Today, I had my Meet and Greet with my synod's ordination committee.
Let me start off by saying that I left the meeting feeling as though the panel members affirmed my calling into the ministry in the ELCA. I have never heard any of my seminary friends, all further along in their respective processes than I am, say that they left such a meeting feeling affirmed (or even good). The four pastors who interviewed me were very gracious, insightful, and kind. The questions were direct, but served a purpose. I know that as I get further along, the questions asked will become more probing, more difficult, less affirming. We can expect -- and should demand -- nothing less from those overseeing the ordination process. Our future pastors should be well-prepared for tough questions. The process should find and select those capable the herculean task ministers regularly face. Today, though, I feel respected and valued -- not just as a potential young clergy person, but as a candidate for ministry. I left feeling that there is hope.
Looking at the path ahead, however, I realize the problem with how most liturgical traditions "do" ordination. There are certain demands placed on students, and these demands are at odds with one another. On the one hand, it is expected that students be able to drop everything, possibly move across the state, region or country, take classes full time for at least three years, and spend spare time working on ordination requirements (in my case, it will be at least three years after completing my MDiv). This assumes candidates are young and relatively un-tethered by family commitments. The move and time commitments assume that one does not have children, that one's spouse has not started a career (assuredly, he or she would have to give it up or postpone it), and that one has several years to devote to the awkward stages between laity and clergy.
On the other hand, ordination is an expensive process. It requires that one have a well-stocked savings account to raid to pay for school, living expenses, psych evals, CPE applications, and "registration fees." Ordination can easily cost well over $90,000 (assuming you don't have additional requirements like an extra year at a denominational school). Such expenses are only affordable to second-career candidates.
The Church needs leaders from all walks of life, from every age group, from every background. But when you look at the process and all that it requires, the denominations really seem to be asking for a 40-year-old, single former lawyer. (May God have mercy on us.)
I'm excited about my future, even though it's a long road. I certainly didn't answer this call for the financial security. I know that I can no sooner shun this vocation than I can my humanity. I look forward to participating in and even leading the ministry of the Church. But it still scares me.
Now if you excuse me, I'm going to go apply for jobs so that I can pay down my debt during my gap year.