seminary dropout

seminarydropout

If I do not tell my truth, someone may attempt to rewrite history. There are multiple sides to why I am a seminary dropout and why I may one day drop back in, here is a tidbit.

After months, of “floundering,” I believe it was time to pick another path. I understand my call and know what I walked away from, it is painful, and it hurts beyond measure. I had a wealth of encouragement from pastors, family, friends, mentors, and prayer partners saying stay the course. However, staying the course in a system dominated by familial generations in which breeding and race seem to be precursors for having a respected voice seemed unwise. I am not the daughter or grand-daughter of anyone of denominational significance thus I may always be on the outside. I am not deterred. In the grand scheme of things, I am just taking a more “realistic” approach to what lies ahead, as I live out my life in ministry.

With those thoughts, I dropped out of seminary.

I enjoyed my courses, professors, and course mates. I miss seminary. However, as my husband said, “I need time to recover from the words, mistreatment, and craziness of the past few years.” Unfortunately, seminary coursework does not allow time.

In departing seminary, I found myself on the receiving end of care, the type of care I had not received in my denominational district. As someone who worked with divinity students and offered a listening ear for words of lament, I am appreciative of the excellent care shown by my academic advisor, professor, and other officials I encountered.

There is a piece of me that wholeheartedly desires to finish the degree. If for no other reason than to feed my thirst for knowledge and theological conversation.

I held my initial withdrawal email in draft form from November 4, 2017, because I did not want to send it. My family has invested and sacrificed, and it seems ridiculous to walk away without a degree. And for naysayers who might somehow paint a false narrative of my inability to cut it in seminary, be assured the grade point average is strong.

Alas, I believe there was more integrity in walking away than staying the course and burying my truth. Walking away took the pressure off, it has allowed me to clear my head away from the demands of the next due assignment and the quest for an A/A- because anything less is unacceptable.

I was at a denominational school, and while the seminary had not “harmed” me, I was in a “system” that in my opinion did not value me. I would have been contributing to my abuse, hypocritical and positioning myself to lie to remain without taking the time to rethink end game. I have too much respect for the call to ministry to lie for the approval of others. To say, all is well, just to get along would have been counter to the voice that God has given me. To say all is not well, means I am planted squarely on the outside. For me leaving the ordination process meant I needed to back away from seminary. The school I love feels somehow tainted. 

Dan Galloway posted the following on LinkedIn recently, “every exit is an entrance somewhere else,” and “you will be too much for some people, those aren’t your people.”

I may one day choose an entrance to another seminary, hopefully, I will not be too much for the next group.

script of my ministry

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“All pastors would be better off to admit what many women pastors know from the start – expect some hostility and resistance to faithful ministry.” – Will Willimon, Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry

I learned that a pastor was hired in part because he comes from “good stock.” And while I have had tried not to allow this statement to bother me, it continually gnaws at my core. I think of stock regarding soup, animals, or bonds; however, I realize this comment has everything to do with familial breeding and denominational heritage.

And by this definition, I will never be qualified for service. So, it begs the question, why do I continue to serve? 

I find It is a bit of oxymoron to select pastoral staff based upon breeding. If for no other reason, it is contrary to scripture.  The message of the Gospel says we are adopted and made new. God himself, destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, (Ephesians 1:5, NRSV). As well as, so if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new (2 Corinthians 5:17, NRSV). Apparently, in some Christians circles, this means absolutely nothing. The message of the Gospel say, we are all well-bred.

This nothingness has me longing for days in any of the offices I occupied as a human resource professional or program assistant. The racism, prejudice, misogynism made sense in those settings, and I could navigate what I saw coming. I understood what it meant to walk into a room and have the gentlemen say that I was not what they were expecting. Or to have to prove myself over and over to the same people I had worked with or lead on multiple successful projects or to get the crap assignment because the minority was expected to fail.  There is nothing like overhearing your director inform your colleague that the expectations were different for you, the bar was intentionally higher and the challenges intentional, nothing like being set-up to fail. I digress. However, I never failed, was never terminated, never faced corporate discipline. Still, I walked away from people and places that others would never leave, because there is a limit to the level of disrespect I can tolerate.

The local church and ministry are a different arena. I do not mind the resistance that Willimon speaks of; my skin is thick. I may not be well-bred, but where I come from there is no room for weakness. I have turned the other cheek, tolerated a level of disrespect and maltreatment because of my love for God’s people. If this had been my former professional life, I would have walked away from it a long time of go. Alas, I had hope. Don’t miss that; I used the word had. I always believe that there is room for God to move. However, I have always been aware that in the heart of man lies bias, prejudice, and racism. I believe most of us in ministry without familial, generational ties, or who are members of the other undoubtedly find ourselves only able to achieve an average amount of respect if we are lucky. Sadly, luck is a term often associated with gambling, an activity frown upon by the church. Many of us find ourselves hoping to get lucky in ministry.

I was part of a denomination that affirms women. And even though I found myself in an affirming body, I did not always feel affirmed. I was very much on the outside looking at “the in crowd.” I tried to fit my call into the predetermined box, I served in hospitality and led a women’s small group, and decided to focus in the areas where women belong. My experience is one in which I find leadership being welcoming of diverse congregants. However, the leadership structure lacks diversity in race, ethnicity, or gender. Therefore, as a Black/African American woman there continues to be the question of belonging within a primarily Anglo-Caucasian denomination? I have never had an issue with being the first or the only one but in the being the first or the only one, I just do not want to be the ethnic minority checkbox. And that could be the problem. I am not playing my role and staying in my lane.

I am not content to ignore the social ills of the local church or worship at the “black” church because that is where I belong or be the token minority seen but not heard. I did not play the role of the token when I worked in the corporate and academic arenas, and I am not going to play it for the local church. I contend that the local church cannot be a bridge in the community unless the body deals with our internal strife and division.

I was not born in my previous denomination. My religious life was eclectic during my childhood and youth; furthermore, my family of origin is not the “best.” I am either quiet or opinionated (there is no in between), I do not particularly care for women’s ministry or children’s church, my husband is the head of our house, but my validation does not come from him. The script of my life (ministry) has not been written by men or women; however, they seem to have predetermined my place.

And with this predestination has come blatant disregard for the things God has put on my heart, and disrespect for the knowledge, skills, and abilities I possess to accomplish those things. Leaving me with one recourse.  I live entirely the truth that God called me, not a denomination, man, or woman. I get my orders from God, not from a man or woman. I am both sinner and saint, I have no stones to cast, but I do have a message to share.

Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” (John 4:29 The Message)

unity of the faith: an authentic congregation

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13 NRSV)

If I agree and I do that the gifts described in Ephesians 4:11 emphasize living outside the church’s internal life.  I must accept responsibility for my gifting. If gifted as an apostle I acknowledge that God sends me. If gifted as a prophet I boldly and unapologetically proclaim the will of God. As an Evangelist, I spread the good news, as a pastor I minister to and protect the congregation, or as a teacher, I serve as an instructor of the Christian life. And with that acceptance, I must be sure that I carry out my work in such a way that I am equipping other followers of Christ for the work of the ministry. Responsible for building up the global church, until all of us, come to the unity of the faith. These gifts whichever I possess open up the opportunity to move the body of Christ to a place of united-ness, emphasizing a continual, dynamic relatedness of diverse peoples – to work toward moving the whole congregation toward intercultural life.

There are verbal and written desires for the worship on Sunday to reflect the residents of countless communities. For our communities of faith to become more culturally diverse. Does the average faith community understand the implications of such a racial shift? Does average faith community know that this move is about becoming an agent of racial reconciliation and authentic diversity? Are whole congregations willing to move toward intercultural life? And how would this cross-cultural life be authentic not just visible in the community?

Such a shift requires an ongoing commitment to diversity in worship and understanding that other people’s experience and response to Spirit in worship may be different and uncomfortable. Congregations must be willing to discuss openly the pain of racism that persists in America. There must be acknowledgment that the ever-changing nature of the church, relationships and contexts; calls for real engagement and mutuality; and pays attention to narratives of large and small similarities and differences (Branson & Martinez, 2011), and ultimately takes action steps to bridge the divide, which will prayerful propel us to authentic community.

If intercultural life is to be authentic whether apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher each must perform responsibilities in such a way that the congregation understands these implications and benefits. As a congregation, people of faith must hear and validate the narratives of every individual’s ethnic heritage and those of the surrounding cultures in our community to understand better our identity and our responsibility in the world (Branson & Martinez, 2011).

While leading the migration toward social reconciliation across cultural barriers the focus is not solely on demographic data but encompasses discerning and moving toward unique ways of unity and diversity. Congregations should look at the diversity that exists, while not evident at first glance. Cultural diversity within a community of faith can first be found within the unique heritage of those that gather together. Many Anglo-congregations have members, regular attendees, and casual seekers from Europe, Asia, South American, Africa, and the Caribbean. However, these influences play silently in the background to a Euro/Caucasian American experience. The challenge that we face and are working overcome is to allow these influences to be a visible part of our experiences together.

While there is no clear map toward goals of intercultural life, attitudes and convictions must continue drive the congregation toward completing the work necessary to understand our uniqueness, celebrate our diversity and stay the course toward becoming a multiethnic church, allowing our various ethnic and cultural backgrounds come together to form an authentic congregation (Branson & Martinez, 2011).

Bibliography
Branson, M. L., & Martinez, J. F. (2011). Churches Cultures & Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.