Archive for the ‘ordination’ Category

Some thoughts on Discerning the Call

March 3, 2010

The title of this post might be more accurately stated “Some Random thoughts on Discerning the Call.”  I am writing this post in hopes that my experience thus far will be of help for folks who are also discerning a call to ministry.  Though in many ways my experience will ground this discussion largely in the framework of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), my hope is that some of my thoughts will be general enough to speak to folks in other denominations as well.  Much of this post is based on an e-mail I wrote to a friend who is also in the process of discernment.

As it stands, I am one step away from Candidacy.  I have met with (and gotten the thumbs up from) the Committee on Preparation for Ministry in my Presbytery and will be going before presbytery in April if all goes as planned.  That said, since ordination is the responsibility of the presbytery, this process will differ depending on what presbytery you are in.  While the backbone of the process will remain the same, some (or many) of the specifics will change.  There are some presbyteries that make additions to what the Book of Order requires on a case by case basis.  There are others that have formalized extra requirements for all candidates.  In most cases, it seems to me that the “extra” requirements are not anything you won’t have the opportunity to do at seminary, but they are specifically delineated and will hold you up from ordination if you don’t complete them.  In some cases, the seminary requires some of the items for graduation so they are no brainers.

So far as what I have experienced going through the process, my session has not had someone under care for quite some time so most of the folks on session were not as familiar with the process.  If there is a seminary in your presbytery, this will likely not be an issue as there will probably be LOTS of inquirers and candidates in these presbyteries! : ) As a result of the fact that my session was learning right along with me, initially my session and I walked through the process together. While some sessions assign a liaison before ever appearing in front of session (the first step in the process), my liaison was assigned after the session voted to endorse me as an inquirer. I have heard that some people select their liaison but in my case, she volunteered. Fortunately she is a wonderful liaison!  I submitted my Form 1 prior to my meeting with session and got advice before submitting the document but did it mostly on my own.  The questions on the forms definitely freaked me out (both for the inquirer form (FORM 1) and the candidacy form (FORM 5A)) but it seems to me that the forms are 1) a way to get an idea of your spiritual growth throughout the process and 2) to contribute to your spiritual growth throughout the process. Answering the questions has forced me to delineate my faith and as a result it has been strengthened. I became an inquirer in July 2008. When I was filling out my Form 5A in December 2009, I looked at my answers to my Form 1 and wanted to laugh. Having not been in the Presbyterian church for very long when I filled it out, I was grasping for straws when it came to the vocabulary to express my beliefs. This is something I still struggle with but being in the Presbyterian mecca of Princeton Theological Seminary has definitely helped. The forms are a way for session and the Committee to see who you are and not really to see if you can give the “right” answers.  Granted this is as I see it and if you wrote something about how you took a pilgrimage to Disney to get closer to Jesus they might raise their eyebrows, but at this point, they want to hear your story and they want to get to know who you are.  And when I say your story, I mean your faith journey and your sense of call thus far.

Having walked through the process thus far, it seems to me that there are two functions of the CPM: 1) serving as a gatekeeper and 2) serving as a support throughout the process. Sometimes their “support” may not feel that way, but being challenged, while not comfortable, is going to help with discernment just as much as the ‘atta-boys’ so to speak.  I no longer feel as much of the ‘gatekeeper’ mentality going on but feel more support.  I don’t think the ‘gatekeeper’ aspect of the community ever goes away, but after the committee gets to know you a bit, it will not be (or at least will not seem to be?) as prominent.

One thing I learned along the way totally changed the way I thought about things: you do NOT have to defend your call to anyone.  There are various aspects of your story that may make you feel as though you need to defend your call, so you will need to talk about how those things have played into your discernment process, but again, you don’t need to defend your call. It’s not even yours really…it’s God’s call on your life.  Or even God’s call on the life God has given to you to live.  There will be folks who will help you discern what that might mean or look like, but ultimately if God is calling you and you merely have to decide whether you will answer.  I don’t recommend running from a sense of call (just look at Jonah) but that’s an entirely different post.

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The Ordination Process

May 10, 2009
Photo by: Beth & Christian

Photo by: Beth & Christian

When I made the choice to answer God’s call into ministry I did so with the understanding that there are some who do not think women should be pastors/priests/preachers.  As this was something I had to wrestle with myself I was prepared to engage with people about it.  When I became an Inquirer for Minister of Word and Sacrament with PC(USA), never did I think that the actual ordination process would be a cause for contention.  So I was suprised when Tony Jones, a well known figure in the emergent church movement, had some not so nice things to say about the whole thing.  A recent seminary grad named Adam was weeks away from ordination before his fitness for ministry was called into question.  This resulted in a tranfer to a different prebytery which in PC(USA) is the governing body responsible for ordination.  You can read his full story at his blog post at pomomusings.  Tony left the first comment on Adam’s blog post and said,

What will it take for you to get the message that denominationalism and ordination are bruising, sinful institutions? What will it take for you to hear the message that God is sending you?

I am familiar with the idea that some folks find denominationalism “sinful” but the ordination process?  After a few folks left encouraging comments on Adam’s post, Tony then went on to say

Um, let me repeat myself: this process is a sin against you. And those of you who leave comments trying to help Adam negotiate the sinful, dehumanizing system are complicit in the sin.

Wow.  Really?  So it’s the system that’s evil and sinful?  I thought it was us humans.  Let me say that I do believe that each and every denomination, or community/movement/whatever,  has it’s flaws.  But it is not the denomination, community, or movement that is flawwed except for the fact that each of these entities are made up of people.  And let’s face it: people suck.  And yes that’s rather irreverent considering each and every living and breathing person on this planet is an image bearer of God.  It is strange to me that there are some that think a lack of systems will fix our problems.  If it does fix some of our problems it will surely create more. 

I find Tony’s comments to be completely disrespectful of other’s understanding of the nature of preaching as well as the nature of their faith.  I believe there is truth in what Tony says but I am saddened by the harshness that folks on both sides of this issue (in it’s specific and general terms) are exhibiting. Are the things we have to say so important that we are willing to disparage those who do not agree with us? It is impossible to attack only an issue, structure, belief, or thought…there are people attached to all of those things. The body of Christ is poking itself in the eye and biting off it’s own fingers so to speak. Could we all stop for a minute to remember we are addressing fellow image bearers of God and that whether or not we agree with each other is irrelavant when determining the respect we are to show each other in that light?

Maybe Tony is frustrated because his thoughts have fallen on deaf ears in the past.  I cannot speak to that.  Some things that are suprising to me about Adam’s situation in particular are related to the reason his fitness for ministry was called into question: he asked a gay man to preach at his ordination.  Though some might find it disturbing, what is suprising to me is not that he asked a gay man to preach.  What is suprising to me is that it seems as though this was suprising to those in Adam’s prebytery.  If it is the Presbytery’s purpose to get to know those who are Inquirer and then Candidates in ministry it seems to me that his stance on homosexuality should not have been a suprise to folks.  I am sure there are a lot of things that I don’t know here, but for me it is food for thought.

It seems to me that something that could be taken from Tony’s criticism is that more effort needs to be spent actually getting to know the Inquirers and Candidates for ministry.  Perhaps that’s what he means by dehumanizing.  While I find Tony’s comments harsh and didsrespectful, it seems as though he is trying to get those who are a part of the denominational structures to reform.  And that is something PC(USA) should be able to do since we are called to be “reformed and always reforming.”

PTS

February 17, 2009

Princeton here I come!  : )

Found out today that I was accepted to Princeton Theological Seminary.  I am super stoked about it.  : )

Now to figure out everything else…    : )

BCE

February 6, 2009

I took the Bible Content Exam (BCE) today.  For those of you who are not the Presbyterian type, that’s the first test required as a part of the ordination process.  It is a 100 question, multiple choice test and is not meant to be super hard.  On top of that, you only have to get a 70 or above.  BUT! some of the questions on the test are kinda crazy.  Things like “Who said (inset semi-familiar, somewhat random verse sinppet here)?”  and “What prophet spoke to the such-and-such area when so-and-so was king?”  I have no idea if I will pass it or not (yes, even when I only need a 70).  But then again, I have had very little formal education in Biblical studies.  There were quite a few questions that I knew the answer only because of what I learned in the last year.  Considering that I have been a Christian for over 14 years, I’d say that’s pretty significant.  And it is not stuff I learned in the graduate classes I have taken.  I digress.  I wish I had been able to look over more of the olf tests before taking the test today.  And I wish I had been able to study more Old Testament “stuff” before hand like I planned.  But it didn’t happen.  If I fail, it’s not a big deal.  I have plenty of time to take it again.  And I was able to see some trends in areas of the Bible I am not as proficient in: the Prophets (both major and minor) and some of the epistles.  So for now I will move on to other things and wait to hear about the results.