In all the hustle and hassle that makes up the first call, we still have time to complain. In meetings, on the phone, at lunches, where two or more recent graduates are gathered, we grouse. The common cry is “They never taught us about that in seminary!” This lament is applied to annual budgets, personalities on church boards, synod call process, emotional boundaries of clergy, limited parking spaces, the stand of the ELCA on a variety of issues. It turns out the people in the parish care a whole lot more about this stuff than Hebrew word origins. Not one question yet on the Augsburg Confession! But if the toilets back up…
So in thinking about the theological implication of the first call experience my gut reaction was a litany of all the surprises in parish life and a plea for the seminary to do a “better” job of preparing ministers for reality!
On the other hand, perhaps it is not so much the things I have learned as what I have become that makes me “ready” for the ministry. And in that preparation, the seminary has taught me by instruction and example.
I am a scholar, not just a learner. As a learner in the parish, I have to absorb so many units of information in order to impart them correctly to the confirmation class. That short term, focused, goal learning was not taught in seminary, despite the cramming for the American church history midterm. What I did learn was how to be a scholar, to love the origins of words so much I investigate them with no practical application but the joy of discovery, to look beyond the Epistle for the week to explore the meaning of the writings of Saint Paul for his time and for ours. I relish those times of study and discussion with my pericope group, conversations with my colleagues in ministry, and individual wanderings and ponderings, rare as they are, because I find God’s message is newly revealed each time.
I am a thinker, not just a problem solver. As a problem solver in the parish I deal with nuts and bolts, photocopying guidelines, and “I don’t have a key to the door” quests. That pragmatic, hands on, crisis-du-jour functioning was not taught in seminary. What I did learn was to see how the immediate trauma fits into the big picture or mission in the world, how my use of resources as mundane as the photocopier makes a difference in God’s creation, how the personalities conflicting in the kitchen are all part of the company of saints..
I am an interpreter, not just a channel. As a channel in the parish I absorb copies of The Lutheran and edicts from the Synod and national church, local newspaper articles on zoning commission meetings, and memos from the schools so I can respond clearly to questions from members about abortion, homosexuality, where our offering dollars go, what downtown development means for our parking space. I did not learn all these snippets and statistics in seminary. What I did learn was to see this data against the background of the kingdom and our place in bringing it to reality in this community. I learned to see things in a bigger light than the flickering flame of the immediate discussion.
I am a seeker, not just a source of information. As a source of information I am expected to know, without missing a beat, the history of the nation of Israel, the reason the fig tree withered and died in the parable, what smiting looks like, and “how come we don’t do it like over at St. James?” Seminary did not give me all the answers! What I did learn in seminary was that my clay feet show up regularly. That frees me to seek with the people in the parish the answers to questions and put them in a context of God’s creation and mission for the world.
I have skills for living and growing as a church leader and ordained clergy person that go beyond a set of techniques for management and problem solving. Those techniques I have learned, and continue to learn, in this business we call “life.” There were not enough classes and books to impart it all; much of it has to come “on the job.” What I can’t do now, because there is so little time, is to develop the ability to be a scholar, a thinker, an interpreter, and a seeker.
Thank you, to all those professors and instructors at seminary, for giving me what I really need to survive and thrive in the parish, and in life.