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Bethany Fitelson

Program Manager, Fuller Seminary Northern California MAT, 2012

Welcome to the Journey

Welcome to the Fall quarter at Fuller Northern California! I especially want to welcome our new students -- 40 of you in Menlo Park and 25 in Sacramento!

As I advised new students for the Fall quarter, I was reminded of my first quarter at Fuller in the Summer of 2006. I remember feeling excitement and anticipation, as well as anxiety about the unknown. I brought a pen and notepad to my first class, not sure how much I would take notes, and three hours later couldn't feel my fingers due to scribbling furiously. It was like drinking from a fire hose, but in a good way, as if you were parched from a long walk and then suddenly deluged.

I took the slow route to complete my degree: one class per quarter and six years start to finish. If you feel like the end of your degree will never come, trust me that the years will fly by faster than you think, and a lot of life is to be lived in the meantime. When I started my degree, I had been married two weeks; when I graduated, we had celebrated our sixth anniversary and our first daughter's first birthday. When I started, I was dabbling in many volunteer ministry roles, waiting to see what stuck; when I graduated, I had spent 8 years in high school ministry and felt my calling to love and serve teens affirmed over and over in my seminary studies.

One of the final courses of my MA in Theology degree was OT500 Writings as Introduction to the Old Testament with Dr. Brad Kelle. (Excellent course, excellent professor!) During the class session in which we compared Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, I had an epiphany. I realized that when I began my Fuller journey six years prior, I was more inclined toward the book of Proverbs. I took comfort in the black and white nature of Proverbs, in the perceived guarantee that if you act a certain way (do this, don't do that) life will work out just peachy. This was true of my theology as well, as I sometimes treat God like a cosmic vending machine. Put this prayer in, get this result out. But that's not the way life works, is it? Life is not black and white, but often we reside in shades of gray. Real life is more like Ecclesiastes: "All share a common destiny - the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad…" (Eccl 9:2) The author of Ecclesiastes would say that we cannot guarantee life's outcomes, so stop trying to control God's will, live as wisely as you can and enjoy the journey.

Seminary study is also a journey rather than a destination. You will learn a lot, but your learning will not be finished when you graduate. Over six years of study at Fuller, I became more comfortable in the gray areas of both life and theology. God's perfect will is not reliant upon my perfect interpretation of his word, as if there were such a thing. God's truth can handle my doubts and questions that arise from church history scandal, Biblical text criticism, and my own personal ministry failings.

This is our prayer for those of you beginning your seminary journey this year. May your thirst for God be both quenched and intensified by what you learn. May your trust in the truth of God's goodness be strengthened in the midst of doubts and questions that arise from academic study, and may God stretch and grow you along the journey.