After checking for advice from my online classmates who had traveled this way many times before me, I felt confident about what to pack for my first trip to Luther Seminary. I stuffed an extension cord in my luggage, a coffeemaker for my room, and plenty of creative supplies for my evenings. My three cats were extensively involved in my packing and clearly wanted to join me. However, I would be leaving my cats and my husband behind for a week.
Leaving my little family, my cozy house, and my daily routine was going to be a challenge. While I have traveled all over the US and lived in China, it had been many years since I had taken a long trip. My husband, voicing my own private thoughts that I had yet to share with him, encouraged me to think of the trip to Luther as a pilgrimage.
Part of the DL program requires staying on campus for 10 credits. This may not sound like very much, but each class at Luther is worth either 1/2 a credit or 1 credit. So, this translates to at least 10 classes on campus. These are intensive courses that take place over roughly a week with a strenuous all day schedule. Some days the classes even go into the night, which would be the case for my first trip.
I felt ready for the class having completed the reading of the books Our Kids and How (Not) to be Secular. With hours of podcasts downloaded and plenty of food for the trip, there wasn’t much else to do to prepare. Or was there? Actually, the most important part of my trip was prayer. Prayer is the way to truly prepare for anything because it centers our focus on God. I prayed well before leaving, throughout my drive, and for my time on campus.
My prayers were richly answered. After about eight hours on the road, I arrived at Luther and checked into my room on campus. Staying in the dorms saves money compared to staying in a hotel, but it is also a vital chance to be part of community life with other seminarians. The room was sparse but comfortable, and I made it my own with a blanket I had brought from home, a candle, and pillows.
In college I only lived in a dorm for the first year, so this was a fun chance to experience a completely different level of communal living in a spiritual community.
That first night I fell asleep exhausted from my long drive only to be shocked awake soon after midnight by a loud, metallic banging. If you look at the picture above, you’ll see why. My room had a pipe coming up from the boiler, which was directly below me. So, I had to live with the boiler’s schedule and many moods.
Morning came too soon, and I was glad to have the coffeemaker with me. After a a few hours in my room, I ventured out for the 11 AM chapel service. The campus was unknown to me, but I found my way easily to the large main building that houses the chapel. Once inside, I was greeted at the chapel doors and given a cloth strip to write a prayer on. The chapel service that day was focused on mental health, and we were encouraged to write a name or prayer on the cloth. After the service, we tied them to a tree sculpture made of branches.
I spent the rest of the day exploring the campus, meeting with professors that I had only met online, and preparing for my class.
At sunset our coursework started. The next few days of my life I would be immersed in long discussions, small group work, fascinating lectures, and fun evenings with my classmates. I learned a lot about American culture, youth ministry, and Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age. The class was great, and I loved the chance to be in the classroom. Throughout the week I would also get the chance to meet all of my online professors face-to-face, visit the library, and go for academic advising.
I stayed in contact with my husband through text, phone calls, and the wonders of FaceTime. We even watched Netflix together over FaceTime, which was actually pretty fun. Still, by the end of the week, I realized how hard the intensives at Luther really were. Being away from home, working hard everyday in class, and socializing all take a toll because the pace is so packed and fast. It’s exhilarating and exhausting.
It was bittersweet leaving behind the intellectually stimulating experience of the class, my professors, and classmates. Yet, as much as I had grown from my time on campus, I was ready to go home. On the drive back I thought about how happy I was with the distributed learning program and what a great privilege it was to be able to do so much coursework online and then come on campus to learn. Thanks be to God.
I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among the throngs I will praise you. Psalm 35:18