In the spring of 1998 I graduated from the seminary with the M.Div. degree. I still had one more year for the MSW and I was moving deeper into the process toward ordination. The process in my denomination takes several steps: in the initial stages of discerning one is called an “aspirant.” After “the weekend” if one is given the go ahead the one becomes a “postulant.” Each of the next steps must take a minimum of six months to move through and allow for “formation.” I was made a postulant in Feb. so by August I found myself going to the diocesan center to meet with a committee who would determine my readiness for “candidacy.” Usually this meeting is a simple check in, no big deal. But that was not to be the case for me.
First of all I was given only a few days notice of the meeting. Secondly when I arrived the group informed me that they had not received any of my paperwork from the diocese and therefore knew nothing about me. I was asked to tell them about myself. This I proceeded to do. Later they told me that I was not ready for candidacy because I had not answered that question adequately enough. Huh? It was like they asked a simple question that ended up being “loaded” and dropped me into a chasm. As the next few months unfolded I came to realize that one member of this committee was taking issue with two things regarding me: this person did not like that I was getting a social work degree – that was not appropriate for a priest; and in particular this person did not like that my sense of call was changing from hospital chaplaincy to parish ministry – it was really NOT appropriate to have a social work degree in parish ministry….or so this person thought. It took several months of meetings but eventually, but late fall, I was made a candidate. I remember in the final meeting I said something about the “joy of serving God as an ordained member of the church…” to which this person responded, “Yeah, where’s the joy when you are the only one cleaning the leaves out of the gutter?”
Geeze, I hoped my ministry would never leave me that bitter! Yes, I have been in that place, the only one “cleaning out the gutter” and I was frustrated by the lack of enthusiasm of the congregants to care for the church…but I still loved my ministry.
Anyway I became a postulant and entered into the next stages of formation. This final year of school I worked as an intern at a community social work agency doing family therapy, couples therapy, one on one, and group therapy. I had some wonderfullly complex family dynamics. It was a great experience.
I also worked as an intern at a church. This church was a beacon of social justice ministry in the 1960’s and ’70’s. It was a strong vibrant parish with a healthy ministry to children and young families. It was in the city, not the suburbs. And, it had a woman rector. It was a great experience for. It was during this year, as I went from the social work agency to the church that I really understood that I was being called to parish ministry. I loved the rhythm of parish life. It had all the complex dynamics that would tap into my social work degree but it also enabled me to work with people over a life time. Plus I loved liturgy and the opportunity to really explore how and where God was active in the complexity of individuals and the church. So, it was a good year in that regard.
Although I had already graduated from seminary I still had to take the GOE’s, the General Ordination Exams. These are taken in early January and take a week to complete. During the previous three years I had offered free massages to the seniors taking the GOE’s. I brought my massage table to the seminary and used an empty room. Each night after the GOE’s and on the day off, I offered treatments. I loved doing it. But this year, since I was taking the GOE’s I arranged for other massage therapists, students from the massage school to come and offer treatments.
This year it was clear that four years of graduate school was taking its toll on me. I was sick a lot, with horrible sinus infections and colds, which lingered for weeks. But my physical ailments were the least of my concerns for bigger issues arose when the results of the GOE’s came back in March.