Meet a Seminarian: Amber Bennett

Author: 
SVOTS

Amber Bennett is a 27-year-old first-year student in the Master of Divinity program at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (SVOTS). Bennett has wanted to be a missionary ever since she was a child. She and her family converted to Orthodoxy from a nondenominational background when she was 18 years old. She continued to seek missions even as she completed a master’s degree in philosophy from The Catholic University of America. Desiring to go deeper into the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church, she concluded that attending SVOTS would better prepare her for life as a missionary. In this interview, Bennett discusses her long road to conversion and the excitement she feels attending an Orthodox institution.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

AB: My parents and I became nondenominational when I was six. I still remember the whole process of conversion. My father went back to school for Near Eastern archaeology and religious studies. He did his master’s degree in Syriac patristics, and it was through his studies that he discovered Orthodoxy. But though I’d agreed to convert with my family, I didn’t get the liturgy. My solution was to join the choir, which gave me something concrete to pay attention to.

Q: How did your interest in missions develop?

AB: I attended The Catholic University of America and completed a master’s degree in philosophy. But I had no idea what to do next, and I felt like I was becoming a scholar but not a person—so I quit my PhD program. I couldn’t just spend all my time researching. I needed something more people-focused. I applied to go to Kosovo with the Peace Corps, but it seemed as though they wanted candidates who were areligious, and I couldn’t be that. I ended up applying to OCMC [Orthodox Christian Mission Center] to be a long-term missionary in Scandinavia, working with young adult and campus ministry. In January 2019 I went to Florida to their headquarters for orientation and I met SVOTS seminarian Philip McClanahan and his wife, Kristiana. It was a connection that planted the idea in my mind that I could go to seminary while still preparing for missions.

Last year, I visited Stockholm to meet with Metropolitan Cleopas (Metropolis of Scandinavia, Ecumenical Patriarchate) along with three other missionary candidates. We were waiting the rest of the summer and into the fall for him to be ready to move forward. It was during that time that I realized that my grounding in the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church was not deeply rooted enough. Also, I realized that the rigors of the field and going as a single missionary could compromise my relationship with God. So, I began looking at other things I could do if the Metropolitan said no. I stumbled across chaplaincy, which requires a Master of Divinity, and that is what made me think of attending SVOTS. I realized that attending here would give me the grounding, the formation that I needed before I could go into the field.

Q: What do you think of SVOTS?

AB: I love it so far. I am thrilled to be able to attend the services, even with the situation in response to COVID restrictions. Outside of the chapel, I think one of the most beautiful moments was in my church history course with Dr. Tudorie [SVOTS’ academic dean]. There was a moment in the lecture where he talked about the Synaxarion. I had this moment of delight. I realized this is my history, not just church history. This history was being taught as ours.

I also love Fr. Bogdan’s [Bucur; professor of patristics] approach. You can tell that he is very adept at reading the Old Testament both on its own terms and from a patristic perspective. Christ and the Apostles wouldn’t have just looked at Scripture from their perspective but from the perspective of the Jewish people.

I spent all six years at Catholic University being the Orthodox person in the room, being the Orthodox voice. SVOTS is the only place I have been where Orthodoxy is the norm as opposed to the exception, and that opportunity means a lot to me, especially coming from a convert background.

I am really hoping that I can concentrate in missiology because that is something I love. It is part of [SVOTS’] Vision 2020 to offer concentrations in the MDiv program, and Fr. Chad [Hatfield; SVOTS president] has a particular love for missions, so I am really hoping this is going to be available while I’m here. I am definitely going to take his missiology courses for my electives.

Q: How do you feel about being one of the few women in the MDiv program?

AB: My master’s degree was in a philosophy department, so I am used to being the only woman in a classroom. As far as being a trailblazer, I’d rather not be, because who am I? I don’t think blazing trails is the kind of thing you should seek. You don’t seek to be ordained. You don’t seek to be a bishop. You don’t seek to be a godparent. You are called to these things.