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Wild and Lone, the Prophet’s Voice

February 23, 2009

By aiming to speak truth to power I am claiming a prophetic voice, but I do so humbly with great fear and trembling.  I am not arrogant enought to consider myself a prophet or hero in any grandiose sense of the term.

When I first published my post about the Board of Ordained Ministry as a stumbling block, I did not know what to expect.  Did I just throw my hopes of ordination to the wind?  Did I speak a truth that needed to be spoken?  Did I write a post no more or less consequential than one of my goofy Friday Five or Blue Mondays?  Maybe all of the above?

What I have discovered in the time since then is that my voice, while certainly wild and intentionally prophetic, is not lone.  The comments and pingbacks to the original post have been numerous, and while I don’t have the readership of Zeray John or other higher-profile bloggers, I have created a stir.  And that stir has been overwhelmingly positive.

My closest friends in my ordination class are lending support to me both privately and publicly.  Some are sending letters of support to our Bishop. My buddy Robb posted a response on his own site.

One friend writes:

I think it was gracious of you to send your blog to the Bishop.  No one wants to be blind-sided.  I realize that you wrote it out of frustration and anger, but when you consider the way you have been treated, it’s really very civilized in tone…. Know you are loved and cared for and that God is making a way before you.
That’s support.
An anonymous member of the Board responded to my post this way:
I was so sorry to hear of the stumbling block the BOM has placed in front of you…. I share your frustration.  I am sorry for my own contribution to these institutional sins, whether by commission or omission.  I am holding you in my prayers.
A guy I hardly know but whose brother is a friend linked to my post on his Twitter feed.  He called my post “a well-written argument with just the right balance of logic and passion.”
One of the first things I did after I posted was to send a link to Bishop Will Willimon, who is not my Bishop but who has worked hard to reform the ordination process in his Conference.  I won’t reprint his words here because I wish not to betray his confidence, but the message was supportive to an extent I would never have expected.
And that’s only scratching the surface.  Other private messages have come my way from folks who would love to support me publicly but who have faced difficulties with their own boards and (rightly) fear retaliation.
Others have come forward to share their own stories.  It seems that starting the discussion has given others license to speak about their own difficult experiences.
I have not heard from Bishop Palmer, the Bishop of Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference.  I did forward a link to his office, and the post was read by an administrative assistant who implied that words of support accompanied his forward to the Bishop’s inbox.
And whoever got their hands on my lost Psych Eval is well aware that I am wont to worry.  Despite the overwhelmingly positive support I have gotten here in cyberspace, I am physically keyed up with tremendous worry and anxiety.  I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.  In the end, my prayer is to have been part of a conversation that helps to reform the process.  Ordination should be a journey, not a long and drawn-out season of Survivor.  I pray that our boards will consider the individual gifts, graces and needs of candidates in providing  a tangible way for us to respond to God’s call upon our lives.  I pray that the Board’s focus will be upon providing effective pastoral leadership for the churches in the conference.  My hope is that significant emphasis will be taken off of the hoops and checklists, and placed upon growing dynamic leaders for Jesus Christ and the churches he loves.
I hope I haven’t just chosen a hill to die upon.
4 Comments leave one →
  1. southofmarshall permalink
    February 23, 2009 7:36 pm

    Will, I’ve spent the last hour reading your original post and some of the blogwaves it’s made. We’re with you and are deeply sorry for the trouble you’ve had. Our conference needs you.
    I’ve puzzled over CPE and wonder whether it is a vestige of the waning days of Christendom, which–while important and personally enriching–should no longer be an absolute priority for pastors as we make disciples in a changed, post-Christendom context. I’ve had friends and colleagues benefit immensely from CPE training, and we’re still searching for a program to enroll in before our probationary days are up. But I question whether it is absolutely crucial that 21st century pastors have CPE training before they receive the laying on of hands.
    I was also wondering: isn’t it true that since the heyday of CPE within mainline clergy training, people have been leaving our churches in droves?
    Again, I see the many benefits of CPE, but is it what we absolutely need right now?
    Which makes me even more frustrated that someone as gifted as you, with your entire career experience (!!), should have this be a skandalon.
    Keep hope, brother.
    Justin Snider

    • February 23, 2009 7:44 pm

      Thanks for your kind and thoughtful response, Justin.

      “isn’t it true that since the heyday of CPE within mainline clergy training, people have been leaving our churches in droves?”

      By that logic we could also make the argument that the Board of Ordained Ministry is comprised of pastors making decisions about the church’s future, when the massive decline happened on their watch. But we won’t go there – that would be snarky.

  2. February 24, 2009 8:47 am

    I remember the enormous sense of relief that I felt when I sent my letter to DCOM testifying as to what happened at my church. The anti-depressants that I had been taking for six months had helped me not at all. But when I had sent that letter, I never needed to take them again. I slept like a baby that night.

    I hope that you’re experiencing the same healing that comes with proclaiming the truth. It is a precious thing.

  3. February 24, 2009 9:55 am

    My CPE supervisor was the only person I ever worked with who struck me as having the potential to be a workplace shooter. She had a real anger problem, and didn’t hide it. After one day in which she felt particularly stressed by my group, she went to the pistol range and shot at targets, pretending that our faces were on the targets. I know because that’s what she told us the next day.

    But actually working with the patients was very valuable. And I suppose that my CPE supervisor was handy in her own way because I got a bit more nimble at avoiding crazy co-workers. That’s always a good skill. She flunked two of the other four people in my group for, well, pretty much opposing her too much. I prefered to avoid conflict. “Bend like the branches of the willow, Grasshopper” and all of that. So I passed.

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