Twice a year I spend time with other leaders of theological schools—all women—for professional development and fellowship. We call ourselves the WiTS (Women in Theological Schools), and we pray that we will always have our WiTS about us as we lean into our vocation.
We present case studies, reflect on the challenges of our institutions, and share our personal struggles, all under the code of silence or “seal of the confessional.” I am helped immensely by this collegial gathering, gaining perspective I would not otherwise have.
A focal topic this past weekend was to think about our spiritual practices. One president remarked, “The longer I am in this work, the longer I need to pray.” She sounds like Martin Luther who had so much to do that he just had to pray two hours a day in order to get the rest of it done!
The Gospel reading for this coming Sunday includes Jesus’ bold instruction about prayer. “If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it” (John 14:14). The sense the reader gets from this passage is that Jesus is inviting his followers into the same sort of conversation he had regularly with his Abba. Later in the Gospel, we learn that this kind of prayer is only possible because the Spirit will remind us of his teaching.
There is always a sense of ambiguity about prayer, for we never master the practice. We have Jesus’ encouragement to pray as he prayed, and we hear Paul’s poignant insight, “we do not know how to pray as we ought.” What we do know is that “deep prayer” (Sarah Coakley’s description) is transformative to the one praying and the circumstances for which he or she intercedes.
For what do I need to pray as the spiritual leader of Central? Each morning I pray for wisdom, compassion, and patience. These seem to be essential ingredients to leadership, and keeping these in balance can temper judgment. There are many ways to mess up in my position.
At this time in the seminary’s life, I pray for those who are graduating in a few short days. Many are already in significant places of ministry; others will be seeking new positions. I pray for our board as it gathers on Thursday and Friday. Trustees function as wise stewards of the seminary’s mission and resources. I pray for our Leadership Team as it works closely with the board. I pray for our faculty as they complete the long haul of the semester’s work. Their labor in forming students serves the church and larger community in essential ways. I pray for the staff, also. Without their attentiveness to details, the celebrations surrounding commencement would not happen!
Of course, I pray daily for the resources to sustain Central’s God-beckoned mission. This is when I am really “asking for everything.” We need a substantive endowment to fund the important work of preparing a diverse, world-wide community of seminary students. I ask for this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares women and men for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity.
“The vocation of the “pastor-theologian” is one that appeals deeply to my personal sense of calling. I have never felt particularly gifted as a “shepherd pastor,” or a “CEO pastor,” but have always had an abiding spiritual curiosity that has led me to seek God both intellectually and in community. Working on a Master of Arts in Theological Studies degree at Central gave me the valuable freedom to explore theology and biblical studies more deeply than I could have imagined. I not only learned how to conduct research in my field of New Testament studies, but I learned how to better form my own questions in search of answers. Central helped me to realize my own vision of making biblical scholarship accessible to the local parish, a vision that I hope to carry well into my future.”