A Disjointed Time

Its now more than a month since we loaded our bike in Thessalon and came home to walk mom’s last days with her. If we had finished our ride we would have returned to Ontario last Tuesday, but those plans were just not to be.

The unplanned month at home has left us feeling a little disjointed, a little lost. We are people who work closely with our calendar and are likely most comfortable with a rather full one. For the past month, the calendar has been empty. There have been lots of things to do, a funeral to plan, visitors to entertain, invitations for meals and fires, a dog to baby sit, coffee to drink. J has done a couple of days in her pottery. I’ve built a new work bench for her and installed a kitchen sink for washing up her clay spattered tools. I’ve picked up a bit of consulting work, visited some farms, balanced some rations. A quite a number of books have been read and some naps taken.  But until this past weekend the calendar was pretty much empty.

Its a weird place to be, to get up in the morning with nothing scheduled, the day ahead with no firm plan, no commitments, no deadlines. Almost like we are still on some sort of pilgrimage, in a liminal place, neither here nor there, an in between time.

11907367_10153537011289464_4163995848782596250_nThis past weekend I officiated at a wedding on Saturday and preached at a church looking for an interim on Sunday. It was good to preach again, good to feel like there was some purpose in life, something to rush about for.

I don’t think I’m ready to retire yet.

The Journey to Ordination: An Update

It’s been a little while since I shared anything here about the ongoing trip toward ordination. This is mostly because there has been little to tell.

DSCN1831Back in September, I was called as the bi-vocational interim pastor of the church where I have been a member for most of my life. This call was the trigger to start the final steps of the process. You see, to be ordained legitimately you need to have both an internal call (you recognizing yourself that God is telling you this is the direction your life is meant to go) and and an external call ( a group of people, a church, telling you that this is a suitable direction, God’s direction, for your life). The external call and the internal call affirm each other. Ordination requires both.

With the external call realized, the bureaucracy moves into gear. Examiners are assigned to make sure, even though both calls are recognized, the candidate has the necessary skills, and gifts, to actually function in the role of “minister of the word”. The examinations cover sermon writing, delivery, and worship leadership, as well as theology and practical ministry.

Back in December, I was assigned 1 Samuel 3 as my examination sermon. Two weeks ago, I led a service and preached the resulting sermon in my own church with two pastors present. (you can view the sermon here)  By the next evening, I had their report, three single spaced pages critiquing not only the sermon but the entire service, as well as two other sermons which I had submitted earlier. It was a valuable exercise which, while painful in places, did conclude with the words “we heartily recommend”. This sort of input is actually quite unusual in the every day world of preaching because ministers so rarely hear each other, and when they do are hesitant to comment on what they have heard.

The next stop in the process is almost the last one. On February 12th, fully five months after being called, I will be examined, orally, (no they are not going to look in my mouth) at the regular meeting of the classis (a body consisting of ministers and elders from 22 churches) There is 40 minutes allotted for this on the agenda, but, I suspect the questions may go on longer. Two ministers have been assigned to lead off the questioning, but, at some point, the floor will be opened and anyone is able to ask virtually anything. I can’t say I’m really looking forward to this experience.

With the examinations passed, if I am successful, there will be a time of celebration, an ordination service, likely a couple of weeks after the oral examination. The rules say you can’t set the date or start planning this event until after the successful completion of the exams, so I can’t tell you a date. Hopefully, I can in a couple of weeks.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the first post on this blog. I wonder if the title of this blog will need to change once this piece of the journey is complete.

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.

Mission MDiv Complete

On July 30 2009 I wrote:

An new era is starting in my life, so I thought I would start a blog

I’ve written a lot of words since then, a total of three hundred posts, most of them about the journey toward something, some of them struggling with what to do when that something was reached, and some about the things that have happened, or I’ve thought about over those years.

Today, I have reached the beginning of another new era. About half an hour ago, I finished writing the last exam required to complete the Master of Divinity degree. The goal which seemed always to be somewhere up ahead is now right here. I’ve got my arms wrapped around it and with some fear and trepidation, I’m looking at all the roads leading away from it. Some of them are of my own making. I did things to pave a path to this place for some of them, and now I need to try to figure out which one to actually put my feet to.

imagesI recognize the thing I’ve got my arms wrapped around, right now, is little more than a mile marker. We saw lots of those in Spain when we walked the Camino. These markers provide a sense of accomplishment, but are not the final destination. I’ve had my eye on this particular marker for so long it seems like it is part of me, part of my identity, a place where I might build, and stay a while, now that I’ve arrived, but, that would be an aborted trip rather than a completed journey.

What I need to do instead is try to see the next marker. There are a number of roads I need to look down and all of them seem to have hills, and trees, which are blocking my vision. I may need to stand on someone’s shoulders for a clearer view, or just start down one of them, to see what is over the next hill.

To be sure, I’ll be consulting with my travelling companion as a road is chosen. We’ve traveled together a good long way already, and I have come to rely on her keen senses to keep us out of trouble. I have no intention of leaving her standing beside the road,  and going on alone.  While I’ve been focused on the marker we’re standing beside now, she’s been keeping a good eye on the road, and everything around the road. She will figure large in the decisions we make as we choose one of these roads to walk.

When I first set up this blog, I put Ephesians 2:10 at the top of it. Some of you know the words of this verse, but for those who don’t, here it is:

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

images (1)I may think I’ve done some things to get some of the roads we’re facing right now to come to this place, but in reality, the road we are to walk is already set out in front of us, ready for us to start walking. It would just be nice if it had a great big yellow arrow on it.

I also need to think about the future of this blog. It has become a great friend along the way. Should I change the name of it to The Farmer went to Seminary?

The End of Something

Last night marked the end of something. Just around 10 pm I left the Waterloo Lutheran Seminary, having finished the last class of my MDiv at the school. I’m not totally done, since there are still a few weeks left on an online course from Calvin seminary, part of the requirement for the degree, but my time as a physical student has come to an end.

I’m conflicted about it. On the one hand, there should be a sense of jubilation, of a task accomplished, of anticipation, as the next steps on this journey present themselves. I do feel some of those, but they are overshadowed by the feelings held in the other hand, feelings of uncertainty, loss of identity (again), loss of relationships I have come to value highly, and loss of the regular affirmation coming from assignments and papers returned and appreciated. There’s lots of loss to temper the joy.

I don’t think I felt this way when I graduated with my BSc. over thirty years ago. Then, I was going to rush out and change the world, make my fortune, throw myself into all of the excitement, and challenge, the world has to offer. Relationships built there were quickly lost, as J and I ran down the road toward an endless future full of possibilities. Somewhere along the line we’ve realized our own immortality, found out we aren’t as “in charge” as we thought we were, and, while possibilities and excitement are still achievable, they are not as important as they once were.

The class last night was “Grief Crises & Pastoral Care” and I recognize I am grieving. The grief process ends with a realization of life going on, moving forward. I know this, but just for a couple of days, I need to hold this feeling of loss, recognizing the important things which are now gone, now over, and find ways to move to the next stops on the journey.

One of those stops, along with all of the other possibilities, is indeed more school. The seminary has accepted me in their MA Theological Studies program. This program will allow me to use the extra credits I’ve earned.

The candidacy process, by the way, is complete as well.

A Change of Pace (or maybe just activity)

I installed a new garage door opener today. For some, doing such a thing wouldn’t seem like such a feat, and a few years ago, it wouldn’t have been for me either. But, since going back to school I am more likely wear the letters off keyboards (the H, N and M are disappearing off of this nine month old Samsung) than I am to wear out any of my tools. They hang patiently in the shop, waiting.

About a month ago our garage door opener committed hari kari, grinding its inner gears to oblivion. We’re not sure if the opener’s demise had anything to do with the service guy turning up the power of the machine after it didn’t want to lift the door all the way on cold days, but none the less, it is done. J got busy signing up for sale notifications at Canadian Tire for a replacement and last night, notified, we went in a picked up a new one at 40% off.

It's just a garage door opener, but it was my Saturday project.

It’s just a garage door opener, but it was my Saturday project.

Of course, it all comes in pieces and while the instructions were pretty good, they didn’t always match the pieces in the box, I likely ended up putting it all together twice. Then there was the trip into the attic to figure out which wires were which since we were able to use the hook-ups from the old unit. The wiring was covered with six inches of blown cellulose insulation which made the job of  finding and identifying the wires more difficult.

Never the less, the new unit is up and working, and for an afternoon I was able to use my mind and body for something other than writing. There is a feeling of satisfaction in that.

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.