Seminary or Cemetery

Through the uncertainty and the “unknowingness” of life, we experience a type of loss akin to death. As we experience loss, this can actually be the first step in the process of truly living. Is it possible that one’s knowledge of God, image of self, and even our relationships must go through a process of […]

May2011: Featured Post

On a monthly basis, will be featuring a thought-provoking essay that is designed to stimulate healthy dialogue and a collective resolve to seek the face of God for answers of some of the most pressing issues of our age. Your participation and feedback is very important to us and we encourage you to leave your comments, facebook or tweet this post after reading.

Seminary or Cemetery

Seminary or Cemetery

The Calling?

In December 2010,  PBS: Independent Lens aired a four hour documentary tracing the lives of 7 seminarians of differing faiths called “The Calling” as they embarked on answering the call to serve people.  As I watched the lives of these young adults, I began to reflect on my own faith journey and the road I traveled through seminary.

I vividly remember 5 years ago when I announced to my home church that I was attending seminary.  A lady at my church approached me almost with tears in her eyes.  She took my hands and said to me, “Alisha, I know you love God, but don’t let seminary cause you to lose your faith.

You know what they say about seminary, it can become like a cemetery.”  I was not quite sure what to make of her comments.  What did she mean seminary can become a cemetery?  I had to ask myself, would going to seminary make me lose my religion?

Would learning things my Sunday school teacher did not teach me; make me doubt God or the Bible?  What exactly would seminary do to me?  Needless to say, I was convinced that seminary would give me the preparation I needed for ministry, so her words did not deter me.

And so I went ready to learn, but not ready for the death that was to come.

The Death of Me

Those three years in seminary were possibly the hardest time in my life.  I experienced death and loss in almost every area of my life.  Away, from home and all those that I loved, I had to deal with multiple deaths my first year in seminary.

Every time I turned around I was receiving a call that someone had died, a mother from cancer, best friend from college, childhood pastor, aunt, uncle… I couldn’t make sense of it.  Why would God bring me thousands of miles away from home, to have people I loved so dearly die left and right?  Then there was the loss of my own identity, an identity that was formed by my community.

Now that I was geographically separated from this community, I had to find out who Alisha was outside of my parents, my church and my hometown.  I grieved for that little girl who everyone knew.  I was now in a city and environment where no one knew my name.



Theologically, there were areas where I did lose my footing.  Some of the lessons that were taught in Sunday school didn’t seem to take into account the full density of life.  As a part of our seminary training we were encouraged to work at a hospital as an intern chaplain.

I remember one night, after the tragic earthquake in Haiti; a police officer stopped me in the hallway and asked me why God allowed this to happen.  I was at a loss for words.  I too was wrestling with the tragedy of this event.

Other religious leaders were weighing in on the cause of the devastation of Haiti.  But given the tenderness of this moment in history, I could only stand in the unknowingness of this situation.  I have found that we can be so quick to give an answer; we miss out on the opportunity to connect with the humanity of another through uncertainty; for it is our uncertainty of the complexity of life that truly reveals our finite humanity.

And in these situations we are face with our own mortality, we are faced with the reality of the grave.

Unless A Seed Falls To the Ground And Dies…

If anything my journey through seminary has taught me that death is a natural process in life.  I’m reminded of Jesus’ lesson about the seed that falls to the ground.  He tells his disciples that a seed must fall to the ground, be crushed by the Earth and die in order to bear a harvest.  If this is the law of nature, is it possible this law could apply to our faith.

Is it possible that one’s knowledge of God, image of self, and even our relationships must go through a process of death in order to bring about an even greater harvest?

Like me you may be scared to die.  You may be scared for all that you knew and held to be true about God and yourself to be buried under dirt or burned to ashes.  I can tell you I’m still trying to get up from the grave, I’m trying to get up out of this soil—but there’s more that needs to die in me.

Henri Nouwen reminds us that, “a seed only flourishes by staying in the ground in which it is sown.  When you keep digging the seed up to check whether it is growing, it will never bear fruit.  Think about yourself as a little seed planted in rich soil.

All you have to do is stay there and trust that the soil contains everything you need to grow.”

Minister Alisha Tatemwas born in Allentown, PA to Pastor Melvin and Jacqueline Tatem. She attended Messiah College and received her bachelor’s degree in social work. After graduating from college she worked for Early Head Start as a Child Development Partner, and served as a youth minister at Grace Deliverance Baptist Church for three years. She was licensed to preach on May 20, 2007 at her home church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and presently serves on the ministerial staff at Total Grace Christian Center, in Decatur, GA. She will be graduating from Columbia Theological Seminary, May of this year with her Master’s of Divinity, and looks forward to pursuing further education in pastoral counseling. If there is one thing that describes Minister Tatem best it would be that she has a heart for young people and she is passionate about seeing young people give their lives over to God in the midst of competing societal pressures. It is her hope that she would be able to touch many people’s lives on this life journey and one day hear God say, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

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  • Scott Gringo Blair

    I really enjoyed the post, thank you. So many good points. There are seminarys we should label cemetaries….lol. Its a justified fear. Great points about dying to self, but really loved the transparency of being caught without an answer. It’s something we all must go through. Thanks again.

    • Amtatem

      Scott thank you for sharing your comment. You are right we all have our moments of “being caught without an answer”…truly humbling (to say the least)!

  • These are the last days!!! There will be many things that we as Christians will say that’s unpopular, but the truth will set us all free.  The Bible tells us the signs of Christ’s return. The signs are coming to pass right before our very eyes…people are just in denial.  Being in denial still doesn’t stop what is to come. I encourage you to face the signs of the end times head on. The Bible also says that God will punish the nations that have not obeyed Him. Now that you know why the world is experiencing these disasters…What will you do? Who will you warn?  Repent and be Saved!
    Prophetess Brenda Saw Jesus

    “The Beginning Of Sorrows” began with the Haiti Earthquake on January 12, 2010

    • Amtatem

      Brenda, thank you for entering into this conversation. I am
      in full agreement with you that we are living in the last days, and the signs
      are evident. But I am also aware that having this knowledge does not always make
      the tragedies we face in this life (whether it be individually, nationally, or
      on an international level) easier to bear or more comprehendible. Even Jesus
      facing Lazarus death had to step back from his foreknowledge of Lazarus
      resurrection, and weep with Mary. He had compassion (suffered with) her, and
      felt her loss, her doubts and here questions (Where were you in the midst of my
      tragedy?) Yes, Jesus knew death was a part of life, he knew resurrection was
      coming, but in this moment with his friend who was experiencing a tragedy, He wept!


  • Anetradenair07

    When deciding to go to seminary school what are some things I should look for

    • Amtatem

      Thank you for your question! I guess the question I have for you is what are looking to gain from your seminary experience? Are you going to seminary to fulfill a denomination’s ordination requirement, are you going for your own personal/spiritual/theological development, do want your faith to be affirmed or challenged? Thinking about what you want to get out of seminary will help you know what to look for as you research different seminaries.

      • Anetradenair07

        I am going for my own personal growth I’m very passionate about ministry. I just want to know what would the difference be between an episcopal school or something I guess it comes down to religion I never knew it would be so many schools I’m in the southeast

        • Amtatem

          I’m not familiar with all seminaries but the few here in Atlanta that I am familiar with are usually connected to a particular denomination. I ended up going to a seminary that did not line up with my particular denomination but for me this was helpful in broadening my own perspective on faith. I would also look at different seminaries course titles/descriptions and faculty’s expertise/interest which will give you a good feel for the type of curriculum you will have in school. Another thing that is important to look for is the community life of the seminary because these are the people you will be in the trenches with for the next several years of your life. A good way to get a feel for the community life is to visit the campus if you can. I guess the last thing I would look for is does the seminary offer opportunities outside of the classroom for learning (internships, exchange programs etc.). I hope this is helpful, please let me know if you have any more questions.

  • Williamdavisjr

     Great article! I’m really feelin the reference to the seed metaphor and the frankness with which you discuss your own process of being afraid to die. Powerful, yet relatable, moving, and annointed.Thank you 🙂

    • Amtatem

      Will thank you for your encouraging words. I’m beginning to understand the importance of revealing our process to others. we are all dealing with these issues in some way or another, but we are afraid to let others in on it… I hope to hear about your process in the future!

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    • alisha tatem

      Rayban, I’m glad to hear that folks are gaining from this blog, that’s is the hope!