In official news, I was called to be the Associate Pastor and Teacher of First Parish Church in Brunswick, Maine. I start in August! This means I’m official for ordination in the UCC, and will be ordained on October 3rd.
In terms of my ordination process, I have cleared another big hurdle. The New Haven Committee on Ministry voted to recommend me for Ecclesiastical Council (the last big step short of finding a church). It was a pretty serious discussion that we had, one that made me think about a lot of things. I realize that I’ve been wrestling with a lot of theological ideas in my head that may not be the most relevant issues to others. So, it was a very good thing for me to re-center myself and prepare to present myself and speak about my call to the New Haven Association in full.
One question that leapt out at me, and has been occupying my mind ever since. My central image of the church: “God’s Good Trouble-Makers Living in The World,” led to the question: “Do you really think that people are coming to church for that? To hear how they might cause trouble?” A fair and a good question.
My joke reflex kicked in at the time. I said, “Well, one can hope.” Then I continued on with a complex answer that softened things a great deal, and went to how we should be self analytical about our lives and how we are living in connection with the gospel. I talked about affluence and comfort and how those things fit into my conceptions of Jesus’ ministry. At the end, though, I feel like I wasn’t truly myself at that moment.
I went home, and I picked up my bible. I read the stories that move me… there is Jesus, talking about knocking down the temple, telling stories and parables that make people tear at their hair, upsetting all sorts of social boundaries… Why are we afraid to say it? Why are we afraid to say that this was a ministry which found its center in creating deeply unsettling re-imaginings of the world? How did our comfort–not in a deep, existential way, but in a shallow, rote way–become a necessity of our religious expression? The former I feel should always be an expression of church: REAL comfort is so absent from our existences that offering it is trouble-making all its own. The latter: well, that’s just so much furniture for our faith, isn’t it?
Someone asked me to talk about a time I experienced failure in my ministry. I said, just the days that end in “y.” Because of this. Because in the battle between our need for justice and our desire for comfort… well, too often we know who will win, long before we even reach that particular fork in the road. I want to lead amongst a church of people who want a fair fight, at least. I’m still working on how to say that, though.
This semester was a bear in so many ways. Not the least of these was the very fact that I’m nearing the end of my time in New Haven. As I said way back in the early part of the school year, I’ve really had a sense of wanting to “pass on” my home which I love. I want new people to enjoy its richness in the way that I have. Both New Haven and YDS have been communities that meant a lot to me. Trying to give that to others has been hard work.
Even still, the hardest work has come after the semester. I’ve been preparing all of my materials for ordination. This has required:
- My ordination paper – about 6000 words describing me, my theology, and my sense of call to ministry.
- Recommendations – A TON. Written and telephone references make up a large portion of this work. The mentors and colleagues I have had in the past few years are awesome in their support of my ministry, but it takes a lot of organization to keep everyone straight through 15+ recommendations. Also, for those keeping track: it’s advent. Not an easy time for church folk.
- Updated resume – actually, this document won’t get used a lot in my future, but I have to update it anyway. Most challenging is the tracing of the story arc which takes me from computer nerd to candidate for ordination… as usual.
- Ministerial Profile – 10 Webpages of information that will be reviewed by my committee and any associations and churches that will consider me for ministerial positions. As any form document would tend to be, this is a bit dry for encapsulating my joy for ministry. (Which checkboxes best describe me as a minister?)
Nonetheless, I’m drawing to a close in some of this work. Which leaves me the standard issue concern over how Sarah and I will work, feed ourselves, and afford a family… you know, ever. But… “God is Good…” Now, on to what is (hopefully) my last Christmas season as a civilian, so to speak!
I’m upset with my town. R said it best: we’re built to handle certain crimes here. Most of them are quick and hot and motivated by money, which lets me say adorable little statements about how systems work together, and crime goes up when the economy goes down, and lets me score some points for my petty little worldview, like if social structures would just follow my lead, there would be an end to suffering and pain and yadda yadda. Pretty egotistical stuff. Pretty much ignoring that whole Kingdom of God thing.
This is different. Someone put someone in a wall. That’s not about desperation (at least in the conventional sense.) Someone found time to hide what they did away, and took what little dignity there might be left to this woman.
Part of my job at orientation was to assure new students that New Haven was wonderful and thriving, and maybe to be careful because, you know, it is a city and all. Ultimately, though, my message was that common sense would keep you safe here. I feel like I lied right now, and I feel like I was naive. I feel like I should have known that there was something senseless here, waiting. I’m not even slightly connected to this poor woman, and I feel… inadequate to the task of even being the vaguest hint of a sliver of a strand of what it would take to undo the kind of systemic nastiness that must be in the world to make this happen.
Reading this book, I was struck by Brueggemann’s point (as I understand it) about prophets and social activists: prophets aren’t interested in the reform of social systems (like activists are)… to pretend that the systems can be changed at all is to be co-opted by the “royal authority.” No, prophets want to imaginatively tear the whole thing down. Their imagination goes beyond some earthly dream of reform, and goes to the godly forming of the new way. I feel like we need to imagine harder right now, and I’m scared that I’m imagining as hard as I can, and it’s not working.
Thursday I met with my Committee on Ministry (which is sort of like meeting with your Bishop to you apostolic folks.) They walk with me through the discernment and exploration of my call to ministry, and eventually would recommend me for an Ecclesiastical Council (one of the last steps before ordination.)
Anyway, at this meeting, we decided that it was time to begin working on my ordination paper (which is what it sounds like), and my ministerial profile (kind of a huge electronic resume that gets circulated among churches.) The profile is a funny beast, there are lots of text boxes to fill out, some asking for the hard facts, some asking me to produce a complete statement of my understanding of ministry and my call.
This process that is so intense and emotional, so fraught with ambiguities and seeking, has to be shoehorned into text boxes and radio buttons. I spend most of my life trying to know people and be known by them, and now I have to hope they’ll be able to know me through a web form. Scary stuff. I have faith that those looking for a minister will want to read deeper, but I can’t help feeling a little anxious.