Most magicians don’t reveal their secrets onstage, but Matthew Miller does not consider himself the average magician. Nicknamed “Magic Matt” by his colleagues, Miller uses his talent to demonstrate the artificiality of magic and stress the importance of faith in God.
Miller, an intern at Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM), is just one of many students planning to complete a graduate education at a seminary or pursue a career centered on their faith.
Miller worked at a magic shop for two years and uses his talent to draw people to his faith.
“It kind of transitions where either I perform magic then explain a message or explain while I’m doing a trick,” he said. “I talk about how the magic is fake and the religion is real. That goes hand in hand sometimes.”
Over the past two years, enrollment at many major seminaries nationwide has increased, according to the New York Times and The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Though the number of students choosing to become ministers is increasing nationwide, BCM Director Rahul Agarwal said the number of students planning to attend seminary, a theological school used to train ministers, is decreasing.
“When people go to seminary, it’s a master’s in divinity to do God’s work full-time. You have to work to put yourself through it and there aren’t many scholarships in this aspect,” Agarwal said. “Seminary taught me how to trust God all the time.”
He said students often shy away from seminary school because, like any graduate program, it is expensive and the coursework is difficult. Unlike other graduate programs, however, students take courses that teach them how to baptize and conduct funerals, weddings and other occasions.
The odd thing, Agarwal said, is that there is no difference in salary between a minister who attended seminary and one who did not. He said this is another reason why more students decide to pursue a career in ministry without attending seminary.
Miller is interested in becoming a military chaplain and plans to attend a seminary after receiving his bachelor’s degree in religious studies. Though he is not required to attend a seminary, he said he believes the degree will aid him in staying unbiased toward other religions.
Some may decide to pursue a degree in religious studies instead of attending seminary, but religious studies professor James Strange said the major is not equivalent to training in a divinity school.
“If someone wishes to be a practitioner, that’s fine, but that’s not what we’re doing. We’re doing a dispassionate study of religion,” he said. “What we’re doing doesn’t prepare anyone for ministry.”
Agarwal said he believes a minister with seminary training has a lesser chance of leaving ministry since it teaches the importance of developing a strong relationship with God.
Despite the decrease in students pursuing this extra training, Agarwal said more students are going into ministry because they believe people need more religious support.
“You walk on USF’s campus, and you see people reject God. I believe God is working more than ever because so many people are giving up hope,” he said. “God is raising up leaders who just want to serve Him, not just make money.”
Agarwal cited a recent study of spirituality on college campuses conducted by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute. The study spanned from 2003-2007 and surveyed 112,232 students from 236 colleges and universities. Of those surveyed, 79 percent believed in God and 80 percent expressed an interest in spirituality, which Agarwal said illustrated his point that students are searching for something to believe in, and that some are stepping in to teach others how to fill that void.
Miller and other BCM interns have designated nights at their ministry on campus to aid students who need spiritual guidance. Miller said the fulfillment he receives from spreading his faith is its own reward.
“Besides it being fulfilling, I like to see people experience life, seeing there’s something for them,” Miller said. “Seeing people have happy expressions for God and from magic tricks builds me up.”
More and more students are choosing to go into ministry, Strange said, to make a living in a meaningful way.
“It fulfills their idealism — that’s the same reason some go into teaching. They need to know it makes a difference — it leaves an impact,” he said.
Christian students are not the only ones with these ideas.
Rabbinic school is similar to seminary in that it is a graduate program that trains students for a career as a rabbi or Jewish educator, among other occupations.
Rabbinic school takes five years, with one year spent in Israel. Nicky Spivak, executive director of Hillel Jewish Student Center, said he believes college is an excellent time to aid students in their search for spirituality.
“On college campuses, the benefit is you’re working with young adults as they’re developing their identities,” Spivak said. “If you can steer students toward a direction to a meaningful life, you can’t ask for something better than that.”
However, he said he doesn’t know any USF students who plan to attend rabbinic school.