Rev. Christine has been having some fascinating posts about excellence in ministry, which have included questions about the process of becoming a minister.
I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about a jillion times, "Why didn't I answer the call back when I was 21, with no kids?"
Well, woulda shoulda coulda. One step in another direction, and I might not have my four lump-lumps. So, no regrets.
Still and all, my path to ministry is proving to be long and unique. Not uniqually unique. I think the majority of UU seminarians have unique paths.
Like most, I'd been getting the call for a long time. But I finally received a call I couldn't say No to. I signed up for seminary, with the expectation that I'd soon be getting pregnant for the fourth and last time. But I wanted to at least start, dip my toes in. Deciding where to go wasn't difficult -- I had a husband and three kids. I looked to see what accredited seminaries were in my town. Seminary 1: Catholic. Being both a) female and b) not Catholic, it was easy to cross that one off my list. Seminary 2: An extension program from a well-known seminary about 5 hours away. But in order to graduate, you have to do about a year's work in residence in that town. X.
Seminary 3: Local. Offers evening classes. Interdenominational, meaning "You can be any kind of Christian." Close enough. And I knew a UU minister who had graduated from there. We had a winner.
That first semester was hard, and not just because of morning sickness. I landed in what was called "Intro to Theology" but was taught as Systematic Theology. By a Southern Baptist. Who said, on my first day, "You cannot be a unitarian and be a Christian." (This wasn't directed at me, he didn't know my religion at that point.)
Rough, rough, rough. But a good introduction to seminary. I got an A, though as I grimly joked, I had to sell my soul to Jesus in order to do so.
And then, a break to have Little Warrior. When she was 6 months old, I made plans to go back to school.
And then life turned upside down, inside out, and we entered Cancer World.
And I didn't think I'd ever go back to seminary. Didn't think I'd ever be a minister. Didn't think I'd ever have anything to say of value, ever, ever again.
But she got better. And long after she got better, I got better. And I went back to seminary. Different professor, different subject. And I learned how to politely speak my mind at seminary.
During this time, I looked into doing the extension program through M-L. It looked fascinating and wonderful and all that. But I was making friends with fellow students at my local seminary. Practically all were black, living in the inner-city, making plans to minister to low-income communities. And I realized I was learning so much from my classmates. The things they talked about struck a chord in me. And I realized that this seminary offers me advantages that I wouldn't get at many other schools. I am the minority here. And it's like going to France to learn French -- I am learning about anti-racism/anti-oppression through an immersion experience. I am grateful to my fellow students who are my teachers.
(And I like to think that I am offering something unique, such as when I explained that in my religion, the question is not about the ethics of marrying a gay couple, but whether it is ethical to legally marry a straight couple, since our gay congregants do not have that same right. This is a conservative school. A few eyes bugged out that day.)
I did well. Then I signed up for another semester, and also signed up for an online class through Starr-King. Shooting rockets of new experience! Anyone who sees online classes as somehow a weaker sister ... well, they haven't had my experience. Because we wrote our conversations, sharing our thoughts on a private class-only bulletin board, we were able to be more thoughtful than when one is talking off the cuff. My class was Intro to Liberal Religious Education and it opened up a whole world for me, so much so that I wound up designing an RE program that my home church is using this year.
And then, a month away from the end of the semester, we took LW for routine scans. She was a year and 9 months off treatment. We were about to "graduate" to only having scans every 6 months. I even joked (oh, how I cringe now) to a person at my church that hey, if the cancer came back, I'd take it as a sign that God REALLY did NOT want me to be a minister.
They found a spot.
I juggled textbooks and suitcases, working on final papers while staying with LW at the hospital. I managed to turn everything in on time. I did well, school-wise. I'm proud of that.
We found that the spot was Wilms' Tumor and that we had to go back to Cancer World. But this time, it was going to be harder. And it would require hospitalizations every third week. For me, the mama, school wasn't an option. So I sat out the Fall semester.
She is done with treatment. And despite my joke, this time around, there were no real doubts about returning to school. I am signed up for Intro to Pastoral Care at my local seminary, starting in January. LW will have scans twice during the semester -- February and May. Life can change on a dime -- again. But I start yet again. Leap of faith.
I do not get the cloistered, intensive experience of going to seminary full-time at a UU seminary. And I certainly wouldn't recommend the "cancer track" of theological training. And since I won't be going to school full-time until LW is in kindergarten, I'm not eligible for financial aid, other than the Visa and Mastercard Student Loan program. (Really, really not recommended.)
But I think that at the end of this, I can confidently check off the "discernment" aspect. And AR/AO. And studying in a conservative, often fundamentalist, Christian community. And a whole lotta other, to be revealed as I take this journey, step by step ...