In the Presbyterian Church, we call the process of ordination being “Under Care.” It is supposed to be a time of discernment, when we listen for God and our community to find out if we are called into pastoral ministry.
As an admittedly naïve twenty-three-year-old in the process, I took this to be the truth. I felt that I needed to be as honest as possible, and that my community would support me. This worked for me, most of the time, until I got to one sticky point in the process… and then, a trusted professor and friend took me aside, and said, “This is not a time for total and complete honesty. You need to start treating every step in this process as a job interview, not a discernment group.”
I am so thankful for the advice. I quickly changed my attitude, and gathered support from other people as I struggled with the very crucial decision of whether I was called into the ministry. It reminded me of the many complications of our ordination system. It can be a very difficult and most un-caring process.
While we (my husband and I) were “under care,” our promised book money was taken away from us. We were told that a church governing body was using us as a “political football,” and we ended up being thousands of dollars in debt.
While we were “under care,” we were homeless for three months. We had a job and a manse waiting for us. But there was some mix-up in the paperwork… and paperwork came before people. So we lived out of a tent.
I bring this up, not because I’m carrying resentments ten years later. Although I did feel sucker-punched at the time, years later I can identify that along with these frustrations also came wonderful moments of people who supported me in my journey.
But I bring it up because I hear too many horror stories, of church budgets being slashed, and along with the budgets, the seminary scholarships get gouged. And seminary students end up suddenly not knowing how they are going to pay for groceries for their small children.
A Psychologist gives out a strange result for a candidate’s exam, and then she find out that the good “Doctor” has hit on three female seminarians in her class.
And, don’t get me started on the ordination exams….
I guess what I’m trying to impress is the message that the professor gave to me. The church, in their most idealistic and hopeful moments, wants this to be a process that is full of love and concern and care. They want to walk alongside their candidates and support them.
But they don’t always do that. And in some ways they can’t. It’s like the ideal of your pastor being your counselor, or your Executive Presbyter being your pastor. There are so many complications in these roles….
So, I implore you who are “under care,” try to gather a real caring community. One in which you can really share your doubt and frustrations. One who knows your family, in which you can count on, who will not look at you as a line item in the budget that can easily be slashed. One that realized the importance of listening to your struggles, doubts, and fears.
You deserve that, as a candidate, and you will need it as a pastor.