“It is going to be tough to be in seminary in the midst of all of this.”
“It is a difficult time to be a United Methodist going to seminary.”
These comments are ones that I have found myself on the receiving end of quite frequently recently. For those who may be reading this confused as to why that is – these comments are referring to our denominations current state following the decisions that were made at general conference regarding homosexuality as it pertains to United Methodist pastors officiating weddings between homosexual individuals and the ordination of practicing homosexual individuals. I’m not naive enough to think that those statements above are false. I actually think that they are very true. It is a bit of a messy time to be going to seminary as an aspiring United Methodist pastor, it is going to be tough, and it is a difficult time for our denomination. But at the same time, as I sit here and reflect on comments like the two I’ve written above, I can so confidently say that I would not want to be doing anything else – I wouldn’t want to be doing anything this fall besides heading to seminary, and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything other than ministry. It’s what God has called me to, and so, I respond by nodding, and saying, “yes, it is a difficult time, and it will be tough, but it is worth it.” And I do believe that with my whole heart.
I was born and raised in the United Methodist Church. I was baptized & confirmed in the United Methodist Church, and I heard and responded to my call to ministry in the United Methodist Church. I love this denomination & I will go down fighting for it because I believe in it. I do believe we’re going through a very rocky season right now, but I also believe in our denominations ability to do big & good things for God’s kingdom. I believe in the work that the UMC is capable of doing in service to all our brothers & sisters in this world, and I believe in a God who is capable of working in the midst of our mess. I believe in a God who is yearning for us to drop our swords, tame our tongues, and pick up our crosses.
We are called to love God, to love one another, and to make disciples of all nations, and I think our eyes are easily taken off of that mission when it comes to general conference & the repercussions of that conference. If I can remain in the denomination that I know & love and play a very small role in helping to refocus our eyes on that mission, I intend to do so.
I do realize this is a very privileged position to sit in as a heterosexual woman who isn’t directly affected by what was decided at general conference. My ability to be ordained is not in jeopardy and who I am is not being questioned at a conference. I acknowledge I’m privileged as I sit here and write about how I will not leave this denomination. But I am a friend & a sister in Christ of people who are directly affected by what was decided at general conference and I do not blame people who are leaving our denomination for the sole reason that they themselves are part of the LGBTQ+ community & no longer feel that our churches are welcoming places for them. I, though only to a certain degree, understand. God has cleared my vision enough for me to be able to see both sides – & I didn’t know my heart could physically hurt so much until I started to see our denomination in this much turmoil. I don’t know the answer or solution, but I do know God. I know who he is & what his son Jesus taught us. I know that I will never stop doing my very best to love, include, & be kind to people, whether they are part of the LGBTQ+ community or not. I will obey the Book of Discipline. I will not stop loving and treating everyone as though they are a beloved child of God because no rule in our discipline and no word in the scriptures permits me to stop doing so. I know that. I know the God I serve. & I know I’m called by him – called to word, order, sacrament, and service to all people – and those are things I’m going to seminary to become better at, & I know opportunities to minister in such ways will be available no matter what. Our church is not going to disappear into nothing, neither is my call, neither is God. And so, I’m going to seminary to become a pastor, and to become a better disciple of Jesus Christ.
Though messy, I would argue that right now is actually somewhat of a beautiful time to be heading to seminary. I hear that seminary is a place where you are broken down & then built back up again. And I’m ready for that. I think my heart, mind, and soul are all in need of that. In seminary I’ll learn scripture in ways I have never learned or been taught it before. I’ll have holy conversations with people from all denominations, which is a beautiful thing because no denomination is perfect and we all know that – I’ll be surrounded by fellow United Methodist’s, but also by people of different denominations who have insight & wisdom that we don’t – some of their denominations have already been through this same issue we’re currently in, and their denomination, one way or another, has lived to see the other side. None of us know what the future holds or what all the answers are, but that’s why I’m eager to be in a community like the one I’ve been told exists in seminary. I’ll also learn from professors & peers with whom I agree and disagree, I’ll give my time & energy to churches in a different conference that I’ve never been to before, I’ll be challenged in ways I’ve never been before & grown in ways God knows I need to grow. All of this will teach me how to better minister to the people, to churches, and to the world around me.
Why would I put seminary on hold? Why would I wait and act as though seminary or ministry is going to get easier someday? I don’t think there’s such a thing as an “easy” time at which to begin seminary. If anything, it will get harder. And there are a lot of things about ministry in general that are tough, and at age 22, I’ve already seen that and will continue seeing & feeling that as I journey through seminary and then full-time ministry. Ministry isn’t supposed to be easy and I know it’s not. The only people who think ministry is easy are the people who think a pastor’s only responsibility is to deliver a sermon on Sunday’s. Seminary is a season of learning, growing, being challenged, & preparing for a life of ministry, and it will be difficult for everyone for different reasons. But we are one body – we are sisters & brothers in this together. We are the Church.
Yesterday during worship at my home church, I witnessed the Church being the Church, and it brought me to tears because it reminded me why this thing called ministry is so unique & beautiful & special & hard but worth it. I witnessed pastoral leadership & Christ-like community in a way I hadn’t before. During my church’s first service of the Sunday, right after we had baptized and welcomed new members into our church family, an individual from our church’s community hopped up from the pew and walked up to my pastor at the front of the sanctuary. This person was distraught & began explaining to my pastor and to our congregation that they were in need of help, specifically for their sick spouse, as they had run out of gas and needed to get home. It was no surprise to watch my pastor handle the situation with grace, treating this person not as a disruption to our worship service but as a fellow child of God who was in need. And my church family did the same – at least five people hopped up out of their pews and walked out of the sanctuary with this individual to see how they could be of assistance to them.
Friends – that is ministry. I’m not pursuing it because it’s predictable or perfect or easy. I’m not in it because I’m rooted in the United Methodist Church. I’m in it because I’m rooted in the Lord and the Lord has called me to pastor & minister to all people, in any way that meets them right where they are. Seminary will be a season during which I am equipped by God for this, and I think it’s a beautiful and exciting thing to be heading there during this time, as I yearn to know more & more about how to best love, serve, minister to all people, through preaching of the Word, praying, counseling, listening, talking, administering the sacraments, leading studies, or facilitating heavy but much necessary discussions. I’m so ready. Because I know God is going to be beside me & holding my hand through every moment of seminary & beyond. He is my safe place, I don’t need to fear.
I don’t know what our denomination is going to look like when I get out of seminary, and I don’t know what’s going to happen with it while I’m in seminary. But I do know that during and after seminary, there will be people to minister to. I do know that during and after seminary, God will still be God. I firmly believe seminary will be a season of life during which the Lord will prepare me to be a sanctuary. And I am ready.
I can’t wait to be a seminary student, and I can’t wait to be a pastor. Neither will ever be easy, but my God, he makes every second worth it. God & his call upon my life are what I am certain of in the midst of this uncertain time for our denomination.