Notes from the Field: An Update on The Wisdom Year

Wachner _WebThe Rev. Emily Wachner
Director of Integrative Programs

This past March 1 felt a bit like Christmas Day on campus of The General Theological Seminary—it was the day that I communicated the potential matches between sites and residents, mostly rising third-year M.Div. candidates, for the upcoming 2016-2017 Wisdom Year. Each Wisdom Year resident was matched with three or four potential sites, and vice versa, depending on each site’s needs and each student’s gifts.

Over the following 90 days, Wisdom Year residents had the opportunity to interview with churches across the region, in an attempt to mutually discern the right match for the upcoming academic year.

The diversity of Wisdom Year sites is astounding and represents the diversity of the New York metro area. All 12 sites are within a 75-minute commute, save two. The sites are spread across five dioceses, and range from somewhat traditional one-priest parishes to big “avenue” churches in Manhattan, and include two diocesan partnerships, three placements in Spanish-speaking congregations, and one non-parish-based ministry.

Along with the site recruitment process, I have been engaging in conversations about integration with faculty, staff, and students. One persistent question is, “How do we share knowledge acquired in different spheres, and how do we integrate those spheres?” For example, how do we make sure that what we are hearing in chapel via the daily lectionary is integrated into our learning processes in scripture classes, and vice versa? And, how do we form students to be prepared for the practical aspects of ministerial life which await them upon graduation, without diluting the substance of their theological education?

Members of The Wisdom Year Integrative Seminar gather for their weekly meeting.
Members of The Wisdom Year Integrative Seminar gather for their weekly meeting.

To that end, I am working with faculty to develop a series of sequential Integrative Seminars which accompany field education; with each semester building on the next, in order to challenge students to juxtapose their field experiences with what they are learning in their coursework. Each seminar will bring together faculty and practitioners, in tandem with experience in the field, to enable students to understand that theology and the practical sphere are intimately linked.

For example, first-year students might hear from a prison chaplain and learn about the school-to-prison pipeline; then hear a lecture on the theology of corporate sin, and how we address it as a church. Or, students might explore best stewardship practices from the Episcopal Church Foundation, learn to assess a church’s stewardship program, and hear from the New Testament professor about Gospel theologies of stewardship.

This process of integration should reach its intended culmination in the third-year curriculum, which will focus on supporting Wisdom Year residents serving as practitioners in specific contexts, applying the practical skills and theological perspectives they have obtained over the previous four semesters of coursework. The goal is to support Wisdom Year residents while they become more integrated as students and human beings—and ultimately as priests.

So far, the anecdotal evidence bears this out: as our six 2015-2016 Wisdom Year residents engage in their job searches, they are able to offer deeper experience than the average candidate for a curacy. The majority of these students are searching for rector or priest-in-charge positions, and the response to their Wisdom Year residencies, from the bishops and vestries who will hire these students, has been resoundingly positive. I look forward to the unfolding of the next chapter of The Way of Wisdom, and I hope you do, too! Stay tuned.