Moms Going to Seminary

SusanThe other day I received an email from a mom who was planning on starting seminary. She mentioned that she had trouble finding any sites or resources online that helped her with her unique situation. So, I did some investigating and was able to find some women who had some advice to give from their seminary experience. Today is the first of those interviews.

Name: Susan J. Hetrick
Seminary: Phoenix Seminary
Age: I was 39 when I enrolled in Seminary (Aug. 2003) and 42 when I graduated (Dec. 2006).
Where you are in your seminary journey: I earned my Master of Divinity in Counseling & Family Ministry, graduating in December 2006, with Highest Honors.
Kids and ages while you were in seminary: We have four kids (2 girls, 2 boys): Zoni was 11 – 14; Tanner was 9 – 12; Lysa was 8 – 11; and Chase was 6 – 9 when I was in school.

So Susan, why did you decide to go to seminary?
Short answer: God told me to go. Longer answer: I felt God’s call on me from the time I was about 10 years old. By the time I was in my mid-thirties it seemed like everyone at my church was encouraging me to pursue Seminary. It felt like God was hitting me upside the head with a 2 x 4! When I finally decided to go for it, all the pieces fell into place. I lived in Las Vegas at the time, and oddly there are no Seminaries in Vegas, so my kids and I had to move to Scottsdale, AZ. (My husband and his kids lived in Michigan, and they joined us in AZ after our wedding in February, 2004.)

What was the greatest challenge of going to seminary while being a mom?
Missing out on things like “Back to School Nights” at my kids’ schools, because they conflicted with my class schedule. I learned to set limits on what I could and could not do. I promised the kids that I wouldn’t be away more than 2 evenings each week, which was tough — I had to rework my course schedule several times in order to get all my requirements in, while still keeping the promise to be home most nights. I also had to make a concerted effort to keep date nights with my husband without bringing along a theology book.

What has been the greatest joy of your seminary journey?
Showing my kids that it’s possible to achieve something great, and that hard work and discipline pay off. (Not that they were at all impressed with any of it—)

Any unique stories from your seminary experience as a result of your stage in life?
When I was taking a Biblical Sexuality course, my son was in 7th grade at the time and also taking Sex Ed. at school. He said to me, “Mom, why do you have to take sex ed? You have kids — doesn’t the Seminary know that you know all about sex already?”

What advice do you have for moms who might be considering going to seminary?
Go for it! At the same time, have realistic expectations. You can’t do everything, and it’s OK to ask for help. Let the housework go, let someone else teach the Sunday school class. Also, flashcards are very helpful when it comes to memorizing Greek and Hebrew vocabulary!

What advice do you have for students who are in the class with a mom?
Try to be understanding if the Mom in your class sometimes answers questions with anecdotes about her toddler — not all of us are employed full-time in ministry yet! God works through us in the stage of life we are in at the moment — and those lessons are just as valuable theologically as any other.

How did you balance school and family?
I have a fabulous husband who loves to cook —; he cooked dinner every night. He also drove the kids to soccer practice and guitar lessons when I was in class. I learned to take my homework with me wherever I was going, and would study in 5 – 20 minute increments as I waited for doctor’s appointments, kids in guitar lessons, etc. My saving grace was a color-coded calendar system: a different color for every person in the house, so I always knew who needed to be where, at a glance.

Any regrets about the decisions you made regarding seminary?
Nope! It would’ve been nice to have unlimited time or funds in order to take ALL the classes I wanted, but I thoroughly enjoyed my 3 years in the M.Div program.

If your kids were old enough, how did they feel about you going to seminary?
My kids were as ‘supportive’ as they could be, although they kept asking me over and over “exactly why” I was doing this. When I graduated my oldest daughter said, “Do we have to call you Father Mom’ now?”

What do you do now that you’ve graduated?
My first book, Advice From The Blender: What to know before you blend so nobody gets creamed, was published in 2007, by Xulon Press. The book was awarded the 2008 Christian Choice Book Award, in the parenting category. I run an online ministry for blended families, ( and write and speak on the subject frequently. I lead stepfamily support workshops at my church, and teach others how to do the same through the Association of Marriage and Family Ministries (AMFM).

I am the President of the Phoenix Seminary Alumni Association, and I am currently working towards ordination in the Reformed Church in America, with the goal of becoming an ordained pastor by next summer. I also try to keep up with our kids’ schedules, which isn’t easy since they are all teenagers now!

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Ryan Burns
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  • Thanks for the encouragement. As a mother of 4 (ages 22 months to 11) about to start seminary, I appreciate it!

  • It’s gratifying to hear of others who have made the journey. I’m about to embark on my seminary journey with a husband, two kids (ages 4 and 6) and two dogs. While I recognize the sacrifice that I have been called to make, I have been concerned with the impact that this will have on the rest of my family. I finally realized that since God has called me into this, He’ll provide for me and my family and so I rest in that knowledge.

  • Thanks for posting this. Very practical and encouraging. My wife and I will be in the same boat eventually, hopefully sooner rather than later.

  • It is very encouraging to hear of other women whom God is calling to follow Him into ministry! The greatest lesson I’ve learned after my first full-time semester is that God’s pursuit of me while I am in seminary is of greater importance to Him than the academics.

  • I started seminary the fall that my first child was born. My daughter has not known any life other than one of her mother in seminary. With my children, I find I have had to change my expectations. I have Bs and Cs instead of As. It is taking me 6 years instead of 2 or 3. It’s hard, hard, hard for so many reasons. But seminary has changed my life and my sense of myself both as minister and as mother.

  • I am now finishing my 1st year in a Master’s program…and will be transferring into a 90 credit hour M.Div. program. I fortunately found a seminary I love which offers the program online; although it will take me 6 years to complete, I don’t care. It’s SO worth it! I have an 18 year old and a 2 1/2 year old! Like Suzanne, I’ve learned to lower my personal expectations and remember the big picture…God is leading my endeavor and I’m not here to do it perfectly according to the world’s standards. I’m here to follow God’s lead. My husband is not only supportive but keeps calling me “Pastor”! Honestly, I don’t feel led to pursue that path but I do feel led to learn as much as I can about my faith and my God, and to encourage other women to dive much deeper into the Word. I keep feeling that I want to be available for whatever God has planned for me, while actively using the gifts He’s given me — discernment and knowledge. Yes, my house will be messy, the dishes may stay dirty, the TV won’t get dusted, and the cat may get slightly ignored, but my soul is fed and I hope my God is glorified.

Written by Ryan Burns