Wherein the Troublemaker is Recommended for Ordination
I suppose I’ve been pegged as a troublemaker. A boat-rocker. Against the advice of wiser minds and leveler heads I tend to speak my mind. WYSIWYG. I will be accused of acting without thinking far more often than thinking without acting.
I suppose I could rationalize and glamorize that by naming it “claiming my prophetic voice,” or some such. Others may use Tolkien’s classic line, “his mouth works faster than his brain.” As usual, the truth is probably a little bit of both and mostly somewhere in between. I’m not afraid to speak my mind, and sometimes I fail to consider the consequences of doing so. Other times I carefully consider the consequences and speak my mind anyway; damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
Knowing this about myself created a great deal of anxiety for me this week. Monday afternoon was my interview with a team from the Board of Ordained Ministry to determine whether I am stole-worthy. I came face to face with a reality that I myself created: I was seeking the approval of a board that I have criticized publicly. I was terrified. (Okay, that was slightly hyperbolic. I was really, really nervous. I expected my earlier blog posts to blow up in my face. I expected a call to repentance. I didn’t fear for my life – I was simply justifiably concerned that I might be continued rather than approved, solely on the basis of my public critique). Instead the interview went very, very well. I wasn’t asked anything that threw me too far off balance. My written work received far more compliment than critique*. The subject of my public grousing about CPE never even came up. When all was said and done I was told that I am being recommended to the board for ordination as an Elder in Full Connection in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church.
And as I reflect on that development, I have come to one interesting conclusion: I want to join the Board of Ordained Ministry.
I know, I know. Some of you might be thinking that I want to join the board because I have an axe to grind. Truth is I’m past that. I don’t resent having to do CPE. Sure it was expensive in terms of time and treasure. Sure it was more of a refresher course than the new educational experience it is designed to be. I felt like a big league hitter taking batting practice. But I don’t resent it. I’m not angry about it. I do still rationally and reasonably believe that I could have used a different educational experience in its place and that I would be a better pastor by formally addressing other growing edges. I still believe that the board might do better to address the gifts, graces, growing edges and deficits of individual candidates than to run us through a standardized mill. But that’s not why I want to be on the board. I don’t believe grinding that axe would make anything sharper.
No, I want to be part of the board for one reason alone: I want to work in the Residence in Ministry program. I was very critical of the Residence in Ministry program while I was in it. I dreaded every session. I often left the meetings processing anger and frustration during my drive home. It felt like we were given assignments that were designed just to give us something to do rather than something to do that addresses our written and oral work in the ordination process.
But I don’t want to work for Residence in Ministry because I have an axe to grind, either. To paraphrase Bishop Willimon, “either your conference is serious about having young clergy or it isn’t.” And I’m serious about young clergy. As I entered the process I could have been considered young clergy but as I complete it calling me young (at 41) is a stretch. (In our conference 41 is quite young in relative terms, but seriously – if your definition of “young clergy” is early 40s there’s a problem somewhere). I don’t want to stand on the sidelines whining and moaning about how bad the process is or what I think needs to be done. I want to work within the program specifically because I stand right at the borderline between young and experienced clergy. I’m old enough to understand and carefully consider the concerns of the older generations of the church, but young enough to relate well with younger clergy and to help them in a discernment and preparation process.
Too many exercises we did in Residence in Ministry felt like a rehash of seminary or CPE processes. We debated about whether that was because the designers really miss seminary and CPE and want to relive the experience, or because they couldn’t think of anything else to do. I want to design exercises for Residence in Ministry because I am excited to see a younger generation of leaders in the United Methodist Church and I want to see them succeed. I want young clergy to come out of the RIM process feeling confident and well-prepared for turning in their written work and facing their interviews. I want to see young clergy address their personal growing edges, nurturing their strongest gifts, and energized to engage in effective, exciting ministry.
There are lots of things that seminary and “new pastors’ orientation” don’t teach you about being an effective United Methodist pastor, and RIM should be there to fill in that gap. I am convinced that some good candidates are continued on the basis that they did not fully understand the assignments given them or didn’t understand what is expected of their written work. RIM should make the assignments and expectations clear. I want to be a part of the RIM process because I genuinely believe I can help.
I will gladly remain a troublemaker and a boat-rocker for the sake of the Reign of God and for the benefit of the United Methodist Church.
*Our guidelines for written work stated that “All materials submitted must meet graduate level standards of correct spelling, punctuation, grammar, and clarity of thought.” However my work was critiqued as being “too academic,” even though I intentionally weaved personal narrative and academic insights throughout. My answer to that critique was, “I was told over and over that this is an academic assignment, so I won’t apologize for turning in academic work.”