Sunday, October 17, 2004

Me me me

I realize this is hardly worthy of serious reflection. But recent pics of me at work.

I can't say much for the quality of the pics--but they were only taken with a PDA camera.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Frustration Theology

...also known as, a word or two on the nature of ministerial formation--and what is wrong with it.

Let's take two seminarians--we'll call them Jack and Jill. Jack wants to be a parish minister and work in a congregational setting. Jill wants to be a chaplain and work in a hospice setting. For now, their denominations don't matter. They're both in the Master of Divinity program, which is roughly a 90-credit hour/three year fulltime program.

Jack, as a future pastor, will do his fieldwork in a church setting. He might, depending on his denomination or local district, do one unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), which comes out to a 12-week unpaid full-time program. (Unpaid, but not free--he has to pay for it.) He'll ultimately be ordained and upheld as a leader of the Church.

Jill, as a future chaplain, will do her fieldwork hopefully in an agency setting, but may end up in a church setting. She'll have to do one unit CPE--but then will have to do another year full-time CPE, for which she'll receive a meagre stipend and three more CPE units. She may or may not be ordained, and it won't be on the same standard as Jack, because she'll be a "community minister" (not always an ordained position) or a "deacon" (which is promoted as apart from, not below, a priest--but politically still a lesser beast.)

So what this means is--those who work in community settings will need additional training. The basic ministerial degree won't work for them. They could get a theological degree that doesn't emphasize homiletics, church administration, etc., and lets them focus on pastoral care and counseling (or related tasks)--but it won't be "the M.Div." And they won't get the same status, recognition, or credentials as their congregational peers.

Just how fair is that?

(Just as a note, the M.Div program puts out people who are already overburdened and often in enormous amounts of debt into positions of incredible stress and low pay.)

And most denominations just can't quite figure out what to do with community ministers. Some have very positive talk of "uplifting" community ministers--such as the Unitarian Universalist Association--but it then forces them into the same training required of parish ministers, which won't necessarily let them do what they need to do. If you eschew the MDiv for training that is more relevant to your community ministry, you probably aren't "ordainable" because you don't have the M.Div. This, in my opinion, is simply bogus.

Many ministry positions will hire someone with a graduate theological degree (e.g., the Master of Theological Studies, MTS, which in some schools is a 60 hour degree), provided they have sufficient units of CPE. Even if they have the right training and skills, however, they may be afforded less respect than is given to the "The Revs" who have M.Divs.

When it comes right down to it, I can have a Master's in Counseling and a MTS, be called to a form of vocation that takes me outside the church walls but is no less ministerial, and I will most likely not be ordainable by mainline denominations because of degree credentials.

Perhaps I'm just stressed. Perhaps I'm simply feeling the pains of vocational discernment. Or maybe I'm right in my assessment that the current state of ministerial formation is pedagogically weak, if not bankrupt, and is too often a one-size-fits-all degree (in theory) for what is not a one-size-fits-all path. I am in a status of possibly having to do more work, but being afforded less respect (which is not a matter of ego as much as hire-ability!) as other people with the magic letters "M D I V".

Its amazing how the process can beat the spirit out of anyone with a calling. Surviving this process doesn't mean you're more called than other people, or more suited to do the work--it means you are more adept at navigating institutions. (And this is clearly my dilemma, as I ponder transferring from a MDiv to an MTS.)

I thought this was about spiritual gifts. There's a good reason some groups (namely, the Quakers) look askance at the perils of over professionalization of ministry.