A Week On Campus

Today wraps up my second-ever week on campus at Asbury Theological Seminary.  I had two classes this week, Vocation of Ministry and Intro to the Old Testament, splitting the week: Vocation Monday through Wednesday noon, and OT Wednesday afternoon through Friday.

These were two very different class experiences, akin to going from a warm bath into a raging Class V rapid.

Vocation of Ministry is all about helping us understand the concept of “call,” and how we may be called into God’s service. We spent a lot of time in small-group accountability groups, and so I had the chance to come to know Mark and Justin better than just online. Pastor Don would also love some of the takeaways from the class:

  • If you build a church, you might not make disciples, but if you make disciples, you’ll definitely build a church.
  • Don’t sweat your ministry. God has far more invested in it than you do.
  • Our job is climate control: creating a set of conditions in which God can do something.

I felt especially convicted in our discussion of Sabbath. I don’t rest. I just don’t, not in the way the Bible calls us to. I do need to be more intentional about that: carving out time to do nothing but to sit and be in Jesus’ presence.

Old Testament moves at a firecracker pace: pop pop pop pop. The class has been a ton of reading (about 648 pages last week to get ready for this week), and I took more notes in these 2½ days than I’ve done in a long, long time. College Boy would have loved the archaeological discussions about various sites (is Mt. Ebal Joshua’s altar, or an Iron Age I barbecue pit?). We also waded into more controversial lanes:

  • What if the Exodus event wasn’t all of Israel, but only the tribe of Levi? And the rest of the tribes never left Canaan?
  • What if “the law” in the Old Testament wasn’t prescriptive, but a set of statements that defined a general approach that the society was supposed to take?

Rolling around on the floor with those kinds of questions was fun; I only wish some of the quizzes in the class weren’t so much a Bible trivia gotcha.

* * *

I also drew reassurance once again at just being here. This does feel like a good place to be. I do feel comfortable here. I can see myself at this kind of work now. And hey, it’s a great place for a selfie with a life-sized John Wesley…

Advertisements

Another Master’s?!?

So the path towards ordination has begun. And with it, the need for a second Master’s degree, the Master of Divinity (M.Div).

In the spring I was accepted at Asbury Theological Seminary, in Wilmore, Kentucky. No, it does not mean we’re moving to Lexington. One of the reasons I chose Asbury is because of its robust online program, which will allow me a lot of flexibility. Unfortunately, the Virginia Annual Conference has some rules that are more restrictive than other conferences: I can earn only a third of my credits from classes that are purely online. Fortunately, Asbury has ways to deal with that too: they have classes known as “intensives,” in which the student does all the reading ahead of time, then comes on campus for one solid week, Monday through Friday, 8 to 5 each day, for all the lectures and classwork and projects and etc., and then the class is over. There are also “hybrid” classes, which are a blend of online work with two to three days of on-campus lecture work. Fortunately, Virginia considers both of those models to count as “on-campus” learning–so for the cost of two to three weeks of vacation a year, I can still make it work.

I did my first intensive, MS 501 Missional Formation: The Church in a Global Era, in late June. We were, literally, the only class on campus that week, so I had the chance to walk around and explore. To call Wilmore a one-stoplight town is to disrespect the second one, but you get the idea of how small a town it is. However, I felt completely at home. The class was fairly small, only about a dozen of us, and initially I felt a little intimidated: there are Real Live Pastors taking the class, ones who are already in service! But I quickly learned I fit right in, and enjoyed getting to know all the other students.

There was even a special chapel service they put on for us Wednesday at noon. One of our classmates sang, and the sermon was on Genesis 12:3–the second or third time I’d heard that message (“…be a blessing to all the nations…”) lately. The closing song even featured the line, “He is calling you,” repeatedly. OK, yes, I get it. I’m supposed to be here.

My other class this term (TH 501 Basic Christian Doctrine) is an online one, and it’ll wrap up next Thursday (when the final paper is due). Then I have a couple of weeks off until the next term starts up, with OT 520 Intro to Old Testament, and CD 501 Vocation of Ministry–itself another opportunity to be attentive to my call, as I go through mentoring back in Virginia. They’re both hybrids, so I’ll be on campus the last week in October. With more students around this time!

It’s a long journey: 27 classes, 91 credits, and will take about six years at my current pace (two in the summer, two in the fall, one in the spring). And I’m sure there will be struggles. But it’s off to a pretty decent start.

I got an A in MS 501…

20180628_181939.jpg

Here I Am, Lord. Send Me.

Here I am, Lord / Is it I, Lord? / I have heard you calling in the night / I will go, Lord / Where you lead me / I will hold your people in my heart.

Starting almost a year ago, I’ve been on a path of discernment. I’ve been trying to figure out what God is calling me to in the next chapter of my life, with an eye towards whether I am being called into a path towards ordination in the United Methodist Church. In this blog I’ve talked about discernment, about finding the breadcrumbs here and there and everywhere along the trail, about the times the Holy Spirit pokes me to get my attention, or gives me experiences of affirmation, and even the first steps along the path towards ordination.

This past weekend I took another. Publicly, I have declared myself to be a candidate for ordination as an Elder in the UMC.

If after about 15 months of signals I’m still feeling led in this direction, I think it’s time to make a decision and say, Yep, that’s probably right. In fact, I’ve spent prayer time over the past couple of months reflecting on all the green lights I’ve been seeing, and asking Jesus instead for disconfirming evidence: if this isn’t right, show me now! (And then crickets chirped, and tumbleweeds drifted through…nothing happened.)

In the spring, I was accepted into Asbury Theological Seminary–another piece of doors being opened for me, in fact. Asbury requires four reference letters; one of my four letter-writers told me he was slammed at work and couldn’t get to it for a couple of weeks. But then days later, I got the email saying I had been accepted. I assumed he had found the time and sent it in–but no, come to find out, he hadn’t…Asbury accepted me with only three letters, and apparently, a big enough nudge from the Spirit. I am humbled by that.

My brother Glenn had sage advice, as always: “Go take a class. You’ll know soon enough if you’re supposed to be doing this.” In May I started my first two seminary classes, one online, and one “intensive” in-person class that met at the end of June. I met some wonderful people and had a great experience, including more affirmation…I texted Glenn, “I hate it when you’re right.”

In early July I attended a discernment weekend sponsored by the Virginia Conference. At one point in the weekend we reflected on Matthew 4. We did a lectio divina exercise, in which we read the scripture several times, pausing to listen for what word or phrase God draws to us, or what else we hear. On reading the story of Jesus calling his disciples to go and become fishers of men, what I heard was, “Let’s go fishing.”

On Saturday, I transmitted my Statement of Call to our congregation’s Staff-Parish Relations Committee, which is the first time all this has been public within the church. On Sunday, as the 11am service was wrapping up, Pastor Don called me up front and announced that I had put my name forward…so yeah, it’s a thing now.

I’ve begun to be more public in telling people about this, and almost unanimously, the reaction has been some form of, “Yeah? That doesn’t surprise me. What took you so long?” Why am I always the last to figure things out??

To be perfectly honest I’m a little…nervous? Scared? Intimidated by the prospect of all that’s ahead of me? And I was certainly a little bit of that standing with Don Sunday morning. Oddly enough, the people called “Methodists” have a very methodical process that this will entail. This is a long road ahead: on my current pace, it’ll be about six years to get my M.Div. But I’m also taking steps to make myself available if called sooner: I’ve completed my first interview with the local Alexandria District Committee on Ministry, and they passed me on to the next stage, mentoring with another pastor. In seeking our church’s SPRC recommendation, I put myself in a position to be approved at the charge conference next month, and in line to become a certified candidate this winter…and eligible for assignment as a part-time student pastor thereafter. Yes, while working full-time. Yes, while taking five graduate courses a year.

Pray for me. But all the more, pray for Mary: she’s entering into this wonderfully supportively, but also (like me) with very, very little idea of what we’re getting into. This really is a step in faith for us both. 

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good, and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.  (Jeremiah 29:11)