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.
Well, 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.