In my first week as president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, I quickly realized that there are stories from the Central community that need to be heard—not just by me but by all who love and are committed to the seminary. To share those stories with you I will “interview” students, alums, faculty, staff, board members, and supporters, and each week will share an interview with you on this new blog titled THIS IS CENTRAL. I look forward to getting to know this community, and I invite you to join me on the journey.
Today's interview is with Nathan Huguley, the student success advisor at Central.
PD: Tell me a bit about your life’s journey and about your Central origin story. How did you come to be connected to Central and in what ways over the years have you served, led, and been part of the Central community?
NH: I was still an undergraduate student when I heard that a seminary was going to be offering a class in “spiritual formation” spread across four weekends in the fall of 2008. I had recently declared my minor area of study as spiritual formation, so I was curious about what a seminary-level class in that familiar content area would be like. I inquired into taking the class as a Lifelong Learner (auditor) and was welcomed right in. I was impressed at how diverse the learners were in that class. I was impressed by how broad and inclusive the course material was. And, of course, I was impressed that the president of the seminary was the one teaching the course. When she pitched her coming Benedictine Spirituality class that was to be offered that January at Conception Abbey, I couldn’t get signed up fast enough! To say that the monastic spirituality course was transformative for me would be a gross understatement. It completely changed the direction of my spiritual, psychological, social, theological, and vocational development. I began a deep and years-long dive into monastic spirituality, praxis, history, philosophy, theology, and literature. To this day, my spirituality is very much wrapped up in the teachings of Saint Benedict of Nursia and the practices of the Benedictine monastic order.
When I finished my bachelor’s degree in history, I began exploring my options for further studies in a seminary. Naturally, Central made the short list. I began taking classes for credit at the Tennessee extension site in the fall semester of 2010. I continued as a full-time student for two years until life demanded I take a two-year break. I lived a kind of hermitic life during those years of early seminary study, and during my leave of absence. I devoted myself to disciplined spiritual study, a regular practice of observing the liturgy of the hours, forming intentional community with spiritual companions, and manual labor.
Just when I was on the brink of making a more permanent commitment to a monastic way of life, the woman who is now my spouse and I reconnected and began dating. I decided to pursue a different lifestyle than the one to which I had been headed. I came back to Central to resume classes in 2014. I did my first ministry praxis internship at the Tennessee extension site in the fall of 2015. My wife and I married in December of 2015. In early 2016 Central and I began talking about the possibility of my joining the staff to recruit students for the Tennessee site, and I started that work in March of 2016.
In that capacity, I was honored and blessed to assist on the tail end of the recruiting efforts for the Women’s Leadership Initiative cohort that began in the fall of 2016. I was further privileged to accompany that cohort as a representative of the Tennessee site to Conception Abbey for their orientation. Here again, another pivotal moment in my vocational development was had at that monastery. I saw firsthand the need for special emphasis on the theological education of women and people of color because of the ways in which theological education has been the realm of privileged white men like myself.
Around that same time, Doctor of Ministry program recruiting was added to my workload. My wife and I began talking about the prospect of moving to the Kansas City area in the hopes of expanding my work with Central. I began contemplating a commitment to the seminary and her mission that was informed by the monastic vow of stability. Monastics make a solemn promise that they will remain in a specific community for the remainder of their lives as a way of inviting a unique kind of spiritual and vocational development. Much like marriage vows, stability requires a person to cast her or his lot in with the community and stay there through thick and thin, in good times and bad. Doing so allows for a different kind of vulnerability and opens one to a conversion of life that continues throughout one’s whole life. This is what I wanted for my own career and my own development—as a minister, as a professional, and as a spiritual person. So, I decided to invest myself into Central Seminary in a similar way that monastics invest themselves into their communities. Come whatever will, in good times and in bad, I will remain stable as a member of the Central community. I will do whatever work the community asks of me and will stay here doing that as long as Central wants me here. What I hope to gain from such an investment, indeed what I have already received, is a place where I can work hard and see the fruit of that labor over time. I want a place where I can take the long view, where I can measure success in decades rather than in quarters. Central Seminary is that place for me.
So, my wife and I bought a house in Kansas City, Kansas, in July of 2017, two months after I earned my Master of Divinity degree from Central. A few months after moving here, my home church (Immanuel Baptist in Nashville, Tennessee) ordained me to the gospel ministry for my work at Central. Along with my colleague, Lyle Kraft, I was doing recruiting and admissions work with an international scope for all of our English-speaking programs. I began our vocation discernment group during this season as well. In that program, a new group of discerners meets for six weeks each term to explore questions about who they are and what work they are called to do. I continued this admissions work until August of 2019 when I was invited to change my job title and description.
I am now the first “student success advisor” at Central. I am there to be the representative of the institution to our students in the diploma and master’s degree programs and a representative of those students to the institution. I provide financial and academic coaching to students along with pastoral care, program advising, occasional tutoring, connection to other student success resources, supervision of students engaged with a student success plan, and other services as needed. I work with the Student Retention Team to help identify challenges to our students’ success and when appropriate to intervene in order to resource those students with support, encouragement, connections, and practical tools to address their academic, financial, personal, and communal challenges. I LOVE my job. I find it even more fulfilling after almost a year of doing it than I did when I started, and I am proud to see that our retention numbers have already begun to show improvement.
This January I began studies in Central's Doctor of Ministry program. Through that program, I hope to do work in building better community among our students and to design new opportunities in spiritual formation for our students, especially those in our M.Div. program. I’m excited to be doing this new level of learning and leadership development, and I’m excited to see what doors it opens for my future here at Central.
PD: What are some of the things you love best about Central?
NH: I love that Central is in touch with its vocation as a community. Our calling is to prepare women and men for ministry. We balance academic expectation with contextual implementation. We know that the vast majority of our students are full-time professionals, and many of them are from other professional fields. Our instructors invite that professional experience into the classroom. Someone who has been a lawyer, teacher, medical doctor, minister, police officer, barista, or electrician for fifteen years isn’t asked to check that experience at the door. Rather, I have observed that instructors invite that expertise into the classroom so that it becomes integrated with students’ ongoing discernment and exercise of their vocations.
I love that diversity is highly valued and actively sought here. We have conservative students. We have liberal students. We have Spirit-driven charismatics, and we have high church Episcopalians. We have Bible-believin’ Baptists and Buddhists priests. We have people straight out of college, and we have folks in their 60’s training for their third or fourth career. We have students who hold PhD’s and students who hold GED’s. We have women, men, black persons, white persons, brown persons, queer persons, American citizens, refugees, and international students. Our classes are offered in two different languages, but many of our students are studying in their second, third, or even fourth language. We have students living and studying in 28 US states, 11 states or divisions in Myanmar, and in 6 different countries. We have students from 4 different continents. And all of these are folks who are currently enrolled! If you look at the wider Central community of alumni/ae, faculty, staff, and administration, the people, places, and contexts that have been in our classrooms are even more impressive. We are a community devoted to radical theological hospitality. “Let all those who come be welcomed as Christ,” Saint Benedict says. And so we have.
Most of all, though, I love our students! I am inspired every single day by their maturity, creativity, resourcefulness, courage, grace, compassion, wisdom, hard work, resilience, and resolve. We are blessed to be charged with being part of their formation as ministers, leaders, counselors, scholars, and entrepreneurs. They don’t come to us as blank slates, though. They come as people who have been in the process of becoming who they are for years, if not decades. By the time they get to Central, most have passed through harrowing valleys of shadow and exultant spiritual mountain tops. I love getting to hear their stories, and I am profoundly honored to get to walk with them through a chapter of their journey. Our work is sacred work, and our students are what make it so.
 Rule of Saint Benedict 53:1 (my own paraphrase – the chapter is on guests to a monastery)