The Ordination Service

In 2009 I started this blog, not knowing where I was headed, but realizing I had started something new. Those first posts are tentative, a feeling in the dark, knowing God had a plan, knew what I was supposed to do, and if I kept walking through open doors I might find my way. It has been amazing how doors opened, and opened, and opened, until, maybe just as one more open door, I was ordained as a Minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church this past Friday night.

It was wonderful, a mountaintop really, with folks coming from far away and from nearby to share and participate in the event. I felt truly blessed and supported, loved even. The event was very ecumenical, with my Lutheran friends very well represented among the CRC majority. I will cherish the stole that was presented even though I’m told it will “pull hard”.

There is much processing still to be done, and I may write more on this event at a later date.

I don’t have any pictures to post yet, but I do have video of the whole event which you can view here:




The Almost Final Step

On Wednesday of this week, I was examined by Classis Huron of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA). It’s the last step in the process toward ordination. I’ve been working on, and finished a Master of Divinity. I’ve been examined by the faculty of Calvin Seminary, the Candidacy Committee of the CRCNA, and received a call (job offer) from a church. The examination is the last hurdle.

Of all of the exams, this one is the most onerous. Two examiners are assigned, one to delve into practical matters and one to cover theology. Both contacted me, in one way or another, before the event and gave a very broad idea of what they might ask. It was broad enough that virtually anything was on the table. There were about a hundred people in the audience and they were allowed to ask questions as well (there weren’t many of those).

After about two hours, the questions stopped and all but the delegates were asked to leave the room. It seemed to take a long time, but we were called back in and, while the chairman tried to add some drama, implying failure, I was passed.

I felt a lot better as it was announced this was behind me. I don’t suffer a lot from nervousness, but this experience, with its broad scope, and answers, which are, by their very nature, sometimes controversial, did push me as far as I have been pushed in recent years.

The title of this post is “The Almost Final Step”. There is one more, the Ordination Service. It will be a celebration, not a trial, but it is the final step in this journey. That service will be held February 28th at 7:30.

During the questions, I was asked to reflect on God’s work in this whole process. All along the way, God has been pushing, prodding, and opening doors. The presence is much clearer in retrospect than it is in the moment, but, I know that as this journey continues to unfold, God will continue to be there, out front, marking the way.

The Journey Continues

We picked up our July issue of the Banner, the official publication of the Christian Reformed Church, a couple of weeks ago. Every year, one of the highlights of this issue are the pages devoted to the newly minted candidates for ministry. I can remember pouring over those pictures and names, playing a sort of solitaire version of Dutch Bingo trying to build connections, trying to figure out who these folks are, where they come from, how they come to appear on these pages.

ScanWell, now folks are doing this with my picture. Back in June, at the annual Synod of the CRCNA, I was declared a candidate for the ministry, along with forty nine other fresh graduates. Some of them attended the meeting. We were in Ireland at the time and watched the ceremony on video. Since I was a long distance EPMC candidate (which means I never actually attended Calvin Seminary) I really didn’t know many of the other candidates. I had interactions with some of them in online courses and the couple of times I was in Grand Rapids for course work, orientation, and other necessary tasks, but the deep camaraderie that comes from actual contact in a seminary situation is missing. I have more of this experience with my fellow Lutheran students.

Times have changed. Not so long ago the picture would have been accompanied with quite a bit of information: age, spouse’s name, number of children, home town, intern postings, making the Bingo game a little easier. Today, all you get is a picture, a name, a phone number, and email address. Those who speak languages other than English have those listed as well (I didn’t tell them Ik kan een klein beetje nederlands praten). There is very little information to link individuals to a place, or even a country. Our ethnic mix has changed as well with a lower proportion of Dutch sounding names, more colour in the faces, and a lot more women (there were none when I was a younger man studying faces and names). There are more candidates as well. I don’t know if fifty, new, potential ministers is a record, but it must be close.

The picture in the Banner seems like a mile stone, a  mark along the road. Something has been accomplished and here is visible proof for all to see. Others received their copies of the magazine before we did, phone calls and emails of congratulation arrived days before we received ours. These contacts have been a great source of affirmation and often come with a sense that I must have a clear vision of next steps, direction for ministry, vision for the future.

The picture is something tangible, but it has not added a whole lot of clarity to the journey. Conversation, listening, and exploration continue, some of which was not possible, or probable, before the picture. It represents a milestone, but it is also the other side of a door I have been allowed, in fact led, to walk through.

Next Step to Candidacy

There are lots of little (and big) steps in the candidacy process, the road to ordination, in the Christian Reformed Church (CRCNA). One of them is to write a short piece describing the journey, so far, or a statement of faith. I decided the journey piece was more appealing. This piece is published in a booklet, along with those of the other fifty plus candidates, with a picture, some biographical information, and a short statement giving your reason for wanting to be ordained in the CRCNA. The whole thing acts as a catalogue of sorts for churches interested in calling a candidate, so you are supposed to sell yourself a bit.

Here’s what I wrote. It’s not submitted yet, so if you have suggestions to cover any bits I’ve missed, but seem necessary, I’d love to hear them. Grammar and spelling suggestions are great as well. 🙂

Just yesterday, having arrived early to lead worship in a nearby Christian Reformed Church, I had a conversation with a woman I had come to know through my role as a youth leader in our church and classis. We had not seen each other for a number of years. As we talked about the happenings in my life, the returning to school, the letting go of full time work, the preparation for ministry,my doubts and fears, she said, “ You’ve been on this road for a long time; I’ve seen you on it.” She is a perceptive woman. I have been on a this road for a long time and wonder, sometimes, why God didn’t push me a little harder, earlier, maybe draw a clearer picture for me of the ultimate destination of this journey.

The journey has been a long one, full of experiences, full of various types of ministry. I can describe myself as husband, father, and grandfather; as farmer, agricultural consultant, and business manager; as elder, committee member, youth leader; as ecumenical community leader, community youth worker, and soup kitchen volunteer; as perpetual student, voracious reader, vocal musician; as leader, orator, and teacher. Through each career, each gift, each experience, God has continually equipped me for further ministry, further work in the kingdom. The journey led to seminary and to candidacy, preparing me, and calling me, to go further down the road ahead.

I believe completely in the fact that God has a plan for my life, my work in God’s kingdom here on earth, and for the church in the world.  I have, from time to time, felt a gentle, or not so gentle, nudge to move me out of the comfortable places and back on to the road. The move to enroll in seminary and now to approach candidacy, is not the beginning of a new journey, but, the continuation of an old one, admittedly with new skills learned and old gifts strengthened, but it is the same journey of gratitude that began many years ago when a youth elder suggested I lead the annual youth service in our rural Ontario church. The message of hope I brought then, hope in the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of God’s son Jesus Christ, justification, offered to us by grace, accepted through the gift of faith, by the power of the Holy Spirit, is still the same today.

I trust that God, through the Holy Spirit, will continue to push and prod, to point the way. Through God’s grace, I am on a journey whose destination is totally unclear. I’m thankful for that; thankful that it is not up to me to set the ultimate objective, to visualize the future, to save souls. Those things are in God’s hands and all I can do is listen, and follow.

A New, and Final, Semester Begins

Since every day a little of our life is taken from us-since we are dying every day-the final hour when we cease to exist does not bring death; it merely completes the death process. Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be (pg 14)

How’s that for a cheery beginning to a new semester? Profound words from a great theologian used in last night’s class. Words which could be a bit of a theme for this coming semester.

I am coming to the end of my MDiv program. twelve weeks from now, I will no longer be able to identify myself as a full time student, I’ll be a graduate. Its happened little by little  since the first class in September of 2009 and suddenly the end is in sight. I’m not sure how I feel about the end. My identity is going to change again. Figuring out next steps becomes more pressing with each passing week.

I’ve dropped back to part time status at the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary since I’m only taking two courses there. I had intended to take two more, but the schedule just wouldn’t fit very well. I will still have two more courses than I actually need for the degree by the end of the semester. The courses I’m taking will likely colour my state of mind for a while as well. Congregational Preaching begins with the funeral service. I’m also taking Grief Crisis and Pastoral care. Both courses cover necessary skills, but neither are very upbeat, exciting, topics.

An online course on Reformed creeds and confessions, theoretically, leaves me in the full time student category. The workload will be different than past semesters though. At this point, I don’t have the early semester “how can I do all this” angst.

I am opening another door by applying to complete an MA in Theological Studies. The MDiv gives me advanced standing (meaning less course work) in the program and I have already got a couple of extra courses to bring to the program. My level of effort toward this degree will really depend on what life’s journey brings in the fall. By getting into the program I will have some choices. There will be at least couple of semesters of work, but, it doesn’t feel like we’ll put whatever doors the MDiv opens on hold to finish the second degree.

I really do like being a student…..

Logos Training

As many of you know, I attend a seminary not affiliated with the denomination in which I grew up and continue to be part of. My denomination has a program for those of us who want to enter the ministry from a seminary other than Calvin Seminary. This program has been modified over the years and in 2010 a long distance option was proposed. I applied and became one of the first to head into a 24 month journey that could end in candidacy in the Christian Reformed Church and potentially ordination.crxx_ChristRefChurch_graphic_black

The program has a lot of hoops to jump through, most of which the graduates of Calvin Seminary have had to jump through as well. Some are unique to the “foreign” seminary experience.

I had two of those unique experiences this past week. I was in Grand Rapids, Michigan for the entire week (a bit of a culture and temperature shock after four days in Florida). On Monday I had an interview with a committee of seminary faculty members. They give the denomination a recommendation on each of the potential candidates, but cannot really do this well for long distance students because they never interact with us in person, in class. Everyone seemed to be pleased with the meeting we had, the questions were tough but fair. This hurdle is behind me, but it did cause a level of anxiety; I was really unsure about what I would need to know and articulate clearly.

logocmykhlgThe other piece was training on a computer software program called Logos. This is a Bible Study program which helps to work with all sorts of resources including the original languages (Greek and Hebrew).  A level of proficiency in both of these languages is required by the denomination. Rather than try to directly test for these abilities, the seminary offers training in this program, followed by a test, which must be passed. Many of the answers on the test would have come from prior studies in the languages and could not necessarily be found in the program resources. I found the training valuable but the test tough enough that I’m not sure the required 70% happened. I wrote for something over four hours. When I finished, about half of the group was still there. I was totally exhausted, got in the car,and drove straight home (400km)

Apart from the test, the training was very worthwhile. Logos is a very valuable resource. It’s not just one resource. My copy has over 750 books in it, all searchable, and linkable. It will search for words and meanings, compare Bible versions, highlight different parts of grammar, link to dictionaries and lexicons, the list goes on. There is a lot to learn and remember, but most of it is relatively intuitive. I wish that I had bought it earlier. I have been using it for the past four months, but the training this week has really opened it up.

The prof who taught the course made it what it was. His skill, knowledge, and outspoken opinions (usually good ones) gave us plenty to keep us awake for the three days of set-up and explanation.

So…two more milestone markers have passed on this journey, with still no firm destination in sight.

Another One Done

I’ve reached another milestone on this journey I am on. This morning, I submitted the last piece of work for my fall semester, a whole ten days early. The last class was yesterday and I completed the last bit of writing from my booth in the coffee shop this morning. Classes begin again on January 8th, more than a month away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I go back in 2013, I will begin the final leg of the MDiv I started in 2009, the last semester. I have accumulated enough credits to make a good start on an MA, so I might not be totally done with school yet, but I don’t really know how to feel about this looming destination. I know the end of the MDiv will just be another milestone, not unlike the end of this semester, but at some point I will be forced to figure out what indeed I am supposed to do with the rest of my life. I know that God has that figured out, and I am following the bread crumbs as best I can, but a big road sign would be helpful as long as it doesn’t say “Dead End”.

So, we have a month. It will be a busy one with a few days in Florida, a week of exams and training in Grand Rapids (CRC journey points) and to top it off, Christmas in Montreal.

Oh,  don’t misunderstand, the journey, while the destination is remains unclear, is still exciting, fulfilling, and invigorating.