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Sometimes referred to as a theological school or college in various Christian traditions, a Christian seminary is an institution dedicated to training individuals for service as full-time ministers within some branch of the universal Christian church. The scope of the education offered at a given seminary will vary, depending on the goals of the sponsoring denomination and the requirements put in place to allow the seminary to be fully accredited. While many seminaries are sponsored by a single Christian denomination, they are generally open to anyone who feels called to become a minister in any of the existing churches that make up the Christian family.
For the most part, an applicant to a Christian seminary will already have some experience with higher education. Many schools of theology require that applicants hold some type of four-year degree from an accredited university, although there are some seminaries that will admit applicants who have successfully completed a two-year degree program at a recognized university. This is because the course of study at a Christian seminary, especially Protestant seminaries, tends to focus more on basic Christian ethics and traditional doctrine, caring for the spiritual needs of congregants, and providing effective pastoral leadership.
While many seminaries are connected with a particular Christian denomination, it is not unusual for Christians of different stripes to attend a seminary sponsored by a different denomination. For example, an individual wishing to train for full-time ministry in the United Church of Christ may choose to attend a seminary sponsored by a jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church or the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). However, denominations that tend to be more specific in their beliefs and practices may require a candidate for the ministry to attend one of several seminaries that are approved by the denomination. This is especially true of Christian denominations that tend to be more conservative in their approach to Christian faith and practice.
An accredited Christian seminary will usually require the successful completion of a four-year course of study before granting a degree. In response to the fact that many of the seminary students of today are working adults, increasing numbers of seminaries now offer classes at night and on weekends. While some seminaries still require students to live on campus, a number now offer traditional and non-traditional students the option of remaining at home and taking at least a portion of their classes via distance learning. However, many seminaries consider time spent in class with an instructor and other students essential to the learning process when it comes to specific courses.
Like all institutions of higher learning, a student may obtain a private grant or scholarship to attend a Christian seminary. The scholarship may be provided by the home congregation of the student, or through an endowment or assistance program sponsored by some jurisdiction of a Christian denomination. In terms of expense, attendance at most seminaries is very similar to the cost of attending a private secular university. For this reason, students often find that scholarships and grant programs are essential in order to train for a career in the ministry.