Monday, August 03, 2009

To Ordain or Not to Ordain?

I've continued to think about and pray about this decision - I do need to study the document more - but here are some more 'initial' thoughts...

I first owe a friend an apology. My reaction to "being ordained on the Internet" is more based on a different friend who once proclaimed, "you're just mad at me because I found a quicker way to do it." This different friend has apologized and did it in jest - but it still hurt. Not because of what he necessarily said - but because it's already hard to go into the ministry in general. Half the time, people don't know how to act when you tell them you're a minister, and people have no idea what being ordained is - you might as well have told them "I painted a finger painting!" because there isn't a general knowledge of the ministry, ordination - not to mention Disciples of Christ. Not that I (nor most of my minister friends) went into the ministry for the "prestige" but we still deserve to be proud of what we've accomplished - of how far we've come and proud of the opportunities we now have to serve in ministry.

However, there are people who get licensed or ordained on the internet for various reasons - some of which are legit (ie my friend to whom I owe an apology). I don't believe a couple should not be able to have a spiritual wedding just because they don't want to get married in the church. Spirituality and religiousity can come in many forms, and any person that respects that and embraces that deserves my respect as well.

There are a couple things that have come to my attention since the discussion on my last post. Firstly, yes you can pass medical boards and the BAR exam without the educational requirements of law school or med school - and it would be hard to do - but it's possible. But that's the first problem with the ordination process through the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) - we don't have any final tests - we don't have anything that is a "universal requirement" or test that we all have to take in order to be ordained. I just fear that this new amendment makes the subjectivity of this process even worse.

While yes, the longer document (thank you Tim for that link) states that ordination is still the expected "normal" track - there is still now the exception that some people may be able to go the alternative track. But who decides this? We already have regions that struggle in supporting their seminary students on the path to ordination - not to mention a very sad support for many licensed ministers, so where are we going to find the resources and people to decide when it is appropriate for someone to follow the alternative track. Not to mention someone has to develop the alternative track and manage it. This is what the document says, "Candidates for Ordination are expected to follow the seminary track, unless, in consultation with their Region, the Regional Ministry Commission determines that their economic, linguistic, vocational, or familial circumstances make the apprentice track more appropriate." The fact that some regions already struggle, while others are strong - already leaves so much room for flexibility... it just seems like this would be making it worse. Yes, I notice that it mentions work with the Region and the Regional Ministry Commission - but then are we taking away ordaining duties from the region and giving them back to the national level/offices?

I do agree that we need to address the separation many people make between licensed and ordained ministers. It is not a matter of better or worse - and people's qualifications, both from education and from their experience in life can make them a wonderful minister for one particular congregation. Congregations and pastors must fit with one another - and however that comes about, licensed, commissioned, ordained - as long as we are all seeking servant leadership with one another then I suppose it doesn't matter much. So in the end, I'm not sure that this resolution will solve any sort of "prestige" issues between ordained and licensed/commissioned ministers. If anything I think it will only make matters worse by adding another distinction - ordained with an MDiv, or ordained on the AT.

Sara - I also agree with what Rev. Jared Trullinger posted about having ministers in general have more training when it comes to several aspects of ministry. And this alternative track states that ministers seeking the alternative track to ordination will still be expected to be competent in a certain number of areas. However as I looked through those areas, Lines 732 through 794 on the longer document - I realized there are some that my seminary training did not prepare me for. As an example, I was a business major in college, and when I first came to seminary I thought that would put me behind my colleauges. Now that I look back I wouldn't say that I'm ahead of any of my colleagues, but I do feel blessed that I have some training in the "business" side of church that not everyone has experienced in seminary.

Overall though - what this brings to my attention is that we have a systemic problem with supporting people who want to go into the ministry and we are not providing a systemic set of answers.

All ministers can always use extra and more training - but lets first get the regions at least somewhat equally on par with one another. Some regions have very stringent meeting, study and other requirements for ordination - while others ordain individuals without even having them meet with a committee. Some regions have wonderful continuing education programs for their ministers, while others leave it up to each individual minister. Some regions have great educational opportunities for licensed ministers while others tell them to read a book. Some regions offer great respect and support for licensed ministry - simply a different ministry than ordained, not better or worse, different - while others offer them no recognition and no support or mobility for employment opportunities. Some regions offer amazing scholarships and help to get people to seminary, whether they are fresh out of undergrad or second career with a spouse and three children - and still others struggle to know what a scholarship is.

There are so many more problems this resolution does not seem to answer. I agree there needs to be something done - but I'm just not sure this is it.

I have so much more to say... but for now I will wait for the comments... ;)

Saturday, August 01, 2009

I'm Offended...

... on so many levels, and disappointed in my denomination this day.

For those of you who don't know, the denomination into which I was ordained, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) operates on a congregational polity. Rather than a "top-down" structure (think Roman Catholic Church), the DOC operates according to congregational polity. Every two years we gather at a meeting called the General Assembly and ask representatives from each congregation, as well as licensed and ordained ministers, to participate in what is essentially a gigantic board meeting. We vote to accept reports, nominate and vote on leaders, and vote on resolutions. We do lots of other things at this General Assembly as well - but that's the idea of what I'm getting at in order to write this particular blog.

This General Assembly, in 2009, the GA of the CC(DOC) voted on Resolution No. 0922 (Click on the Link to read the official Resolution). Essentially our denomination voted today to accept an "Alternative Track" to Ordination, which does not include a Master of Divinity degree.

Now I realize my reaction to this is colored by the fact that I recently graduated with my M.Div and was ordained in the CC(DOC), however it is not the basis for my argument. I am offended because I spent the time, effort, energy, passion and life preparing for Ordained ministry, but my time in seminary has not DETERMINED my response to this.

If you want my first, gut reaction, it would be, "this is crap." But then I remember that I can't simply responded with how I feel and I must have reasoning behind my feeling, explanation and more than just, "I don't like it."

While I know our denomination, and many denominations, has in the past utilized the apprenticeship model, I can't help but think we are responding more out of a look towards the "good ol' days" rather than a rational approach to our higher education problems. Because doctors have been sued for malpractice and because we have medical doctors who are unable to find educational opportunities that fit their practices close to where their families live, should we change our preparation for medical doctors to an apprenticeship model? Because Med Student Jane wants to train in this particular field of medicine, but the only place that kind of education is offered is 600 miles away, should we allow her to still pass state medical boards and be certified etc, called DOCTOR because she served as an apprentice to a similar doctor in her home town?

I can appreciate some of the "problems" that were listed in this resolution - yes there are fewer opportunities for people to go to seminary, whether it be because of family, distance, money, or whatever reason, there are fewer opportunities for people receive their M.Div. The answer is not to just tell them, you don't need it, we'll have you do any equivalent amount of reading books and we'll call it even - the answer is to provide other forms of support in order to get people to seminary.

Yes, licensed ministers need more mobility when it comes to being able to circulate their papers within the Search and Call system. But rather than saying, "only ordained ministers can circulate nationally, so we'll just call you ordained" - can't we change the computer system so that licensed ministers can circulate nationally as well?

While I agree that we need to strengthen recognition of licensed lay ministers, this can be accomplished with the education of the congregation as we inform them why we are now calling them commissioned - and why language like this is so powerful. But do we really have to push down those who are ordained in order to strengthen recognition of those who are licensed? Recognition and respect are not in limited quantities - if an ordained minister receives recognition and respect, it does not mean there are limited amounts for a licensed minister to receive. Are we really operating on the assumption that "recognition" is a zero-sum gain issue?

I recently got into an argument with a friend/acquaitance when we were discussing people who can get ordained on the internet for $5. Sadly, it can happen. He asked me how someone else getting ordained on the internet changes the work that I've done, or the preparation that I've experienced. Well it doesn't - but it does change the perception of how "other" people see me. I already struggle with the fact that people think I only work on Sundays, and that I just read the bible a few times and poof I became a minister. And no - I'm not responding ONLY out of how other people view me, but if we're talking about a strengthened recognition - then I'm going address an already wavering recognition of the office of ordained minister as it is.

My knee-jerk reaction continues to be, "this is crap." It doesn't matter how much you change the "alternative track," or how much reading you add to it - it's not seminary. I moved 600 miles to go to seminary. I have colleagues that uprooted their families and moved them 1200 miles so that they could go to seminary. Seminary is an experience - getting your M.Div and training under biblical and theological professors is an experience - and they are experiences you can not get ANYWHERE else, other than seminary. It's not just the education aspect, its the community, its the spiritual side, its the journey, its the life-changing experience only those who receive their M.Div will experience. And while I am a believer in the "priest-hood of all believers" in the sense that no individual must go through a clergy mediator in order to have a relationship with God, I do think there is an aspect of being Ordained that is a setting-apart - and something that only life with a seminary education can prepare you for.