The Seminary Class of 2014

by Susan Nienaber

I sat down recently with two new friends, Vanessa Williams and Joelle Anderson, recent graduates of Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. As an older, mainline Protestant clergywoman speaking with two much younger women—one African-American and the other Euro-American, both graduating from an evangelical seminary. I was curious about the worldview of two young women in their 20s. I wanted to hear their concerns about church and culture and their views on controversial topics like the ordination and marriage of GLBTQ persons.

As a member of the class of 1987 (the first class at my seminary where women finally reached 50% of the incoming students) I remember wondering what my first appointment would be like as an ordained United Methodist. I remember telling my district superintendent I was open to being the first clergywoman to serve a particular church. I worried about whether or not I would have “the right stuff” to step into leadership at that level. And I worried about cranking out the weekly sermon. Back then, we weren’t talking about the impact of shifts in our culture on established congregations, the coming “death tsunami” of the Baby Boomers in 2019-2050, the rise of the “nones,” or the need to re-evangelize America.

Listen to our conversation by clicking the triangular “Play” button below.

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Please bear in mind that we recorded this from my living room, so you will hear a dog barking and ice clinking in our glasses as we enjoyed our ice tea. I know you will enjoy the conversation!

  • Intro to 2:15
  • 2:15 – Susan looks back
  • 5:06 – Joelle: personal history and current challenges
  • 12:18 – Vanessa: personal history and current challenges
  • 20:00 – If you had seminary to do over again…?
  • 24:18 – J & V talk about the value of authenticity
  • 32:42 – New ways to evangelize, what’s the point of Sunday morning?
  • 36:40 – Some generational downsides
  • 38:49 – Gay/Lesbian ordination & same sex marriage
  • 47:54 – Heterosexual marriage
  • 52:52 – Wrap-up