Thursday, June 15, 2006

To be or not to be... ordained

I'm going about my summer fairly relaxed, working in the seminary library and catching up on some fun reading (i.e. fiction and nothing involving church history or biblical interpretation or theological debate - at least for now). The other day when I went down to the break room to heat up my dinner, I checked my student mailbox and had some papers getting returned to me from the spring semester. I began reading through them and got to thinking, yet again, about what I'm doing here in seminary.

Here's the basic rundown. I was raised Catholic, active in my youth group, but never really gave it any more thought that that (not that there were many options for me in the Catholic church). When I went to college, I studied vocal music and contemplated becoming an opera singer (which my mom was pretty excited about, I have to say) but things were much harder than I expected in a variety of ways. The college was associated with the United Methodist Church, which I knew nothing about at the time, but I took notice of the fact that all of the people I really enjoyed and became friends with were the religion majors. Hmmm...

We always had great conversations and eventually I was talked into going on my first ever mission trip. We went to a little dusty town in Mexico and built two houses for some poor families, played with their kids and ate the best homemade Mexican food I've ever had. It was the best experience of my life. One night on that trip, I had an aha moment, or an epiphany, or I don't really know what to call it. I changed my major to religion and have been much happier with my life ever since then. I don't know that I have a real "call" experience like so many other people talk about, but now I'm seminary and I'm still trying to figure out what I'm doing. What am I going to be when I grow up?

I'm in a committed relationship with a woman, and that means problems if I want to be ordained. "No self-avowed practicing homosexual" can be ordained in the UMC. Granted, I wouldn't label myself that way (the Book of Discipline doesn't mention bisexuals anywhere), but I'm sure that when people look at me and my "lifestyle" that's what they see. Whatever. I've worked at jobs before where I chose to not say anything about my personal life. It wasn't lying, but it was also really hard to never talk about a big part of your life. I can't and won't do that again. It didn't really work anyway - coworkers naturally ask questions and you can't keep evading them forever. So if I'm not willing to lie about the woman I love and live with, what are my options? At this point, I've chosen to become a Deaconess - a lay person who is commssioned as a missionary would be - and am very happy with that decision, but the people I'm in school with don't understand why I made that choice. Honestly, sometimes I'm not sure I understand either.

Would I go for ordination if the church didn't have this rul in place? I tell myself I wouldn't, but there are days when I think I would. I know I don't want to be a pastor, but there are so many other options in the church. There are just a lot of jobs that require ordination (such as being a chaplain). Lay people are important to the church's ministry, but let's be honest - ordination gets you certain pull that laity don't. The Deaconess program gives me some of the authority and connection to the church without playing by all of the institutional rules and getting bogged down in conference politics (unless I choose to). Am I doing the right thing? If you were in my position would you fight the system from within, push it away all together or something else?

2 comments:

Big Unit said...

I'd get ordained on the internet.....seriously though, churches that get hung up on one thing, one particular verse, bug me. I mean heck, if the UMC wanted to follow the Bible doesn't it say that women shouldn't speak in church. Isn't the UMC just drawing an arbitary line in the sand. We'll allow this but not that. But like I posted on Trouble I bet we all do that.

For instance, we are going to a Church of Christ and love it BUT they don't have instruments because the NT doesn't say to worship with them. Well, they didn't have sound systems or a big building either. And it doesn't say NOT too worship with instruments. When they had a potluck dinner in the NT they started out with a fish and a loaf of bread not a bucket of KFC.

One last thing - old patterns or not - remember this about me - my three best friends stand pretty opposite me on just about everything and we can love each other just fine. Come to think of it; I guess that is because I don't hide a side with them, they see and know all my sides.

Eric said...

The easy-to-give advice is to fight the system from within, IF you at some point come to a firm conviction that you definitely want to be ordained. But I wonder, would I follow my advice?

When I think back on my life I remember times when I did fight the good fight, and I remember other times when I backed off and took the easier path. Lots of factors played in. And when I did fight for what I believed in, I had mixed results.

But I will say that I really feel good about my efforts where I put my heart into it, even when I was soundly defeated.

Some of the cases where I didn't challenge the system turned out OK, but some of them have left me wondering why I didn't go the distance.

My advice is to decide if it's really important to you first. If it is, I really think I would fight the system.

Eric