So, as we know, this here blog is – or purports to be – about my journey to ordination as a Minister of Word and Service, Deacon, in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It’s been a couple years since I started and in that time, I’ve jumped through many hoops. I did all the paperwork the Virginia Synod sent my way, most painfully the “psych evals” which produced a barely recognizable portrait of a person singularly dissimilar to/from myself. I impressed the Candidacy Committee with my sincerity, if not my charm and wit, enough for them to approve me as a potential. I completed an adult degree program in Leadership and Organizational Management, which may or may not be entirely useless, but I still lack some credits that the Commonwealth – or whoever – requires for a Bachelors degree, so I’m taking classes this summer. Oh, and I got accepted to one of the precious few Lutheran seminaries in the US. So, that ain’t nothin’,
Last week, after slogging through a bunch of assignments for Psychology of Personal Development, a fluff class which will give me 3 credits – the assignments are basically more psych evals – and enduring an especially bad comic book rendition of “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde” for Introduction to Literature, another waste of time that counts for 3 credits, I took the first General Biology test, which I failed, but only just. At that point, I decided that I was dropping that class. I knew I couldn’t do all I signed up for and that the regular semester would offer more natural science classes – I’m pretty sure I can do better in Geometry or something. Dropping the class meant there is no way I can complete my BA before I’m support to report for my first day at seminary, online.
I sent some emails to the Candidacy Committee and to the seminary notifying them of the situation. Then I got all up in my head about the whole clusterfuck. I have felt for some time that the educational requirements for ordination in the ELCA are an unnecessary burden. There is no reason whatsoever to make someone plod through that much college. The whole process is, essentially, training for a job. There are a shitload of jobs that are a lot more technical than being a minister that people get trained to do at a vocational training school. Why, I wondered, the fuck don’t we do that? And then I wrote a couple pages, starting with my bio for context, concluding with my assertion that we, the ELCA, should make it easier.
I’m not knocking higher education. I certainly think that there is need for people who have studied every antisemitic thing Martin Luther said, in the original German, or whatever, but I also think that some people might be very good pastors or deacons who ain’t got the time or inclination to go to graduate school. Add to that the cost – it’s looking like about $150,000 for me, if I live cheap – and the fact that only some Masters programs are available as online classes. Remember there five (5) seminaries that will get you ordained in the ELCA, so most people gotta move. That’s fine for the youngsters who got the call right outta high school, but for those of us who God recruited later in life, it’s about impossible.
People of color are statistically less likely than people of no color to get graduate degrees. The ELCA is the whitest mainline Protestant church. There have been various resolutions and campaigns to attract people of color, but they ain’t come bangin’ on the door. So maybe if we make it a little easier to get ordained, we’ll get more BIPOC ministers, and then maybe they’ll be more attractive to other BIPOC.
I spun it out a little more, but you get the idea. And then I looked up the email address of presiding Bishop Eaton, the highest official in the ELCA, and hit “send”.
Over the weekend, I hurled all this at a friend when we went out to the woods to mess around in a creek. She thought I was on the right track and was very supportive. She also screamed like a little girl when she saw a snake at the creek, which was funny. For me.
And I thought about it a lot. I think we know by now that I am a bit rough around the edges. Even for the ELCA, which recently became the first mainline Protestant denomination to elect a transgender Bishop, Megan Rohrer, out in San Francisco, I’m pretty scruffy. I’ve figured for some time now that I was gonna get ordained and then start causing trouble. It’s looking like I had that backwards. Not that I wanna cause trouble – but I do wanna change things, and that usually gets people bothered. But then I thought about Martin Luther and I figured this is as a good a time as any to challenge shit. Of course, I considered the possibility that I’d never hear anything because no one would read my lil’ missive or if they did, they’d say “Another candidate doesn’t want to go to college” and dismiss it. But I didn’t come to any conclusions about what would most likely happen.
So I was a bit surprised when I got an email from somebody at the Chicago headquarters of the ELCA. My few pages got passed to them and they want to talk about it further. But I also wasn’t surprised. And while part of me is inclined to be nervous about talking to somebody very near the top of the ELCA, another part of me is content to just answer the phone and tell ’em what I think. I believe it’s a good idea. I also believe that all by meself I ain’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of convincing anybody of anything, but if this is what God wants me to do it’ll be aight. Maybe God wants the ELCA to ordain more people and He tapped me for the job. Could be. I’m happy to do the work if that’s what He wants.
If this works out, it’ll take time. I would want to be part of the committee or whatever that determined what the core curriculum would be – what is absolutely necessary for deacons and pastors to know – and then build the infrastructure to make it happen. I’m not going to quit my process – I’m going to continue to chip away at getting ordained the old way. I got an email from the seminary today – they’ll let me start in the fall, but I can only take one class as a non-matriculated student, whatever that means. I’m not going to reap the benefits of creating a shorter path to ordination. Or maybe I’ll reap some kind of benefit, but I won’t get ordained by going to vocational training classes.
I’m kinda digging it. I think it is right and good that my introduction to the Presiding Bishop took the form of me complaining about something and saying “I got an idea to fix this”. That’s the role I see myself having. I also wanna feed the naked and clothe the hungry, but ya know what I mean.
I’ll let ya know how it goes.