lessons along the Way…

Every now and again, a friend or family member will ask, “Have you gotten ordained yet?” or “Are you ever going to get there?”

You see, I’ve been on this “journey” towards ordination for awhile now… and there have been many times along this path when I have asked myself the same question that some of my friends have asked:

Am I ever going to get there?

But God has been teaching me something through this journey… something that I think is very important…

Becoming ordained… adding the title of Reverend to my name… will not be “getting there”…

“Getting there” implies reaching a pinnacle, maybe even arriving at a point and time of privilege in one’s life… it might even suggest the end of a journey and a time when one can rest from their labors… One has “gotten there”… One has “arrived”…

But becoming ordained will mean none of this…

Because what God has been teaching me is that becoming ordained… adding the title of Reverend to my name… will not add privilege and rest…

Instead, ordination will add extra responsibility to my life… and my journey with the Lord will not end with ordination, but will continue, as I seek to follow the Lord and minister in the places and to the people where He calls and where He sends me…

It will be a high point for me when I am ordained… perhaps even a “mountain top” experience… but just as the Lord went back down the mountain after He was transfigured (Mark 9:2-9) and continued to minister to God’s people, I will wake up on the morning after ordination, and I will be called and sent to continue in ministry, even as I am doing now…

Ordination will come, but it is not a destination… rather, it will be a door to a new chapter in my life…

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Pre-quel to blog post: “life … the journey … the adventure …”

In Nov 2012, I met with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry for the East Central District of Florida.  At that meeting, the committee members decided to discontinue my candidacy as a candidate for ordination in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.  The reason they gave me was that they had “not seen enough growth.”

Such a statement is open to wide interpretation, and did not seem to be really helpful as I processed the committee’s decision.  I had failed to complete the commissioning paperwork so that I might be considered by the district committee for approval to submit the paperwork to the conference Board of Ordained Ministry.  In discussing this in my re-certification paperwork, I acknowledged that I tend to procrastinate, and that I felt that part of the reason underlying my procrastinating on completing the commissioning paperwork had to do with a fear of failing to get said paperwork approved by the district committee, thereby failing to be approved by them.

I figured my failure to complete the commissioning paperwork was part of the reason, if not all of the reason that the committee chose to discontinue my candidacy. And if this was indeed the case, then I think it would have been far more honest on the district committee’s part, and perhaps better for me had I been told something along the lines of:

You have had multiple chances to get the paperwork done for us to approve you and send forward to the BOOM (Board of Ordained Ministry), but you have not done it.  For whatever the reason you think you are procrastinating, we think that perhaps you aren’t really serious and just don’t want to do the paperwork.  We are going to discontinue your candidacy.  If you are serious, and do want to be ordained in the United Methodist Church, you can return in two years to request to become a certified candidate.  This will give you time to decide if you really want to do this paperwork and, maybe even time to get it done.

But then, I don’t really know if this was or was not the reasoning for my being discontinued.  Perhaps part of the real reason also included the fact that the District Committee in the past three years, also seemed (to me) to be trying to guide me towards Chaplaincy and accepting ordination as a Deacon.  While I know that chaplaincy is one way that I could express my call as an ordained pastor, I did not want to be ordained as a Deacon, because I believed that the sacramental rites were a part of my calling, even as a chaplain.

Also, I have never felt called as a chaplain… but rather as a pastor.

Editorial note:  God has subsequently sharpened my understanding of my call so that I now know myself to be called to “pastoral care”.  This understanding of my call fits anywhere God might lead me to serve, whether within the church walls or without, and whether I am call by the title of Chaplain or Pastor.  In any setting, I can minister to others as an ordained minister, while fulfilling my call to pastoral care.  And as sacraments are an important aspect of pastoral care, I would still want to be ordained an Elder within the United Methodist Church.

However, I don’t believe that the District Committee understood my call the way I do…  I do not believe that they “discerned” my call in the same way that I did.  And, while they (supposedly) cannot tell me how I am called or what my call is, it is my feeling that if my discernment and understanding of my call does not match their discernment and understanding of my call, then this could lead them to not continuing me as a candidate for ordained ministry.

Perhaps this is in part where they had not “seen enough growth”.  Perhaps they did not believe I had grown enough in my understanding of my call so that it matched theirs.  But once again, I don’t really know if that is true.  I just have a nagging sense that if I had answered the committee members’ questions to say that I felt called as a Chaplain and that I also felt God was leading me towards ordination as a Deacon, that I might have been re-certified as a candidate.

But then again, last year I had been given a contingency, and was asked to seek counseling with regards to “issues with authority figures” and “areas of guardedness”.  Once again, not a very clear directive, as I was not sure what they were referring to when they asked me to work on my “issues with authority figures”.  I was not sure which “issues” they thought I had.  As to my being “guarded” I could only surmise that they were using this term to describe what they felt was an apparent lack of my willingness to be open and vulnerable with them during the interview.  I was honestly not sure what I was doing or saying or not doing or not saying that led them to see me as guarded and having issues with authority figures.  And of course, the committee was not more specific, so I was left to puzzle it out with a counselor.

I did do the counseling they requested, basically determining that the guardedness they perceived was a defense mechanism I used when I was in a situation in which I felt nervous or unsure.  In my paperwork, I also explained that I was not always aware of when I was being “guarded”, and I spoke of how, growing up, I never perceived authority figures as being fallible, which perhaps played into my not wanting to seem weak or vulnerable in other peoples’ eyes:

I think this plays into my guardedness. I know it is important to be self aware, but I don’t like to appear weak to other people, or show something that might make me look   vulnerable. It makes me feel exposed, and I’m not comfortable with that. I’m also not comfortable discussing weaknesses or areas of concern outside of a relatively small group of friends.”  ~excerpt from the “self report” section of my candidacy continuation paperwork

Perhaps this is the area in which the district committee members did not see enough growth.  In my written self report I had shared with them that I did not like to appear weak, or to discuss areas of personal weakness or concerns outside of a small group of friends, but still in my interview with them, I shared openly with them about my tendency to procrastinate, and my feelings of a fear of failure that I believed was the basis, at least partially, for my procrastinating and failing to complete the commissioning paperwork.  In my humble opinion, the fact that I was even willing to share this openly and honestly with them should have been seen as tremendous growth in my willingness to be open, vulnerable and unguarded, with them.

But then, their reason for discontinuing my candidacy was so vague, at least to me, that I can’t even be sure if that was the reason, that they had not seen enough growth in regards to my apparent “issues with authority” and “areas of guardedness”.

Maybe their reasons for discontinuing me included all of the above mentioned possibilities, or parts of them… or perhaps, it was only the fact that I didn’t do the paperwork… and if this is the case, that the reason was my not getting the paperwork done, then they should have been open and honest with me, and stated that as the reason.

At any rate, I have chosen not to wait two years and then re-apply for certification as a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.

I have chosen not to continue jumping through hoop after hoop after hoop as part of the ordination process for the United Methodist Church, which maybe is more for “weeding people out” of the process than encouraging them and helping them to grow as they go through the process.

I have also chosen not to give up on answering God’s call on my life to ordained ministry.

To that end, I have decided to seek ordination through another denomination, through the Free Methodist Church.  After all, it is God who has called me to ordained ministry, not the United Methodist Church.