Hey everyone! Sorry for the “radio silence” for past day or so…the snow slowed me down a little, and I had a few things to take care of at home!
I’ve been thinking a lot about the direction of this blog over the last few days or so, and what I’m going for by writing at all. Why write a blog, where everyone can read and share in my thoughts, hopes, frustrations and dreams? Why speak publicly as opposed to a journal that no one sees? These are all extremely challenging questions, and I don’t necessarily have answers to them at the current moment. But what I have realized is that by blogging and soliciting feedback from all of you, I am enabling the people I love and care about the opportunity to walk in my shoes for a brief moment, and to understand what is going on in my life now, and what is to come in the next several months. My faith was for the longest time something that I kept closeted, as I was always under the assumption that a belief in Jesus was a personal matter and not something that should be aired in public. But now that I realize how much of me it consumes (in a good, not bad way), it is important, if not critical, for me to discuss it with people that I love and trust. It is a part of me that is out there for all to see. I wear my cross on top of my shirt because my faith is something I am proud of, and one of the many ways that I identify myself with. In much the same way, this blog about my spiritual journey into seminary is my written cross – my outward verbal expression of my faith and where God leads me.
With this in mind, I suppose I should probably explain more about how ordination and being a minister works in the Reformed Church in America. RCA is the denomination I was raised in, and is the sister church of the more well-known Presbyterian Church (PC(USA)). The only difference the two churches have is that the Presbyterians came from the UK, whereas RCA came from the Netherlands. Theologically, it depends on the geographic location of the church, but generally it is a middle-of-the-road church, meaning that it is not completely conservative, but not completely liberal either. For the sake of the argument, I would deem it a moderate church theologically. (I’m not even going to address politics, as that is completely irrelevant here!) Both base their theology on the teachings of John Calvin and reformed theological beliefs. Whereas the Presbyterian Church is a more nationally distributed denomination (with a church in almost each major city and in most American towns), my denomination is located mostly in Michigan (where the main church governing body is located) and in the Tri-state area (New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey). I am extremely passionate about my denomination, but in the early stages of discovering my calling, I was worried that staying with my denomination would prove limiting career-wise. I have spent 18 out of my 22 years of life in New York, and have dreams of settling in Northern California when I am finished with seminary 3 years from now. I was most concerned that I would forever be in New York or New Jersey, where there are the most concentrated numbers of RCA churches aside from the Midwest. Further, the Michigan branch of my church is especially traditional, and as I am a woman (DUH!), I feared that I would never be hired into an ordained position, but rather limited to a youth pastorate instead (which is definitely not the direction I want to head in at this point in my life). However, after my summer in California, where I spent a lot of time investigating my various denominational options, ranging from Lutheran to Methodist to Presbyterian even to United Church of Christ, I realized that deep in my heart, God was telling me to stick with the family I knew, the family that has so much love for me already – RCA. Despite its size (SMALL!), and limited geographical locations (EVEN SMALLER…), it is what I know, what I am familiar with, and even more importantly, where I line up with theologically. The whole hymnal, liturgical calendar, sitting in pews, organ thing is exactly where I find comfort, where I find God. For some, this seems strict, and is the last place where God would be on a Sunday morning. But for me, this is always where God is, where He has been, and more importantly, it is where He found me some number of years ago. My faith grew in this tradition, and God isn’t done with me yet in it. I feel so convicted about this that I am willing to forgo many things that a larger denomination might offer me. The solidifying factor for me in this decision was the complete kindness shown toward me by everyone that I have met in RCA. People have bent over backwards to help me find seminaries, etc. They have cared about me as a person, and more importantly, have listened to my life goals, and where I would like to be in 10 years.
So, I suppose that I should discuss the concept of ordination and what it means. Christianity, and especially the protestant denominations have developed a “Christianese” language of sorts that is different for each denomination, and is challenging if not cryptic for anyone on the “outside” to understand. Some Christian groups, but not so much the mainline denominations (meaning the Methodists, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Presbyterians, RCA – not the Evangelicals, Pentecostals, non-denominational, etc) do not require their pastors to attend formal seminary programs in order to run a congregation. However, RCA does require its ministers to go through a 3 year seminary or divinity school program to achieve a Masters degree before they will consider the candidate for a paid ministry position. What this means is that they want their ministers to go through pastoral counseling, preaching classes, CPE, New and Old Testament, Church History, Systematic Theology, Greek, Latin and Biblical Hebrew and so on before they can lead a congregation. This is precisely what I will be undertaking beginning this summer. All of these classes will provide me with the proper training and understanding of my field so that I can best serve the group of men, women and children at whatever church I am offered a job at. At the end of 3 years, I will still have a masters degree, but unless I am offered a job, I will not be a minister. It is a complicated concept to get, but basically, here is how it is. In my 3rd and last year of seminary, I will begin to look for jobs in RCA churches somewhere in this country. If I am offered a job as a minister in one of those churches and I pass all of the prerequisite exams that my denomination requires, then I will be ordained. It is a beautiful ceremony where I promise to serve a congregation and God, etc. But unless I have a job coming out of seminary, I will not be ordained, and therefore cannot serve as a minister.
But what do I do in the meantime? I can’t just forget about RCA in the meantime, right? First, I need to “come under care of classis.” What is classis, you might ask? Classis is the regional governing body underneath the larger governing body that each RCA church belongs to. In order to “come under care,” or to be recognized as a minister-in-training by Classis, I have to be approved by my church consistory (or my church’s governing body, a panel of the church’s ministers, elders and deacons who have been selected by church members to make important church decisions), and questioned by important Classis members. This is perhaps the scariest part to date. I will be asked why I am interested in ministry, where I want to go, where I think God is leading me, etc. Essentially, I have to be interrogated before this whole thing will be made official and I can be recognized as a minister-in-training by the church government. I am nervous – ok, petrified – for that moment, but at the same time, that is the next step that must be taken in order for me to begin my training, and take one step closer to becoming a minister 3 years from now.
Next week, Classis is meeting at my church, and I have been invited to attend! BIG HONOR…like woah! BIG! Little me is attending the BIGGEST church meeting of the year. It is at this meeting that I will meet the “who’s who” of NY state RCA, and more importantly, it is at this meeting that I will make the necessary connections that will take me one step further in this journey. While I am frightened and nervous as all heck, fortunately, I will not be alone or thrown to the wolves at this meeting. Many familiar church members and ministers will also be attending, and I know they will keep an eye out for me and make the necessary introductions.
Well, that’s all I know at this point! Hope this shed a bit of light on what the process is for me over the next couple years and what exactly is going on in the ministry department for me at the moment!
If you want more info on RCA, I encourage you to look at their website…its got some great graphics and the images are stunning. RCA has a very active missionary and international ministry program, so they have planted churches all over the world. Their ministers are doing amazing things all over the place, so it is worth reading up on if you have a moment!