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In the Fall of 2008, Christopher Schilling enrolled as a M.Div. student at San Francisco Theological Seminary, and made the cross-country move from his hometown of Hookstown, Pennsylvania to San Anselmo, California. Moving away from his family so shortly after his mother lost her life to cancer was not an easy choice for him to make. But after visiting the Bay Area years earlier and working extensively with SFTS admissions staff, he knew SFTS was where he belonged.

During his first semester at seminary, classes proved extremely challenging for Christopher; dealing with the stress of being so far from home, grieving the loss of his mother, and struggling with a learning disability led him to make the difficult decision to leave seminary that winter. As he prepared to return home, Polly Coote, then Associate Dean of Student Life, said “You’re going to come back – and we’ll see you when you do!” Despite these encouraging words, Christopher had no intention of returning.

After re-settling in Pittsburgh during the height of the recession, Christopher struggled to find work in the nonprofit world. He found himself working at a car wash and knew that to secure his future, he had to find something more. This, combined with the strong call Christopher still felt to attend seminary caused him to question his original decision to leave SFTS. When he contacted Polly Coote to discuss returning to the seminary, she was not surprised; after all, she had told him he would be back. Polly, along with the rest of the SFTS community welcomed Christopher back with open arms upon his return in the Fall of 2009.

That first semester back on campus was a completely different experience from his start the year prior. He had taken more time to grieve the loss of his mother, and he instantly bonded with his new classmates. While he still found the academics extremely challenging, it was these new friends and a strong sense of community that helped him through that first semester. And as those bonds grew, so did his academic confidence.

“I developed friendships with amazing people from all over the world…we would hang out together in places like Holy Grounds, laughing and telling stories – and that sense of friendship really helped me succeed at SFTS. Being a part of that community and lifting other people up also helped me see my call more clearly.”

Christopher also remarked on the Seminary’s encouragement and willingness to provide students with a variety of employment opportunities. Throughout his time there, he worked as an Enrollment Assistant, Worship Assistant, and Communications Assistant, all experiences that provided him with financial support and further engrained him in the life and community at SFTS.

Christopher also became a member of St. Luke Presbyterian Church in San Rafael, which had just received a new pastor, SFTS alum, Rev. Daniel Christian (M. Div., 2004). Rev. Christian was instrumental to Christopher’s success at SFTS by reminding him throughout his times of academic and personal struggle that God was always working behind the scenes.

In May of this year, Christopher graduated from SFTS with a Masters in Divinity, and his family flew out from Pennsylvania to join him in celebrating his achievement and success. In August, he will be moving to Portsmouth, Virginia to serve as a hospital Chaplain at Bon Secours hospital in a year-long Clinical Pastoral Education program. There, he will have the opportunity to put what he learned at seminary into practice, which will help him prepare for the ordination process.

“In chaplaincy, you are there to provide spiritual support, and discuss spiritual frustrations people may be experiencing…I really look forward to sharing God’s love with others through the life I live and the relationships I establish throughout my life.”


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