This piece was written for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the UMC’s newsletter, Channels.
I’m in that sweet demographic that the United Methodist Church, and frankly, other mainline denominations want in their pews (and pulpits?): Under 35. Female. Ethnic minority. You could call me a triple threat, though I can’t take credit that I had anything to do with that.
Unlike many of the young adults who have decided the Church just isn’t relevant, I still go. Regularly. I even chair a committee and am involved in conference level leadership. I feel like I have a place in the church. Gasp. Yes, it may have started because I was the token young person of color, but that’s moot. The point is that I said “yes” to some of these invitations to participate in various committees, events and worship experiences growing up, and though the invitations may not have meant much to me then, the opportunities were formative in preparing me for where I feel God is leading me today, muddy as that path may feel.
I’m in my second quarter of seminary at Seattle Pacific University pursuing my Masters in Business and Applied Theology (grad degree #3)–though I can still be persuaded to go the M.Div. route. Yes, SPU had a graduate program in theology. And it’s solid. Ask me about it sometime. I’ll even buy you coffee to talk about it.
When I tell people that I’m in seminary, I have to immediately follow the admission with, “but I’m not going to be a pastor.” It’s for self-preservation, really. It may even be my attempt at speaking something into existence. “So why seminary, then?” is usually the follow up question. It’s simple: because the laity are where it’s at. There, I said it. I know in some people’s minds, going to seminary and not coming out of the candidacy process ready for commissioning as a provisional member is strange. Fists might even shake in the air at the thought. But here’s why I’m in it: because I don’t believe that clergy are the only ones with agency in the Church. Why isn’t a seminary-trained lay person just as valuable, useful, gifted to the church?
For a few years, I tried to reconcile my desire for serving the church at large and my total disinterest in being a clergywoman. Then I realized that I didn’t have to reconcile these. The call to service–to discipleship–isn’t consummated in ordination as elder or deacon–though it certainly can be, and it has been. Rather, it is in our attempt to fully live out the gospel in our undivided lives and in doing so, move on towards Christian perfection (John Wesley’s words, not mine. But you Methodists already knew that).
My seemingly disparate paths: English, education, digital media and now seminary, are finding congruence not in a decision to enter yet another program that neatly ties these interests together, but in allowing myself through the work of the Holy Spirit and community to be the change that I’ve been seeking as teacher, communicator, lay person.
You won’t see me joining the groups of young adults who bemoan the church doing them a disservice by not knowing how to take care of them, though those concerns are certainly valid. Instead, you’ll find me muddling through trying desperately to align vocation with call–though these days, with a little more direction. A little.
So, to the young and not so young: remember these words from the guy who brought us the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings: Not all those who wander are lost.
Note: a day after I wrote this, I had this very conversation with a friend in the Philippines about why I’m in seminary:
Her: You’re in seminary? As in pastor?
Me: Nah. As in lay person.
Her: Ah. What are you taking in seminary, then?
Her: But isn’t theology a pastoral course?
See my point?