Archive - Jul 7, 2018

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A Way of Love for Aspiring Non-stipendiary Priests. #GC79 A007 and #MeToo

I pause briefly from my studies in the history of the 1789 American Book of Common Prayer to read the latest dispatches from the Episcopal General Convention. How does The Way of Love that Presiding Bishop Curry spoke about, the Liturgy of Listening in response to #MeToo, and the work of the Committee on Ministry relate to me?

I became an Episcopalian over forty years ago back when I was in college but my relationship with the denomination has been a bit rocky over the past few years.

I had started college believing I was called to ministry and planned to major in religion, go to seminar, and become a preacher. I changed majors to philosophy, dropped out, and ended up working with computers. Yet that sense of calling never left no matter how hard I tried to ignore it or make up excuses about how it just wasn’t feasible for me.

A few years ago during a guided meditation at a conference on poetry and worship at Yale Divinity School I had a strong sense of God telling me that my whole life has been about showing God love and that I really needed to answer God’s call. So I started the process, only to be rejected by the Commission on Ministry. I was never told why and not given any support in dealing with this spiritual crisis.

It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a college dropout in their fifties who needs to support a family to become a priest.

A few spiritual guides told me that I would not be happy until I went to seminary and taking their advice I searched around for a program that might work for me. I had taken an online continuing education course with Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) which I got a lot out of so I looked to see if they might be a fit for me. I decided to apply for their Online Certificate of Theological Studies program thinking it would be a good opportunity to see online seminary life was a fit for me.

After completing my first two semesters, I headed out to CDSP for a two-week summer intensive. The research I’m taking a break from is for one of those courses. I wandered the campus, met my classmates and professors, and was overwhelmed with joy. CDSP was exactly where I was meant to be. I put in my paperwork to change programs and am now officially part of the Low Residency Masters of Divinity Program. I am still not sure where it will lead, but sometimes it is more important to know you are in the right place heading in the right direction than to know where you are going.

One of my fellow seminarians who is at General Convention share a link to a blog post about the ”Liturgy of Listening”. I made sure to watch the livestream of the liturgy. It was incredibly powerful bringing up complicated reactions.

The wounds I carry from ‘the process’ are very different from the wounds we heard about in the liturgy and I want to be careful not to diminish in any way the stories of those hurt by sexual harassment, abuse, or exploitation, yet as I heard the stories, I thought to myself, “In my own way, #MeToo”.

Another blog post, by the same author, And Then, Silence: Reflecting on the Liturgy of Listening gave me a way of thinking about this that was very helpful. My wounds from ‘the process’ and the wounds of many others that I’ve heard about over the past few years are not as bad as the wounds of sexual abuse. In this context, my wounds are “not too bad”. Yet as the author writes, “Not too bad is a tragedy. We must be better than this.” I hope and pray that the “Liturgy of Listening” will move the church forward in addressing issues of sexual harassment, abuse, and exploitation. I also hope that someday the church will address the issue of those who feel called the priesthood, especially to non-stipendiary or bi-vocational priesthood and don’t see a way forward.

One way the church can address this is to seriously consider Resolution A007 Establish Committee to Study Relationship of Episcopal Seminaries with General Convention, One Another and the Wider Church. Objections to this resolution can be found in Deans Oppose Seminary Investigation

The Very Rev. Kurt Dunkle, dean and president of General Theological Seminary, said a top-down approach would not lead to good results. But he said the plan might have some promise if properly modified.

From my own experiences I can see problems with a top-down approach. Yet starting with a “Liturgy of Listening” to small parishes seeking non-stipendiary or bi-vocational priests and to people that feel called to such a ministry might be part of the modification that is needed.

The church does need to think more seriously and more creatively about how priests are called and formed in twenty-first century America, and Resolution A007 sounds like a very important starting point on our journey together on The Way of Love.