Thursday, December 11, 2008

A different seminary path

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 ...


ms. kitty said...

I would say you have been through (and are still in) a discernment process like very few others have undertaken. And you're still on the path---that is definitely a sign. You'll get there, I'm sure of it.

ogre said...

We're all unique (save yes, you lot at the back screaming "I'm not!").

I didn't hear a call. Did not. Maybe it was there. Certainly damned near everyone else seemed to think it was obvious. But I didn't.

And then I did. I thus could not have gone way back in my 20s when I wasn't married and didn't have kids. Or even when I was married and didn't have kids--we certainly dawdled on having kids long enough that I could have gone, gotten an M.Div., done an internship and been looking at final fellowship by the time we started having kids.

But... no call. Never crossed my mind.

What is it... oh yeah, "... when the Spirit says Do!" Well...

So utterly different situation, place, time of life. Not a seminary here that would touch me--or I it. A Catholic seminary would be liberal by comparison, hands down.

So it was Meadville Lombard's modified residency program, or moving to go to school (yeah, like that was in the cards; I'd already gotten a "You WHAT?" at mentioning that I was, um, thinking about ministry. Moving the whole family so I could go to school, with all the economic and job disruptions? Let's don't be silly), or not do this.

The universe--or whatever it was out there wielding that 2x4--had already persuaded me that "not" might entail some unwanted experiences.

There's no cloister this way (though I'm not sure how much there is anyway), at least not 11 months of the year. Advantages, and disadvantages both.

Not full time either. The finance it yourself approach is, um, interesting. Oh. Yeah.

But I'm glad of the way it's working, knowing that there are undoubtedly others that might have (including the ones that start a year or so from now... after a painful divorce, in some unwanted alternative universe). And I'm glad of the diversity of experiences and paths that we come wandering up. Each with their own unique pitfalls and traps....

The Eclectic Cleric said...

Your path to ministry is an inspiration to us all, and each challenge you meet and surmount simply prepares you for the new challenges you will encounter each day. Believe me, there are challenges to preparing for ministry in the "cloistered" environment of seminary at the tender age of 21 as well... especially in a "graying' denomination where the median age is still in the high fifties. Blessings and best wishes to you and your entire family.


Kelly KH said...

There is no doubt that you're on the right path, and Little Warrior has taught you so much you will need to know, that you wont' learn in a classroom. Like Ogre, I am headed to ML, because my family does NOT want to move, and I feel an aching need to be within a UU community, although I'll take classes locally as well.

So we all journey together!

Lizard Eater said...

Ogre and Kelly -- we may literally journey together. I plan on graduating from my local seminary, but hope to do some January intensives at ML.

Kelly KH said...

I plan to be there next January, so hopefully will see you then! (2010).

MoonMystic said...

I think I would take the more difficult path over the cloistered one any day. So much to learn. So much to share. Can you in your wild imaginings grasp the kind of ministry you will ascend to? As a UU/RS gal, I'm not one to quote bible verses. But doesn't Corinthians say, somewhere in the first chapters, that we go through difficulties that we might comfort those others who follow after us. You are going to have one awesome ministry and a great compassion to bring to others. It's all about the journey.