There has been much talk regarding ordination -on many different fronts -across the denomination I call home. As a seminarian who is 40% done, I find it interesting and a little disconcerting that my CPM has not engaged at all with me on some of these issues.
The number of churches open to calling “first call” pastors is small
Churches who do call pastors don’t always have the money to pay the minimum
The seminary debt load can be crushing (even more so for those of us getting no help from the school or denomination)
The number of people looking is significantly higher than the number of churches looking.
While these things would be daunting at any time – like when I started this process 2 years ago, the economic climate in which I enter this next year of schooling brings the problem into even sharper relief…
How many churches that are struggling to do right by their pastors in good times will be around to call new pastors if economic recovery does not come soon?
How will people like me be able to respond to God’s call in another city (state) if the houses we must sell are still worth about half of the mortgages we are paying against?
How many pastors who are nearing retirement age will have sufficient pension monies to retire? Will that shrink the number of available positions coming available?
All of those very logical and practical questions are good to consider, but here’s the thing that gnaws at me in all these ordination discussions. Whether we are talking about gender equity, LGBT rights, ordination hoops, or a glut of pastors, we are really talking about God’s call on an individual’s life.
It seems to me that the questions ought really to be focused on how we might better assure that every person who begins this journey has someone who is truly walking alongside them and helping them discern what God is calling them into. Is God really calling too many of the wrong people into ministry? That seems highly unlikely, based even on the intro level coursework I’ve had thus far. Maybe instead, there is what we would call in an IT setting some User Error going on.
How do we know? I love my CPM, but they are working with 25-30 inquirers or candidates at any given time. That means they will meet with 2-3 people monthly. I hear from my liaison when I contact her. My session liaison is a little more “hands-on” but mostly because we are also friends. My pastor checks in occasionally, too. But here’s the kicker… I am attending school right here in town. What about those people who are actually uprooted and sent across the country to seminary?
Is it the seminary’s job to filter out those who really ought not sit for Ord Exams? Is it the job of the Ord Exams to trip up those who aren’t good enough students of the Word to become Ministers of Word and Sacrament? Is the the job of the call process to show that it is or isn’t meant to be a person’s career- like a complex way of casting lots?
I feel very confident in my own call. I ought to, since God’s been after me to do this for over half of my 42 years. But I don’t know how to navigate the waters into which I am wading, aside from listening for the Teacher’s voice calling me to come on out. If I were less confident that I was hearing the right voice, who would be there to help? Who should be there?