by Kim Shay
I knew there would be changes when my kids left home. Fortunately, they leave didn’t leave all at once, so I had time to get used to it gradually. There were adjustments and changes, but I wasn’t surprised by them.
But the changes that came with attending seminary at midlife were unexpected.
I began teaching the Bible in my local church in 1996. I started by teaching children, then teens, and then women. I loved the study and I loved to see others enjoy the Word of God. I especially loved it when one of the students whom I taught in teen Sunday school returned to me years later as a young married woman in my ladies’ class.
Despite my love of teaching, I was aware of how much I did not yet know. That’s what happens when you teach: you find out what you don’t know! I often found myself dissatisfied with the prepared material available to me, and every study I purchased to use with my students, I ended up tailoring to fit my particular set of students. I had wanted to attend seminary for a long time in order to learn more about the Bible, but having kids at home and then homeschooling for eight years made that impossible. When the kids were gone, it was finally my time to do it.
I attended my first hermeneutics class in fear and trembling. That morning, our community was hit with a heavy snowfall, and I had to leave early for my 8:30 class. There I was at 6:30 a.m. in the dark, with snow pelting my windshield as I made my way out of town. “What am I doing?” I asked myself. I, the person who stayed at home when even the lightest snowflake dropped was out on the roads for an hour-long car ride. I arrived in one piece, and after those three hours in the classroom, I was hooked. What began as a plan to take ten courses in order to better equip myself became a pursuit of an MDiv. When I contemplated these middle life years, I often imagined rocking or reading to grandchildren, not declining Greek verbs and unraveling Hebrew vowel pointers. But I love it. Every class is a joy; even the class on the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, where I was the only woman in a class of 12; many of the men in the class young enough to be my sons.
I’ve been attending part-time since 2015, and I’m getting into the home stretch now. When I started, I knew I would be facing new ideas regularly, but I did not expect the regular challenge to my own presuppositions. I attend a conservative evangelical church where women are usually expected to fold napkins for the spring tea, not go to seminary. We don’t have women participate in much leadership unless it is being in charge of children’s church or the nursery. We may teach women, but the thought of a woman leading the singing or even reading Scripture is a shocking thing. Ever since my conversion to Christ in 1985, I have accepted the teaching that prevents women from leadership positions. Over the past five years in seminary, as I have confronted the views of others, engaged with scholarship from other views, and been asked to evaluate the arguments of others, I find myself questioning: why is this? Are the arguments valid?
In the fall semester of 2019, at the same time I was slogging my way through Hebrew Elements I, I prepared a research paper answering the question of whether or not women could be in leadership. As I spent time reading, I felt my heart both speeding up and sinking. Much of what I read surprised me, some of it disappointed me. Some of it made me uncomfortable, but at the end, I could not say I agreed any longer with what I’d been taught. With the limited amount of research I did, I concluded it was an issue of conscience. Since that paper, as I engaged with writers from differing perspectives, I have been emboldened to read more from those who previously I would have rejected. I’m eager to hear the voices of others whose experience is different from mine, whether it’s the woman who struggled through a divorce or domestic abuse, or writers from other denominations which I have been taught over the years weren’t evangelical enough.
For me, the biggest benefit from being a seminary student is not necessarily knowing more “stuff,” but rather understanding just how much my presuppositions influence my theology; and not just in matters of women in leadership. In short, I think the biggest change is that I’m learning to think better. And I hope that as I think more deeply, I will respond with more grace and less pride. I love to read and learn, but intellectual humility is the difference between real learning and a simple stockpiling of knowledge. If you had asked me at 30 what I would my life would be like at 55, this would not have been it. But God had other, better plans for my life, and I’m grateful.
Kim lives in southern Ontario, Canada. She is the mother of three grown children, and the wife of 33 years to Neil. Since her nest has emptied, she has returned to seminary, and is pursuing an MDiv. In her local church, she has been teaching women and teens since 1996. She also loves to take long walks and photograph things along the way.