Feb. 4, 2013
Spending late nights hunched over textbooks. Hearing lectures about the Old Testament. Writing papers about theology. Sounds like the perfect honeymoon, doesn’t it?
It was for Stephanie and Bryan Carey, who began their seminary careers at Candler School of Theology just two weeks after they married. Both studied engineering as undergraduates and have embraced their new lives as spouses and seminary classmates.
The Careys are in good company, as there are growing numbers of married couples attending Candler together, says Kerr Ramsay, the school’s associate director of admissions. Ramsey attributes this growth to increasing numbers of women in ministry and to the diversity of careers that are furthered by seminary education.
Whatever the reasons for the growth, these first-year student couples at Candler are learning more than just what’s on their syllabi. They’re also learning about their respective spouses.
First-year students Alaina and Greg Harrison have taken all of their classes together and plan to continue doing so whenever possible. The couple, both of whom are pursuing ordination in The United Methodist Church, has been married just over a year and commute to Candler from Macon two days a week.
“We’ve learned each other’s strengths,” says Alaina, whose father is a United Methodist pastor and a Candler graduate.
Greg agrees. “We each pick up things the other may have missed.”
Peter and Leah Gaughan, married for almost two years, echo the notion that the shared experience has highlighted how well they suit each other.
“We continue to see how we complement each other and how our strengths balance each other out,” Leah says.
Attending Candler together has encouraged the respective couples to operate as a team. For example, teamwork transforms the Harrisons’ long commute into productive study time. “Whoever’s not driving will quiz the other, and we’ll talk through the content,” Alaina explains. “We try to work smarter, not harder.”
Bryan Carey sees that teamwork when his wife, Stephanie, offers encouragement or constructive feedback.
“I feel like I would have had a really hard time without Stephanie going through the program with me,” he says, noting that he had never done much writing before seminary and that Stephanie’s editing skills have helped him tremendously.
In offering encouragement to each other, the spouses help keep the stresses of seminary life at bay.
“We were expecting it to be a lot harder than it was,” says Peter, a certified candidate for ministry in the Louisiana Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. “It was a surprise to us how well we’ve adjusted. In times of high stress, I pull Leah back from the ledge when she needs it, and she does the same for me. “
One of the biggest causes of stress in many marriages is finances. The Careys applied to Candler knowing that both of them would need scholarships to make their seminary education possible. They were invited to participate in Candler’s annual Leadership Candler scholarship event. Since they were in Cambodia doing volunteer work, they Skyped their interviews and were later thrilled to learn that both would receive full-tuition scholarships.
“The financial aid package Candler offered us was incredible,” Bryan says, adding that it would have been much more difficult if only one of them attended. “We don’t want to live a disjointed life as newlyweds.”
Since they want to be in ministry together, they wanted to experience seminary together as well, he notes.
Ramsay says that all students apply and are evaluated individually. “All of our scholarships are merit based. Most of these couples have been individually exceptional and are even more impressive as a couple,” he explains. “We work with them as two prospective students who are coming as one.”
The togetherness and scholarship opportunities sound great, but isn’t it sometimes difficult to be in class with your spouse? Well, it can bring out your competitive nature.
“It’s competitive in my mind, but in [Greg’s] mind he doesn’t care,” Alaina says, laughing. So far, their grade point averages are nearly identical.
To ease stress and make sure they spend time together as a couple, they intentionally take Saturdays off from their studies.
“We make sure we have one day of the week where we don’t touch any schoolwork,” Alaina says. “That’s our Sabbath.” That day includes fun things like taking their dog to the park and going out to dinner.
“As long as we stay true to that and hold each other accountable, then the stress can be reduced,” she notes.