Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dreaming of Ordination

Just before I woke up, I had such an intense dream that it seemed like something else.  Do I believe that God still talks to us through dreams?  Do I believe that dreams give us a pipeline to our subconscious?

I'm not sure of my answer to those questions, but I wanted to record my dream.  In my dream, it was late afternoon, around 4:45, and the sun was setting.  My mom and I were at the edge of some small town.  I said, "Wasn't there once a Methodist bookstore around here?"

Then we were in the bookstore, but it was a small thing, a room in a church, essentially.  There was an older woman (but perhaps younger than my mom) who took one look at me and handed me a book.  It's title:  Ordination.  It was a book that went denomination by denomination to talk about how each denomination dealt with women and ordination.

The book had the same yellow cover as the first edition of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women that I bought in 1986, but the pages weren't thin, and the book itself, while as thick as the Norton, had larger pages.  The cover had representatives, somewhat cartooony, of some of the denominations, including a monkish Martin Luther with a whip.

My mom made sure that I saw the part of the book that dealt with my grandfather, who was a Lutheran pastor in real life, and who did not approve of women's ordination. 

I knew that I couldn't afford the book, and I wanted to read as much as I could before the store closed.  I asked the older woman when they closed, and she said, "7."  I looked at my watch, saw that it was 5, and sat down to read.  My mom went to help with a children's choir.

That was my dream.  When I write it out, it's difficult to convey how lovely it was, how warm it all felt, how in my dream, I felt like I was getting a clear sign (get to seminary!), even as I wondered if I really was getting a clear sign.

I woke up, and before my rational brain got to work, I felt I had been sent a sign.  Then my rational brain got to work and reminded me of all the obstacles to seminary, and from that my brain moved on to thinking about how outmoded seminary is and how I'd change things.

Yes, seminary as it exists now, seems like a relic of the middle part of the 20th century, when people went to seminary right out of undergraduate school, before they had families.  Or if they had families, there was a wife who had no career, and thus, the family could be uprooted to head off to the seminary of the future pastor's choice.  Even as we have more mid-career seminarians, seminaries haven't changed to meet this reality.  We're still expected to troop off to a distant school.

And once we get there, we must ask ourselves if what we study is still relevant.  How much New Testament Greek?  Might not Spanish have more of a use?

And a 4 year program to get a Master's degree?  Really?  Once we've uprooted ourselves for a seminary education, then we may have to uproot ourselves again for the internship year?  Who designs this program?

It may be appropriate for young folks just out of college who have not much church experience, but for people who have been Church Council presidents and Confirmation leaders and curriculum designers and worship leaders--do we really need an internship year?  Many of us have led churches through many a crisis and/or a time of searching for a pastor, which may mean lay preaching or overseeing the office, the finances, the week-to-week running of a church.

OK, enough of my sermonizing--there's my rational brain at work.

And in the interest of full disclosure, I do love the idea of school and learning more.  I don't like the idea of taking on student loan debt and taking a 4 year vacation from earning money to go to school.  That's the conundrum I can't solve as I think about ordination.


Robin said...

Yes, it's difficult to pay money to take classes which you could teach (or have taught!), and to complete an internship where none of your previous leadership experience gets put to use and the main thing you learn has to do with -- ahem -- egos -- and to trek long distances because your spouse and children and mortgage are immobilizing factors and to live through a schedule designed for mobile 25yos, but -- there are great parts, too, and you do have a dream.

Alison-in-France said...

It sounds like you want to pursue this. Might there be an option other than full-time on-site school for you ?

I'm in my mid-40s (eeek) and have 3 kids and am working part time on a Batchelors in Theology by distance learning. Maybe an option worth looking into, though check with your denomination whether they have accredited courses. (I'm fortunate that I can work half-time at the same time.)

I'm still wondering what I'm going to be doing after my Batchelors, but I figure that that will come and that meanwhile the studies are great in themselves. (Though distance learning does need a level of self-discipline that doesn't suit everyone...)

Wendy said...

Wow. I hadn't read this yet, and I probably should make this comment a post at my blog, but I'm not quite ready to go public with my thinking, so here it is...

I've spent the last few days talking with my Pastor and my spouse and myself about the possibility of at least dipping in to seminary. I was thinking of the Presbyterians Certified Christian Educator program in which I could take some core seminary classes in things in which I'm interested, worship, theology, faith formation, etc. But there are two catches. 1 is that you have to have a paying job in Christian Ed to get the certification. While I affirm the Presbyterian ideal that a call comes from God and is affirmed by the Church, in the real 21st century world, that affirmation--especially for a secondary job like Christian Ed--is not necessarily going to come with a paycheck. I've been playing that role, but not with a title and benefits. Secondly, since my degree is not in theology or divinity, I would have to start at the Associate's level and jump through extra hoops that, with my level of knowledge and experience, would make me insane. So... Again, seminaries and governing boards not quite in the 21st century.

So then I saw a certificate program from Fuller Seminary in Theology and the Arts. Fuller is local though it is somewhat Evangelical, it is also non-denominational and many of our Presbyterians who can't relocate to a Presby seminary attend Fuller. That sounded ideal. My pastor is concerned that it is actually designed for, or mostly made up of, guitar-playing, praise-chorus-singing contemporary worship leaders. Oh. I will look into it, but I'm pretty sure if that's her impression, it's probably true.

She's also concerned that seminary just isn't made for the 21st century. They are stuck in the past, and I would feel frustrated and stuck.

So... her suggestion was that we design our own program of study, and I do reading and write about it and pull together a group of pastors and brilliant lay people and do independent study seminary. And go to various conferences and symposia and so on in the meanwhile. I said, "but what about my CV? Working toward a certificate would show me being active in something right now." She said that it's the 21st century real world--which seminaries are not--and we'll write it up and get it published in denominational magazines and make it a CV worthy endeavor. It's an interesting thought and I'm contemplating it (though I may still look at the Fuller program).

So, I guess I want to say, if you would ever like to study anything together, let me know. I bet we could do something really interesting on-line. We might even be able to pull in other people if that were appealing (Ph.D. in English possibly a prerequisite). :-)

Anonymous said...

So, so true. I had planned, once my nest was empty, to attend seminary, and God yanked hard on my ponytail and called me to a challenging church as a lay pastor. I receive very little support from my ordained peers.That's not a model much approved by the "real ministers" in our denomination, who mostly say, "If I had to struggle through Biblical Greek and Hebrew, you should too." I am paid very little, so the savings that would have funded a seminary education are instead funding a ministry.

Yet it works. Even on my darkest days, I have no doubts that the Holy Spirit was behind all that and that God is doing a new thing in churches like ours (and in many other circumstances).

That's not to say it's the right path for you, or anyone else, but I do offer it as evidence that God is not quite so hung up on the MDiv as humans are. God bless in you in your journey!

Storyteller said...

I'm not a regular visitor but just ended up here while surfing. I'm currently training for ministry in the Church of England (who thankfully provide part-time and flexible alternatives for training). It strikes me that between yourself and the older woman you found a way of getting some of what you needed by less obvious means (you were able to read a lot of the book without paying for it).

So I just want to encourage your rational brain not to dismiss your emotions and the desires of your heart. Hang on to this: "how lovely it was, how warm it all felt" as you try to weigh up the options. And see if the Holy Spirit, your own creativity, and helpful mentors can't come up with some creative solutions for you! God bless.

Kristin said...

First of all, thank you all so much for coming by, reading, and commenting. Your support is much appreciated.

I'm also pleased to find out that I'm not the only one dreaming of seminary.

Wendy, your ideas fascinate me, as always, and I'd love to explore independent study options with you. Your pastor is right, it could be written up and perhaps gain traction.

I also like a blended approach: independent adventures here, taking classes there, going to conferences. There are also some interesting low-residency programs that lead to other kinds of certificates, like the kind that the Shalem Institute offers in the D.C. area (

The Lutheran church also has a program that sounds similar to the Presbyterian church. We call ours the Associate in Ministry, but one doesn't need to be already employed to enroll.

In the Lutheran church, however, one must be ordained to consecrate the elements for Communion. I really want to be able to consecrate the elements--a subject that would make a good blog post in and of itself.

My mom, who has done a lot of work with seminaries, the Lutheran Church, and candidacy committees, says, "But do you want to take on $80,000-$100,000 to be able to consecrate the elements?"

I haven't answered that question definitively. I continue to work to stay open to the nudges of the Holy Spirit.

A long response here, but again, thank you for this conversation!

Wendy said...

Consecrating the elements. That's the thing, isn't it? Me too.