My Current Denominational Situation, II

19 October 2006

First off, let me thank the many thoughtful people who have responded to yesterday’s post. I was surprised by the number of responses, primarily because I wrote this particular post yesterday because I felt I had nothing else to write about yesterday.

When I speak or write about this issue, it seems as if I sound to others as if I feel this is a major crisis. Although this is a pretty major question, any pursuit of candidacy, seminary studies, and ultimately ordination are probably a year or two down the line, minimum, due to goals and plans that we have as a family. This amount of time is a great blessing.

I’d like to answer some of the yesterady’s comments here, and invite those commenters and others to continue to share their thoughts in comments to this post.

Of yesterday’s comments, one of the most interesting was Larry Kamphausen’s, excerpted below.

What I am about to say will be a double standard but I think it is a valid double standard. If you had been raised in the Lutheran church I would say obedience would be to stay in the ELCA and submit to its language and process. However, you have not grown up ELCA and you have not converted to Lutheranism (or so it seems to me given your questions), rather you remain quite catholic, maybe even Catholic. This is not a problem in your current ELCA congregation, it is catholic in the ways you remain catholic and it is liberal in the ways you are liberal (more or less, this is a guess since I am not sure how “liberal you are nor how “liberal” the congregation is). If you are not Lutheran can you seek ordination in a Lutheran Church? . . . The unfortunate thing is that this line of thinking is an impedement to your ordination anywhere, unless you were to convert from one thing to another (which I think is profoundly dificult to do to any form of Protestantism coming from a Catholic or Orthodox background and retaining any sense of catholicity and orthodoxy.)
Lastly an observation that puzzles me, you are one of several articulate, artistic and ecclesialy committed Christians who are quite convinced they are called to ordained ministry, but who seem far more suited to their artistic or intelectual persuits than ordained ministry, from my own personal experience of them . . . . My advice to you and they is run run from ordained ministry run as far away as you can, and if God is there ahead of you and says sorry this is it then there is your call. Otherwise you are suited for the oridination that is your and all believers baptism to the ministry of the layity. Odd that in all the empahsis in Protestantism on the “priesthood of all blievers” we have no sense of baptism as ordination to the ministry of the order of the layity, a honorable godly and necesary ministry of the church as important as ordained as an pastor priest deacon or bishop, jsut different function and charism.

There’s a lot here, and I thank Larry for his thoughtful response. The idea that I have converted to Lutheranism in theory but not in fact is something I have considered. In many ways, it’s the truth. Is it possible to convert to something without a formal relationship? I’d say yes, and if yes, then I think I could fairly say I’ve converted to Episcopalianism. Although my reading has been definitely eclectic, I’ve read a good number of Anglican/Episcopal authors on the subject of faith, and I’m grounded in that church’s theology. I’ve also been attending weekday Eucharists at a number of Episcopal churches around Chicago and the near suburbs, striking up relationships, however passing, with a few Episcopalians in these parishes. I’m closer and closer to approaching an Episcopal priest and talking about reception into that church more seriously.

One of the things I really like about MyChurch is that the priesthood of all believers is more of a reality there than elsewhere. In my time there, I’ve had the chance to visit the sick and bring them communion, perform anointings for healing, act as an assisting minister at the Eucharist (roughly equivalent to the deacon’s role), and will, should I stay, likely have the opportunity to preach on a Sunday sometime in the near future. These opportunities have had a significant part in my feeling called: I feel as if I’m really meant to be doing these things.

I feel it’s important to note that, should I be received into the Episcopal church, I would give up most of these things, maybe even all of them, at least for several years.  I feel it’s also significant that I don’t feel that to be a loss, that I would very willingly “fast” from these particular kinds of ministry in the Episcopal church.

On a simpler and more personal level, I also feel a profound call to personal holiness and a resultant desire to help other people to holiness as well. I feel a call to profound growth in seeing God more and more everywhere, in everyone and every thing. I don’t think that this necessarily proves a call to ordained ministry, but what this is a call to is what I’m trying to discern.

David Hansen also supplied a comment yesterday

The worship experiences have fed me the most have been at places like Sewanee and the National Cathedral. That is not how my church worships. I don’t expect them to have inscense any time soon. But, small changes happen in worship, and I have found myself fed by leading worship in this setting. . . . I would say that you are — probably — right to question a call to the ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Lutheran church if you have problems with the AC. Not knowing what problems you might have with it, I wouldn’t want to advise you one way or the other on that, though.

The first observation above is interesting, and somewhat counterintuitive, and I agree with it. We can often grow in significant and profound ways by being a little out of our element, by not getting to do things just as we would like. Should I be called to ordained ministry, the denomination, as well as the parish which I will serve, will not be a perfect fit, and that is a good thing. I welcome it.

Let me mention one sticking point of mine with the Augusburg Confession, Article IX. In the translation from the German AC, it reads “Children . . . in Baptism . . . become acceptable to him. On this account the Anabaptists who teach that infant Baptism is not right are rejected,” while the same part of this article in the translation from the Latin reads “Children should be baptized, for . . . through Baptism they are received into his grace. Our churches condemn the Anapatists who reject the Baptism of children and declare that children are saved without Baptism.” I find some of this troubling. While I disagree with those who find infant Baptism unacceptable, I also don’t think that children “become acceptable to” God through Baptism, nor do I “condemn [those] who reject Baptism of children.” I refuse to condemn the Anabaptists although I disagree with their position on infant Baptism. This is one thing my pastor and I are planning to discuss at length.

The Fogey (aka John Beeler) asketh thus:

First of all, not to pry but how long have you been a Lutheran? Why did you become one?

Only about a year. Not very long at all, but I had been feeling a call from God of some kind for about two years before that, I just wasn’t sure what God would want from me. I became one for a bad reason: my wife, who left the Baptist church in adolescence, and I found a church we both liked, and we were rushed to join the church. I should have known better, but . . . there it is.

Second, how well do you really know your new church’s doctrine? It sounds like you’re pretty well acquainted with it.

Pretty well, I think, for someone so new. I’ve read a bit and spoken a bit with a few ELCA pastors; the ELCA is doctrinally somewhat loosey-goosey in practice, so sometimes it’s kind of hard to know what the church’s doctrine is. That said, a major concern of mine is figuring out what I would be promising or agreeing to through ordination, regardless of what the ELCA’s doctrine is in practice.

Third, and this will come as no surprise to you by now, I’d say if you have any reservation (no jesuitical games) about doctrine or morals (as you wrote regarding sexuality) then no, don’t pursue becoming an ELCA pastor.

Yeah, that’s pretty sound advice, and a serious pebble in my shoe.

Fourth, and you don’t have to answer here of course but ask yourself, why exactly do you feel called to the ministry?

I think I answered this question above, but let me try to articulate it another way. In the last two years, I’ve had some profound spiritual developments in my life. At this moment, what I feel called to is at once deeply personal and communitarian. Part of this involves living as a Benedictine in my daily life, but I feel as if every time I say to God, “Okay, God, look at this. Look what I’m doing now: I’m praying every day,” or “Hey, is this enough, I’m visiting the sick,” or “I’m consecrating my teaching work to you and praying for my students, is this it? Is this what you want?” God responds, “This is great, but I want more.” That’s part of why I feel called.

These questions and comments and my efforts to respond have been very helpful to me; I hope they have been interesting for you to wade through.  On a final note, I should really take Strunk & White to heart and be a little more concise.  Oh well; if the Pontificator can go on and on and on, so can I.

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