only ones who could afford to live there on any permanent basis (the university never sold a speck of land, only leasing it until death do you part with it again) were retired Episcopal bishops and their wives. I remember one man was a long-time teacher of church history at the school of theology, until he came down with Alzheimer’s. His wife needed to do things away from their housing on campus, so I was asked to ‘babysit’ the man, so she could go off and do what she needed to do. It was easy work, so I did that a few times. He looked at me the first time with eyes that said, “I don’t know you … but I don’t know a lot these days.” I watched him sleep on the sofa while I read the Holy Bible I brought along with me. After that time, he was always in his bedroom asleep when I arrived. So, I only saw him the one time.
Another contracted job I did (as often as possible) was airport runs. People would fly into the state and land at the major airport seventy miles away. Rather than have them pay for a taxi or private shuttle, the school would pay someone like me an hourly wage (lower than the standard hourly wage for a part-time position), plus mileage. Sometimes I would pick up someone and then take them back to the airport after they has given a speech or met at a conference. The competition for that work was strong, so usually I only saw people once. In the hour-plus trips, these important people would ask, “So, what do you do?” That would initiate some discussion about Nostradamus, mostly because the audience was captive and had to act interested. Once, I picked up three women, all of whom were involved with translating ancient documents, especially 16th century Old French. When I told them I used the Randle Cotgrave dictionary to do my translations, they seemed to think I was serious about what I was doing when they heard that. However, they still were glad to get to the campus and out of my car. After all, I was just some nobody grunt, doing service to their highnesses.
I remember the phone ringing on the wall in our bungalow’s kitchen. A male voice asked if I was me. I said, “Yes.” He said he was a E.R. doctor and my mother “suffered a catastrophic failure,” and I needed to come to the hospital quickly. The hospital was three hours away, in a big city in another state. One of the good things about being on that campus was it made my mother, children, relatives and friends be able to be visited more frequently than before, where we lived before seminary. Then, I was forced to see my mother’s death would soon be at hand. My mother was a hoarder, in the sense that she had worked at Sears for about forty years and brought home many things they were going to throw out, which she took and stuck somewhere in her house. She also did not throw away old mail, presumably because she thought someone might read a piece of mail and know where she lived. By the time of her death, the house was helplessly cluttered. After her death and making all the arrangements, I was tasked with cleaning the house, from top to bottom. My wife helped me vastly, during the semester break and on weekends; but, I basically lived in my mother’s house Monday through Friday, back with my wife in seminary on the weekends. That became my full-time job, so all my little chores on campus became forever ceased.
My wife and I totally loved one another. My wife completely understood that my writing about Nostradamus was indeed a calling and not some ego-trip of self-importance that I envisioned would make me rich. I told my wife when we first met that I understood I would never make any money from writing about Nostradamus, but I could not stop because I was called to do that work. I told my wife that was a vow of poverty that I had taken. At that time, I was employed part-time (soon to become full-time) at a company, working hours that allowed me the flexibility to write. At that time, I was preparing to self-publish my first book. My job was how I could save to pay off a bankruptcy lawyer and save to pay the print-on-demand publisher’s fees. My wife gave me most of the money to have that book published and she bought a copy too. My wife took me to raise, in the sense that she was a vice president of a company she co-founded and made a six-digit income. Prior to going to seminary (when she gave up her income for a vow of poverty), she gave me an allowance (call it a stipend) so I could pay off past debts and monthly expenses in my name.
For as much as my wife loved me, our time in seminary was the greatest challenge to our marriage. It was due to external forces playing with my wife’s mind. While my wife would never place the blame on anyone else, saying her doubts were all her own, she became deeply emotional over expenses. She was not paid by anyone to go to seminary. She worked as a bartender on occasion, and held some research position part-time for a professor. I was doing the same menial work; so our total income was not enough to pay the health insurance premium we owed, after the COBRA expired. My wife, knowing my calling to write about Nostradamus was the same as her calling to become an Episcopal priest, wanted me to get a full-time job. There was no rationale involved in her strong suggestion that i had to find work. The reason she made that demand was her mother was putting pressure on her to see the real me – some lazy good-for-nothing playboy that was using her to live off of. Her emotional plea made me emotionally upset. I looked for jobs, but there were none closeby and whenever I filled out an application I was overqualified. No jobs were available and I still knew I had to write. So, I prayed to God for help.
The answer to those prayers meant my mother had to die. I was under the impression that my mother was dirt poor. When I took up residence at her house (my childhood home), I had to gain access to her banking (which my mother had made me a joint holder on everything long before). My mother had tons of money in the bank, plus she had insurance policies that had me designated as the sole heir. One insurance payoff was set aside to pay every health care premium for our third year in seminary. After seven months of painstaking effort, my mother’s house was cleared of everything and I sold the house for much more than anyone expected (it was in a prime location). From the sale of my mother’s house, I gave my wife a quarter of the money. She no longer had to pay for my way. She became a priest and paid for what she wanted, while I paid for extra things we needed. My wife saw how committed I was in cleaning my mother’s house that she had every doubt her mother (and brothers and in laws) had raised about me removed. God had brought us together to support one another in ministries of different kinds.
My wife had bought my mother a car, prior to us going to seminary. She paid cash for it. My mother had the only accident in her life in that car, which caused her to become too fearful to drive after that. I had the car repaired and it was in good running condition when she died. We then had three cars as my wife’s graduation neared. A student who lived across the street from us had a need for a car for his teen daughter, so he bought the car from my wife. All the money went back to her that she had paid out in advance.
I remember my wife’s co-worker friend (from her prior position) urged her husband to move us in and out, even though his business was in another state. He and his helper helped my wife move things from her house that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina to our rental a couple of hundred miles away. He moved us several times, always trying to refuse payment. We always insisted. He and his helper came and moved us out of seminary, just as he had moved us in, three years before. My wife had interviewed and been hired as the rector of a small town Episcopal church. I remember it was good to see that man’s friendly, smiling face again. I was glad our time at seminary was over.
One last memory was my wife telling me about a conversation she had with our bishop. My wife was one of four seminarians from his diocese that were supposed to graduate when she did. One was lagging the field. My wife told me how that student struggled with the classwork and assignments. Before graduation, each seminarian was interviewed and tested as to their preparedness for ministry. My wife did well on that test. This other seminarian did not. Rather than kick him out of school (like had happened to the elder couple, two years prior), the bishop was going to make him do some ‘extra credit’ work and have him retake the test (the part he did poorly on), with his graduation and assignment to a position in the diocese to be delayed six months. I imagine all that happened, as that man is a priest to this day.
I write this not so I will be fondly reminded of school days in my dwindling years. I write this for any and all to realize God does not come to earth and tell virgin sixteen-year-olds that she will give birth to a new priest of the Episcopal Church. Episcopal priests are the product of an educational system that projects piety onto frat boys and girls. A priest of any denomination is the same. Long gone are the days when a priest was filled with the Holy Spirit and others were likewise through contact with such a priest. The priesthood has become a danger to those who put their faith in someone else to lead them to heaven, because the only one who gets oneself to heaven is oneself. Each true Christian is called to serve the Lord personally, with all one’s heart, mind and soul. No one gets to be himself or herself, full of worldly sin, and get the right to believe some young priest out of seminary is going to wash any souls clean and teach him or her how to walk the path of righteousness, set by Jesus, the Son of man.
My wife and I survived seminary. We were glad to get to work leading flocks. From what I have heard, graduated priests from my wife’s class migrate ilke they themselves are lost sheep, always looking for greener pastures, not harder work.