Yesterday an article came out by Carol Howard Merritt on the Christian Century website and made its way around the Facebook inter webs.
Last week, I discovered I failed another Bible
Trivia Content Exam.
What happened you ask? Oh, I blanked. I blanked big time.
I mean, I was incapable of telling the story of Moses. I barely knew the names of the books of the Bible. Had you asked me 24 hours before hand, I would have given you perfect answers, because I knew them. But sitting across the table from two people (one via FaceTime over a phone) knowing that your ordination rides on the next hour’s conversation, you lose your shit. Or, at least I did.
When I left the meeting, I knew. I knew that my lack of confidence in myself had allowed me to simply shut down mentally and I couldn’t answer basic questions about the Bible that I had spent most of my life learning. As I headed back to the airport, I knew the phone call I would get in a week. I knew what they would say. And, I knew they would be nice and orderly about it, as all Presbyterians strive to be.
When the phone call came, I was prepared and I took the news in stride. But then a conversation began to take shape, and again, I lost it. I didn’t yell, instead I felt hot tears well up in my eyes and a lump grow in my throat. When told, “We think you should take more Bible classes to help prepare you,” I stopped the conversation. “Who’s going to pay for those? I already got the Master’s of Divinity and I’m getting a Master’s of Theology right now. Who’s going to pay for these extra classes?”
The problems I have here are the following: 1) I paid my own way through this. I paid for all the other ordination exams I passed with success from my own pocket. I paid for my seminary education (well, the part that wasn’t already covered), I paid for my books, I paid for travel to and from meetings between Atlanta and Chicago, I paid for CPE. I paid out all of the money for everything that was required of me. So, where’s my reimbursement check from the people who convinced me and led me to believe that I was called to this ministry? Is there some sort of compensation for paying for my psychological assessment? That was a good chunk of money, oh, and you can reimburse my church as well. Is there some sort of compensation for those who are required to do more work and spend more money than those who simply glide through (and let’s be honest, many of them should not be gliding though)?
2) While I appreciate the chance to do an in-person test, maybe this should send up a flag? Maybe I am not called to ministry. My testers told me, “We really liked you a lot!” Great, thanks. I have lots of people who like me. I’m not in the business of getting more Facebook friends. I’m in the business of trying to get a job that I’ve been trained for. That YOU helped me train for. I’m in the business of “jumping through the hoops” that are the Presbyterian Church (USA) ordination system. More people liking me doesn’t help me get a job to pay off student loans. Someone liking me and wanting me to spend more money for classes I can’t afford because I can’t afford is only frustrating and gives me one more reason to look away from the church.
Sure, I sound like a snot-nosed brat, right? But, really, wouldn’t you in this place? How on earth are you supposed to take being placed in limbo by the people who claim to believe in your talents for something? A limbo that leaves you without the chance for jobs in a highly competitive market, and asks you to wait and pay out more money? Let’s also add on that there’s the added pressure of knowing that more than half of your denomination doesn’t want you in their churches because they “just aren’t ready for that” yet. Read: we like gays and lesbians in our pews, but not our pulpits.
It’s all very maddening.
So, back to the article. Merritt points to the place where so many of us in the process of ordination with the PCUSA find ourselves, in limbo. We are left to feel neglected, hushed of our voices, struggling, confined to jobs that are often times below our level of experience and training or not even in our field at all. Let me note, I have never felt neglected by the Atlanta Presbytery. But still, here I am, in the land of limbo.
Maybe this is my time to bow out. Maybe that’s what this is really about. Luckily, I have friends and family that support me, but at some point, you have to ask yourself, “Am I wasting my time? Should I be doing something else?” Who wants to be in their mid-thirties and still unable to get a job simply because of the PCUSA limbo?
I’ve always had issues with the PCUSA ordination process, and I don’t think those will ever go away. Now, I just have to decide, can I remain in limbo with the hopes of soon getting out, or do I leave, gracefully, and move on and learn how to live a life that no longer revolves around the church?