The Clownfish of Seminary

by Elle Boersma, ’13

Having studied Kinesiology in undergrad, I wanted to approach this article in a way that made sense to me. I love analogies and anatomy, so naturally my first thought was an anatomy analogy, but while reflecting on my first year of seminary and on my past experiences before walking through the front doors of this building I now call home, this did not seem like the best approach. I have learned there is no single form that an M.A. student takes on; there is no set structure or mould that we all can fit into. There are many different degree programs within the M.A. stream and while my heart lies in music and how that fits into our worship, others may be more drawn to youth ministry, education, or pastoral care. We all come from different places, and we all have different pasts, which means we all bring exciting and varied perspectives to the table. That being said, I cannot escape the compulsion to include a scientific analogy of sorts—it’s in my blood.

Consider the clownfish, that little orange and white fish from Finding Nemo. The clownfish lives in what is called a symbiotic relationship with the sea anemone. This particular relationship is known as mutualism because both the clownfish and the sea anemone benefit from what the other brings. The anemone’s stinging tentacles provide protection from predators for the clownfish, and the clownfish defend the anemone against the butterflyfish who prey on anemones. The little clownfish hides inside the anemone and may not be the first thing you see while snorkeling the waters of the Great Barrier Reef, but they are there, and they are doing an important job.

Such is the life of the M.A. student. Sometimes it may feel like you’re living in the shadows of all the M.Div. students at Calvin Theological Seminary. Let’s face it, they are the dominant group and the first thing people think of when they think of seminary. Our job as M.A. students is to show this other species of student that they need us just as much as we need them. Make friends with M.Div. students and with those in other programs as well. These are the pastors and church leaders of tomorrow. Most M.A. students are looking to fill church staff positions when they are finished their studies, and church staff need to report to a pastor. These are the types of people you will be working with, so it’s best to get used to them and learn to get along with them. Be the clownfish to their anemone. Make them see that you are indispensable in their ministry and that they need to hire you just as much as you need to be hired.

It is best to get used to meeting a lot of the M.Div. students. Many of the students you had Gateway with will not necessarily be your classmates most of the time. The M.A. program is designed to be two years long, whereas M.Div. students are around for three or more years. This means some core classes M.A. students take will be with first-year M.Div., others with second- and third-years. This could be a barrier to you, but it can also be an opportunity to get to know more people, and to network with more future pastors. Again, think symbiotically and think mutual benefit. We need each other.

Welcome to Calvin Seminary all you first-year M.A. students, and continue strong to my fellow classmates with a year (or more) under their belts already. Make the most of the time you have and remember that even through our struggles of finding identity in a school of pastors, you are important, you matter, and you are indispensable in the church’s future.