14 January 2013

O brothers, where are ye?

I wax synodical. Bo-ring.

The good news for all in disagreement is that the problems I cite will never change, because the top priority of the seminaries is to remain solvent, and the obvious way to do that is to enroll as many students as possible, and the way to do that is not to exclude any possible student. Penny wise, pound foolish is a discussion for another day.

Factor 1.  Recently I spoke with someone acquainted with a pastorless church. Soon one of its members will become an SMP student. "He's willing to be their pastor," I was told, "but he's not willing to drag his family to the seminary and wherever else for four years."

I sympathize. Well do I remember the hardships of men who dragged their families not only to the seminary and wherever else for four years, but even dragged them to a synodical college before that to complete pre-seminary training requirements. Without SMP, it wasn't enough simply to be willing to be a pastor. The seminary was a place and a community and a concrete committment, not merely a pragmatic entity. Many things about it were unpragmatic.

Factor 2.  My husband has few "seminary friends." The reason for this, I think, is that we were married a week after we graduated from college. He never lived in a dorm or even on campus. His hours outside of class were devoted to earning wages and maintaining me.

This makes for a different fraternity of pastors than was produced in the old days when seminary students were not permitted to be married. Surely there were many disagreements among those men, but they knew each other well, having spent a lot of time in close academic, spiritual, and living quarters. They were more like brothers because they had lived more like brothers.

Factor 3. Yes, I attended the seminary as a student myself. Once a student informed another student in my presence that you didn't want any chicks in a certain venerable professor's class because that professor would be considerably less forthcoming, especially on a certain topic. Frankly, I think the church would have benefited a lot more from that professor's unbridled forthcomingness than it did from me sitting in classes for pastors.

Now we factor the common factor. I think the camaraderie of our pastorate is in bad shape. In making the seminaries more "family friendly," in characterizing them as having been segregated rather than consecrated and legalistic rather than judicious, we have reaped pastors who are less fraternal with each other. I do not think there would be more agreement among them if they had formed stronger bonds during their training, but I do imagine there might be less animosity and more charity, less suspicion and more respect*. They would disagree, compete, labor, and love more as brothers than as acquaintances or coworkers or self-selected friends.  I do not mean to idealize brotherly love (I have some brothers myself :D), but it is a gift we are unwise to undermine among our pastors so carelessly. Dudes need dudes, and they need them close, and they need them without chicks around, and the more exclusively dudely their undertaking, the more do they need those things.

A bunch of men living together under compulsory celibacy has its own set of problems, and I don't know that second career pastorization should be categorically excluded, and I am not advocating the construction of a girl- or layman-proof fence around the seminary campuses (not that such a thing would help if and when the seminaries cease to possess locality). But we are foolish not to give serious thought to the implications of the drastic changes pastoral formation has undergone in the last couple of generations. What have our pastors gained from the changes at their rightful alma maters? Might they get along with each other better, even and especially in disagreement, if they had ever necessarily taken up the habit, so to speak? Would a more personally united pastorate make for a more personable and united Synod? And a bunch of other stuff.

*I particularly have trouble imagining (and I am 100% imagining here, so I may be 100% delusional and wrong) any sort of "alternate route" pastor achieving a parity of respect with pastors who got at it the old timey way. Ordained is ordained, but they are simply not equals in terms of effort. This is math, not meanness. It seems to me a formula for resentment all around.


Untamed Shrew said...

It all seems to me a slippery slope. Allow an exception here and there or change the requirements, and the floodgates open. I know a Nice Guy who was second-career, twice-divorced, and claimed to be incapable of learning a new language or three. He went through the DELTO program. So now we have a pastor who could not manage his own household (twice), has little energy for 14-hour days or 3 a.m. emergency baptisms, and doesn't know Greek or Hebrew. I would not want him as my pastor any more than I would want a physician who went through distance-learning med school. As you said, this is math, not meanness.

Unknown said...

As one who not so long ago did drag his family through the seminary, I recognize the "not many sem friends". I'm pretty sure my wife has more than I do, since I was working full time at the same time to afford it all. But, I'm thinking that some things are trouble either way.

Some of the most bitter fights I've witnessed are whole career continuations from the "seminex days". Surely familiarity bred contempt. And the problems today of one 65 year old getting another 65 year old a job or preferential calls because I roomed with him 40 years ago, I don't care if he's spent his career [insert travesty] are many.

Many churches in many times and places called their pastors from among their numbers. Whether we like it or not, our current structures and churches are not willing to support "an educated pastor". The seminaries are not willing to do what it would take to dramatically reduce the cost. The churches are not willing to pay salaries or direct supports that would pay off the debts. SMP appears to be about what our beloved synod is willing to support.

We can take that as quite empty, and there are good reasons to do so. In many ways the men going through such a training will be much less than the ones who went through a residential seminary. But, I am not so sure that the positives won't out-weigh it. The choices and consequences will be the congregations. The men will most likely be well known to the individual churches. And there will be little movement, as if you failed at a place that really knew you, why would you go somewhere else. When the fundamental problem is "I don't trust you as far as I can throw you", this type of home grown hyper-congregational approach has much to say for it.

And while resentment might be highly logical, most congregations would look askance at it. Yes, I've got a fancy degree, but no one in my congregation really required it. Doing so would cut off my own nose to spite my face. The good of the church would mean putting those things aside. And maybe arguing from time to time why an educated and highly qualified clergy is a good thing.

Anyway, interesting read. Thanks

Rebekah said...

Pastor Unknown, I thank you sincerely for your valuable and valid insights. The current direction of our beloved Synod is in step with the individualism and boutique-ism of our culture. The question, I think, is to what extent the Church catholic supports and is supported by such a worldview, and ultimately, to what extent we can hope for any worldly view to support and be supported by the Church.

Mark said...

Sorry about the "unknown". Figured it would update when I updated the profile. Our culture is just such a hyper-materialist one. Nicely put about the church and world supporting or being supported by each other. They never overlap 100%, but this materialism seems to diverge to a scary extent at least from a married clergy perspective. If the 1950's were a time to gather we seem to be in a time to cast away. In one sense it is freeing and exciting. What is God going to do today combined just with the ability to start being clear. Things that would have killed a congregation in conflict are starting to be much easier. Elder boards are starting to be supportive of less civic religion and more church. On the other, things that we have relied on for generations are reaching the seizing point stopping to work at all. Which has been for a while causing mad scrambles to hold on to what I've got, at least until retirement. One more band-aid to keep it together. One more capital campaign to ensure the legacy. The church is smaller than it thought it was going to be. And we will be forced to make some big decisions over the next 7 years.

Rebekah said...

This reminds me of that Piers Anthony trilogy where there's a mad scramble to re-orient some planet from male control (animus) to female control (anima) [huh?]. A character from another planet asks how it will fix things. The native says, oh, it won't, it will just change them. :P

Nonetheless, I am still doubtful as to the wisdom of quik-n-easy pastors to order (one harm of which Shrew cites above), the undefining of the seminaries, and the balkanization of the Bride of Christ.

read it said...

ignoramus here.

Can you explain to me why men can't go directly to seminary from high school? Why do they have to have a degree? I saw the CTS application has a box to check if he doesn't have a degree. I think once I checked to see what GRE scores they want and it was like a minimum 550, which is decent. But probably anyone who can get a 550 on the GRE and has whatever basic language knowledge is necessary, should be allowed to give it a go? Or am I missing something?

Mark said...

"Read it", somewhat complicated question. The best answer is that a seminary is accredited as a graduate school. Part of being accredited is admissions standards. Those standards include a B.A/B.S. There are ways for older men or non-traditional students to get around that, but they don't graduate with a degree, just a certificate. Which is really all they want at that time.