Andy Jacobs, a tattoo artist and student at Phillips Theological Seminary, says he never felt a strong pull toward ministry. He preached in an open pulpit at his Unitarian Universalist church as an act of service in his church rather than as a response to a divine call. His preaching was well-received, however, and he was asked to serve as a part-time pastor.
A self-described agnostic who leans toward atheism, Jacobs says he knew he needed a theological education in order to serve his congregation. He says he chose to attend Phillips because of its progressive approach in teaching the Bible.
“When it came to the point to be a minister for a congregation that doesn't strictly adhere to Christianity or any other specific religion, it seemed important to me to have a really good foundation in the philosophy of other people’s spiritualities,” he said.
Jacobs serves as a student minister at West Wind Unitarian Universalist Church, a non-dogmatic faith community in Norman. He focuses his ministry on friendship and compassion instead of a belief system.
“For me, the belief in a higher power isn't really the issue,” he said. “For me, the belief is whether or not we’re going to work compassionately with one another toward a common goal.”
Jacobs is interested in historic and social aspects of the Bible—how it’s treated and how it represents the life of Jesus. He also hopes his time at Phillips will help him understand how Jesus’ message has been fractured over the years.
“It’s important to remember that most people’s embedded theology—the way that they feel in their heart about Christ—and what is actual doctrinal theology are not the same,” he said. “Compromise and conversation are the way to get at a real, true, compassionate correspondence between individuals of differing faiths.”
Though he has only been at Phillips for one semester, Jacobs says the seminary has given him the framework to create a life of faith and insight for helping others find their spiritual path. He says the Vocation Matters class helped him understand how to approach ministry with vulnerability.
“The Vocation Matters class was really instrumental in helping me get a solid understanding of how I should be representing myself,” he said. “This school’s really taught me how to take that vulnerability and share it without losing it.”
Jacobs says classes at Phillips are challenging. Instead of giving students a prescribed spirituality, he says professors test what students already think in an effort to discover what is and is not valuable in personal faith.
“They’re not telling you what to think; they’re giving you ways to think about what they’re telling you,” he said.
In his own ministry, Jacobs says he looks forward to helping people become the best they can be.
“We should interact with each other with love and compassion and try to figure out ways to dispel the fear many people have of others,” he said. “In dispelling that fear, we can find a way to bring everyone together.”