Graduation

Seminary is by far the hardest thing I’ve done so far in my life. I remember getting to the end of my first year, looking at other seminaries and even other master’s programs to seek other career options, trying not to freak out over the fact that I still had 3 whole years left. I thought graduation day would never come.33027122_10216841036200720_246261471858655232_n

Some people come to seminary for only 1-2 years. Many come for 3 years for the MDiv program. I chose Dual Degree, which combined the 2 year MAPT program with the 3 year MDiv program, for a total of 4 years at CTS. It was daunting to think that I would be here so much longer than many of my peers.

After the halfway mark of finishing two years, I finally made peace with four years. Around that time there was a shift in the social atmosphere at CTS. Exclusivity and power-cliques were being called out, and more people were stepping out of their exclusive groups to promote inclusivity. I started to finally feel at home at CTS. Graduation was still far off, but I didn’t mind so much.

At the end of my third year, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was sad to see so many of my peers graduate. Many of them had been with me through my entire seminary career up until this point. But I looked around and noticed that there were so many of us who had chosen the two-degree, four-year program. We were sticking it out together. And the majority of my friends were in the class that had entered seminary the year after me. I knew that I was going to be fine.

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I overloaded a few semesters so that my final year would be lower stress. After hours of Hebrew and Greek keeping me up late, after an especially tough semester when I wrote about 80 pages in 3 months, after struggling through and passing my ordination exams, I had a lighter load my final year. I interned at two small rural churches, I interned at the Outreach and Advocacy Center in downtown Atlanta working with people experiencing homelessness, and I took numerous electives. I enjoyed my work and I enjoyed my classes. It was a relief to take a breath during this last year and just enjoy the last months of my seminary education. It also freed me up to interview at churches to find a job for after graduation.

I was so excited for graduation day, counting down the days. People would approach me through the year and ask how many days we had left! At long last, I knew graduation was coming. But I also enjoyed my time. I took pleasure in my classes, my friends, the campus community, and all of the “lasts” (last dinners, lunches, meetings.) I wanted to savor the moments, not wish them away, as I looked forward.

I dreamed about graduation day for four years. The actual day was even more exciting and even more joyful than I had imagined. My husband, my mom, my grandmother, and my aunt came to cheer me on. They were all filled with joy, and all told me how proud they were of me. It made my heart so warm to hear these words.

My friends and I all laughed, took pictures, and cheered so loudly for each other when we accepted our diplomas. We were like giddy children. No matter how long we had been in seminary, 1 year or 4 years or somewhere in between, we had worked so hard for this day. Our communities were proud of us. And we were proud of ourselves!

I was surprised by winning two awards on top of my two degrees! I won the “Indiantown Country Church Award” for my work I did in the rural churches last summer. I also won the “William Rivers Waddey Award” for my work with youth ministry and my continued work with youth once I graduate. I was nominated by the faculty to receive these awards, and I had no idea I would be receiving them.

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I am filled with joy and gratefulness. I am grateful for the CTS faculty and staff, my mentors, pastors, and supervisors, my friends and family, my church, and my husband. Without this support I wouldn’t have been able to make it. I’m also a little sad. Goodbyes aren’t easy. But it’s ok that I’m sad. I’m glad CTS became a place that I am sad to leave.

God has reminded me that this call isn’t about me. God poured out the Spirit to calm me when I wanted to run. The Spirit whispered, “Just show up” when I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do. And I did. I just kept showing up, even if I didn’t know why. I wouldn’t be here without God’s guiding hand. Praise God for goodness, guidance, and peace. I struggled. I didn’t always have peace. I just remained as faithful as I could, and God’s grace did the rest.

 

Mini Boot Camp

For learning about wisdom and instruction,
    for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
    righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
    knowledge and prudence to the young—
let the wise also hear and gain in learning,
    and the discerning acquire skill,
to understand a proverb and a figure,
    the words of the wise and their riddles.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. -Proverbs 1:2-7

 

So I know that I have prepared all that I can from seminary. I have learned from the best! (I could name drop here, but I’ll play it cool.) I also know that ministry is full of surprises and improvisations that you really can’t plan much for. You just jump in and hope the grace of God makes it work out! And if it doesn’t work out….then rely on grace to shine through anyway.

I know I don’t really know what’s coming. I’m fine with this. I learn better in the field anyway.

But as I prepare to jump into my first pastoral role, I am doing something for myself. I have made my own mini boot camp. This is to simply re-ground me in the foundations of my faith. I have studied, and studied, and studied. But I just want to be refreshed by the basics so that going forward, whatever is thrown at me, I have the basic foundation under my feet.

bootcamp

I am reading “Christian Doctrine” by Shirley Guthrie. I want to have the basics of reformed theology fresh in my mind, and I am pairing this with doing a brief look over of “Introducing the Reformed Faith” by Donald McKim (I’m not reading the whole book, just the “reformed emphasis” portions of each chapter.) I am doing a Bible-in-90-Days read-through to have scripture on the brain, paired with a read-through of “The Essential Bible Companion.” And I am going back through the Confessions.

These are just the basics. Please, don’t tell me that, “The work is just beginning”; “You have no idea what’s ahead of you”; “This won’t matter when you’re at someone’s deathbed.” I know these things, and they have been repeated to me ad nauseam. Those phrases simply aren’t helpful. This is for myself, for own personal spiritual practice that will refresh the foundation in me so that is may help in my ministry.

As for the work just beginning, not knowing what is coming next, and being next to someone in need of pastoral care, I am looking forward to continuing my studies as a pastor learning from the church and the people.

A New Call pt 2

I interviewed with Westminster-by-the-Sea (WBTS) in Daytona Beach in January. I felt like we all clicked immediately. There was laughter in the interview, and so much kindness from everyone in the room. My husband could hear our Skype interview from another room, and even he could tell how quickly and easily we seemed to click with one another. I wasn’t sure at that moment yet if this was the right church, but it was an interview that I had felt was the best out any other that I had. And any interview that I had after that, I would compare to the WBTS interview.

Daytona

My positive feelings toward WBTS were amplified when I was flown out to visit in February. The people were as kind in person as they had been in the virtual world. We had a pleasant visit, and I was especially attracted to the traditional worship service they have each Sunday. I could see myself preaching here, writing liturgy for Sundays, and picking some wonderful hymns (and maybe even singing in their fairly large choir!)

I still wasn’t ready to jump in quite yet. I was handed terms of call, but I didn’t really know how to navigate them. Fortunately, CTS held a few sessions for graduating seniors to help them understand benefits, packages, and terms of call. We also met with a financial adviser to help Andy and I set up a budget based on my projected salary. We took time. We prayed. We sought advice. I had been warned not to just jump at the first offer just because it was the first offer.

I interviewed with only one other church after this offer. They had called me to interview before I flew out Daytona, and I was interested in the position. But this placement still didn’t compare to the positive feelings at WBTS. Once I realized that I couldn’t stop comparing other churches to WBTS and I was now well equipped to make such a huge decision, I talked with Andy. He was ready, I was ready. We slept on it. Then I called and accepted the next day.

So! Andy and I will be moving to Daytona Beach around the end of June! We are so excited! I will be the associate pastor at Westminster-by-the-Sea in the Central Florida Presbytery. I will be leading the youth and doing general pastoral duties such as pastoral care, preaching, and leading worship. The church has also expressed great interest in my artistic ability, and they want to use my gifts for drama and art in the church. I praise God for moving in my heart to accept this call. I know that the positive experiences I have had in church where I have been loved, nourished, cared for, and was in turn able to offer those things back, are what drive me to serve Christ’s church to participate in the great commission.

A New Call pt. 1

But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:33-34

I began writing this blog, and then I realized just how long it was. SO! I have broken it up into two parts. Here’s the backstory prior to finding my new call:

My final semester has been a whirlwind of finishing classes, completing assignments, and searching for a job. In my four years at CTS I have had anxiety about finding a job after graduation.

What if I reach graduation and I still have no idea what’s coming next? What if I go all summer without finding anything? Should Andy keep his teaching job just in case? How will we pay rent? Would we have to live in my mother-in-law’s basement back home in TN until we find something?

All of these thoughts ran through my mind each spring as I watched my classmates search for jobs. However, I found it interesting to see a quiet confidence in the graduates, even the ones who had no idea what was coming next. There was an understanding that, yes, they are called. And yes, they have certain standards they are willing to fight for when they accept a call. Whether that be based on the type of work being done, or in a particular location they wanted to live, or with the needs of a spouse or kids to keep in mind. Watching the tension of confidence and uncertainty as graduates embraced their future prepared me for my search. It didn’t mean that I would find something immediately or that I wouldn’t have any major stress over it, but that the Spirit would be with me propelling me forward.

 

I have had a number of negative experiences with church. I have struggled for quite some time with my call to the church and specifically to the pulpit. I experienced my first church split before kindergarten, and have been a part of a few others in my childhood. I have felt the pressure to be a perfect role model as a preacher’s kid. I have worked in a church where I was treated with hostility by the pastor, making it clear I wasn’t welcome. I worked in another church where I was hired to save a dead youth group, and it was made clear by the youth and the parents that they wanted the youth group to stay dead. In the months leading to my job search, I was dead set against applying to churches. I only wanted to apply to campus ministry positions, having been burnt time and time again. Like Moses (I cannot speak!), like Jeremiah (I am just a boy!), and even like Jesus (my Father, let this cup pass from me!) I put up a fight to the task to which I was called.

I was certified, ready for a call* just before Christmas. So my PIF* was out just as the holidays hit. And when I began applying, there was a strong gut feeling that I needed to apply to associate pastor positions. These are moments when my faith in God is clear (and believe me, my faith can get really shaky.) God was making it clear that this call was not about me, but about who I am being  moved to serve. I remembered all the moments in working in church when I obeyed the Spirit, God moved, and Christ’s church was blessed. I remembered all the times that I, too, had been blessed by the church and how Jesus kept welcoming me back with love. So in January I began phone conversations, email chains, and Skype interviews for potential church placements. There were a number of churches who I spoke with who were very different in their interview than how they described themselves in their MIF.* But I found one particular church that was honest, genuine, and upfront about who they were.

 

 

 

(*certified, ready for a call in the Presbyterian church means that an individual has satisfied their ordination requirements and can begin looking for ministry positions.

*PIF=Personal Information Form, which the PCUSA uses as a type of resume to connect call-seekers to a call placement.

*MIF=Mission Information Form, which is the church or call placement’s description used to describe themselves and the position to call-seekers.)

 

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