A Letter to Women Who Sense a Call to Pastoral Ministry and Are Exploring Theological Education

Rev. Alexis Carter Thomas

Name: Rev. Alexis Carter Thomas
Pronouns: She/Her/Hers
Ethnic Identity: African-American / US Black
Denomination: National Baptist Convention
Ministry Role: Program Director (Former Pastor)
Ministry Context: The Vinery in Travelers Rest, SC
Seminary Attended: In the United States

Dear Called & Curious Ones,

Not everyone is a saint, all are sinners and it is actually a scandal that God calls many of us to be seminarians.

No, not everyone who goes to seminary is called to be a pastor. We need more theologically sound and zealous women who infiltrate various vocations. If God calls you to seminary, know that it will be one of the greatest challenges of your life. Seminary rarely seems sensible. Theological education is to equip a disciple for whatever vocation to which she has been called. Seminaries often juggles various roles. They can be mothers, worship leaders, church secretaries, pastors, attorneys, writers, wife, caregivers, accountants, or teachers, while attending seminary. Be careful of letting others make you think that it is unrealistic, ridiculous, not profitable, unnecessary or not worth it. Your decision can be these things. But if it’s your thing, then do it! There are a variety of options that fit your location, stage of life, calling, vocational goals and level of commitment. There are various calls within the call to ministry. Be open to where the Spirit of God is leading you, and trust God for provision. If you are called to this path, know that the sacrifices and journey will be immeasurably worth it. 

Not everyone is a saint, all are sinners, and it is actually a scandal that God calls many of us to be seminarians. While serving at a field education placement in South Africa, a thoughtful parishioner who liked to cross stitch at my church asked what verse she could put on a banner for me, I chose: “But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” ( 2 Corinthians 4:7, NRSV). The red threaded message hung from my doorknob as a disclaimer to those who dared to enter my office under the assumption that I was an extraordinary leader or a miracle worker. These words were a reminder that I was merely an ordinary being who was available and possessed by the Divine who did the real work.

A critical truth to hold onto is that seminary is not a church. Seminary is an institution for theological education that forms and prepares people to lead within the Church. Other aims include growing to know the God who is revealed in Scripture, and to dialogue with people about how God is calling them to live out God’s message in their everyday lives.  The hope is that the course material and community experiences will be formative in equipping leaders to lead, engage and disciple God’s people.

Some of my favorite seminary memories are the life-altering revelations that I received. These came about through staying up late reading ancient texts, thinking differently about Scripture, and talking with colleagues about complex thoughts. I learned to think and to speak courageously about what I believed with less fear and offense. I began to appreciate the mystery involved in faith, and accepted that no matter how much I studied and reflected, I would not be able to explain everything that I wanted. God was not calling me to do so. I have wrestled harder with God in the season of seminary than ever before. Some days there were too many “Whys?” And there was almost always too much gray for one who prefers black and white. There were times when lectures were transformed into sermons, classrooms to sanctuaries, and classmates into our closest companions. 

When you are called to attend, you find that God has chosen it to be a meeting place for regular appointments. The years were challenging and experience was expensive, yet I would not trade them for anything in the world. I am a more faithful disciple, leader, friend, and pastor because of the formation that occurred while I was in seminary.

If you find yourself in seminary, consider how being intentional about the practices of friendship and hospitality could enrich your life. The coursework can consume one’s schedule, so it is important to prioritize nurturing relationships outside of the classroom. Make time to ask questions that are not centered on assignments. Building vibrant friendships makes the journey more enjoyable. Someone should know how being a student is affecting your parenting or if you find yourself fearful about a medical condition. Seek connection and allow those dear friendships to be spaces where you can be honest, vulnerable, and authentic--especially with seminarians of color.  A way to do this is through hospitality--sharing space, meals, morning coffee, and with friends. Go for walks or do a hobby that gets you out of your head and into your body. Consider opening your home for study groups, birthday celebrations, or for potlucks. Consider meeting on Zoom for happy hour, prayer, and processing what is going on in your lives outside of the classroom.  I hosted bi-monthly study and fellowship gatherings at my apartment in which we discussed our personal challenges, families, and hopes. There was always laughter. 

Go to where your calling and curiosity takes you!

-Alexis Carter Thomas


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