Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's a Long Story . . . Part Two

In my denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the pathway to professional ministry is twofold: a person must complete a seminary degree (M.A.R. [two years] or M.Div. [four years] depending on the area of ministry), and simultaneously must undergo a candidacy process with the local synod.

I began seminary in September of 1992, and entered candidacy at the same time. The first year was difficult -- we learned a full year of Koine Greek in one month, did weekly translations from Greek to English, studied Bible, church history, Christian education, liturgy, and other subjects. I felt as though I was treading water, struggling to keep afloat in these foreign courses. It wasn't until second semester when we studied pastoral care that I felt comfortable.

The summer following that first year was the summer of CPE, clinical pastoral education. I spent ten weeks at a major inner city teaching hospital that was also home to a high level trauma unit and regional spinal cord injury center. There were six of us in the group, diverse by gender, ethnicity, age and religious preference. We worked hard: Every sixth night I was on call, spending the night in the hospital and hoping for sleep. Every sixth weekend there was a 24-hour shift. I learned a lot. I sat with the dying, contacted families for drive-by shootings and other kinds of gunshot injuries, spent time with an HIV-positive new mother of twins, performed emergency baptisms, stayed with people whose diving accidents had rendered them quadriplegic.

It was exhausting. And I loved every bit of it.

As I moved through the candidacy process, I came to understand that my denomination would not -- at that time, at least -- permit an individual to complete a degree with a goal of chaplaincy. They required that a person become ordained and serve a congregation as a parish pastor for a minimum of three years. While I did not feel that I had been called to be a parish pastor -- I had no interest in presiding, marrying, burying -- I was aware that ten years earlier I had no inkling of being a hospital chaplain, so I pursued the path laid out for me until I came to the internship year. While working at a nearby church as a paid intern (half-time for two years; the other half-time was seminary classes), I knew for certain that this was not what I was supposed to do, that pursuing ordination and using a congregation for three years for my own purposes was just wrong.

I resigned the internship, withdrew from the candidacy process and met with the dean at Seminary who laid out an alternative path for me to complete the M.Div. and I graduated with my class, with no idea what I would do next.


Janet O. said...

I feel like I have been left hanging. I hope part three comes soon!

Barbara Anne said...

Well done for understanding your calling so thoroughly that you came to know that path was the wrong one for you. You were paying attention. I hope in the intervening years, your synod has opening the way so you can live out your calling without pastoring a church.

Waiting for part 3!


Gretchen said...

I am enjoying your journey. Thank you so much for sharing and I'm awaiting the next installment.