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.

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