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Journey with Paul

He lives in Holland, Michigan, goes to school in Evanston, Illinois and studies on the train in between.

Michigan Communications

The thing that I think captured me the most about the narrative of St. Paul the Apostle is his self-driven quests from Jerusalem to the rest of the Roman Empire for the sake of  making disciples of Jesus Christ. The general narrative is always in the back of my mind, mostly because I share a name with the saint and I pull a modest amount of inspiration from him and the letters that he authored.

Specifically, I respect the lengths St. Paul goes to deliver the Gospel, even unto imprisonment and death. In comparison, my journey to seminary each week seems like a pale imitation. Yet, I can share in the claim that I travel as far as I do all for the love and glory of Jesus. It’s the journey that keeps me contemplative, prayerful, and humble, but most of all excited!

I am a new resident of Holland, Michigan. Amtrak’s Pierre Marquette line runs through the middle of town near Hope College at around 7:00 am. You’ll find me on that train heading toward Chicago’s Union Station with a traveler’s backpack filled with textbooks, my laptop, charger, a canteen filled with a Biggby Red-Eye (I’m not a morning person), and a lunch pail stocked with homemade food to save on the meal costs.

It’s a three-hour journey to Chicago from Holland. In February at 7:00 am, the sun hasn’t risen quite yet. It’s often during this leg of the weekly journey that I am able to watch the sunrise as I read my daily devotional from Richard Rohr and listen to, “All Creature of Our God and King” on Spotify. Those experiences give me the sense that, for a moment, I’m in the center of cosmos experiencing the full breadth of God’s love and filling my cup during what is easily described as a tiring enterprise.

After arriving at Union Station there is a short walk in downtown Chicago and then another 45-minute train ride from Ogilvie Center Station to Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. There’s plenty of time to read on the train. The train is more expensive than driving but the weekly train ride awards me eight extra hours of study time, something I can’t do easily in a car.

Once at the seminary I find a nook in the library and begin my study session and homework. Time is of the utmost importance and managing it as a commuter student is even more important since much of my schedule is dedicated to travel. While at the Wesley Foundation of Kalamazoo, I developed a value of scheduling my time in ways that met the needs of my work as well as my emotional and spiritual health. To keep that aspect of health in mind, I use breaks to meditate, read a daily devotion, and find the social fun of seminary life. While studying is important, I’m fully convinced that God wishes my time at seminary to be a fulfilling and gratifying experience. I can happily report that I never leave seminary dissatisfied nor demoralized; it’s always worth the journey.

Over-night apartments are available on Garrett’s campus for students who travel in for classes. This is a great option for student-appointed pastors who pursue their Masters in Divinity during the week but return home to preach on Sunday. I am lucky enough to have a friend who lets me sleep on the sofa each week and cuddle with the corgi (I’ll never underestimate the joy of pets in the seminary experience). For me, this frees up funds that would otherwise go to a meal plan and a temporary apartment and offsets the cost of my train ride each week. It also gives me the blessing of a friend, who not only helps connect me to the sprawling cityscape but also supports me as I face the challenges that seminary coursework brings.

With plenty of time management, faith and coffee, Paul Reissmann has established a daily routine that has put him on the path for ordained ministry in The Michigan Conference. ~photo courtesy Paul Reissmann

In addition to my in-person courses, about half of my classes are online courses. My study in those courses is entirely self-driven. This produces a calendar filled to the brim each day. Never have I had to detail my life according to time like I have for education. Most of the classes in my undergraduate degree were in-person courses, which meant walking onto campus and sitting in a two to three-hour class session before engaging in reading and assignments. In comparison, the benefits of online coursework for a commuter student are numerous, even if my life tends to be rigorously scheduled.

For example, the boundaries I am given for my class work when it is online, are all based on coursework and its deadline. Not having to be in-person gives its own sense of freedom and flexibility. The two, three and, sometimes, four hours dedicated to being present in a class are removed in favor of writing on an online forum. I am a person who learns best from performance, actually being hands-on with the material, so writing and engaging with arguments on a forum or flipping through a book to find evidence and support for an argument I am making are the best for me. The coffee pot is never far away when I’m at home either, so that’s a plus!

Interacting with other seminarians and making connections with people in classes are two things that commuter students can easily miss. Commuting can quickly become an isolating experience if there’s not enough effort made to connect. As part of going to Garrett-Evangelical, I am intentional about experiencing school for what it is. Seminary is always meant to be more than an intense dedication to study and rigorous exercises of Christian academia — half of the experience is the relationships I make while in the crucible with my classmates. Two of these friends regularly help me to digest the vast amount of thoughts and ideas produced in the academic environment and I can easily say that without them the experience would be a life-taking venture rather than a life-giving and transformative journey.

Yet, probably the most important aspect of my commute is coming home. While I love seminary and all that it brings to my life, there’s always a need to come home to my wife. Anyone who knows of my call story knows that I would not have answered my call or had the courage enough to embrace it if it wasn’t for the way God speaks through my wife each day.

For over five years, God has spoken through my relationship with Ashleigh in all ways healing and fulfilling. Remaining in Michigan was very important to us because of family and the community of the Michigan Conference where I hope to be in ministry. As a result, I can separate myself in some part from the world of seminary and the world of my life and ministry in Michigan with the perspective “leave it at the office.” Some proximity away from the crucible, as it stands, is something that allows me to focus on life and family outside of seminary, the things that God has placed in my life to bring to seminary in the first place.

Overall, the life of a commuter, at least in my experience can be boiled down to this — a balance between education, self-care, and most importantly, God.

Last Updated on February 19, 2018

The Michigan Conference