Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The End of my Ordination Process

What follows is a copy (slightly edited to remove other people's names and identifying characteristics) of the letter I sent earlier this week to the chair of my presbytery's Committee on Preparation for Ministry:
This is a letter that has taken me quite some time to write. After meeting with the CPM several months ago, and subsequently with (my CPM liaison), it became clear that I needed to do more to make a positive decision either to continue in the Ordination process or to make the final, painful decision to withdraw. I have been in this process, to a greater or lesser degree, for fully half of my life now, and letting go of the possibility of ordination to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA) is not a decision I could make lightly.

Besides my conversation with (my liaison), I have been consulting with a Spiritual Director... for the past year, and have had numerous discussions with my wife, with my parents, and with other trusted Christian friends over the past months. In that time, I have continued to volunteer my time at (my church) teaching the elementary school Godly Play classes, have been part of a search committee that just recently made the decision to hire a new Youth Director, and I have also recently gone back to (a local PC(USA) retirement home) to lead in their Vespers service. While I definitely have the teaching and preaching gifts that were a part of the original understanding of my call that led me to enter the ordination process in the first place, I am now convinced that these are not the primary gifts that ordained ministers in the church of today need. Although I've wanted to be careful not to write off my potential contributions to the ministry on the basis of being Introverted, recognizing that I may simply have to work harder than some others at the more social aspects of ministry, it seems to me that the gifts of greater value to the current church may not be ones that I can say with confidence that I possess. Also, I found that when asked the question "what am I being called to do that I could not do if I were not ordained?", I could come up with no answer that didn't involve the ability to perform the sacraments, and this is not something that I feel deeply enough about as part of my call. (I contrast this with someone I know well, who is now ordained, and for whom a love of the sacraments is an obvious part of both their interests and their occupational goals.) I therefore conclude that it is not my call to continue to seek ordination to the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament.

In point of fact, I find that I was coming to this conclusion quite some time ago, but that it was only through giving it voice little-by-little over the past couple of months that I was able to begin to accept the implications of this decision. Although going back to the Theological Competence exam which gave me such trouble nearly a decade ago, and finally passing it last year, was a personal victory for me, it would actually have been easier had I failed it yet again, as that would have been a clear "no." It has been my experience, both here and elsewhere, that sometimes God wants to teach me how to live with ambiguity. My calling, whatever it will be for the future, is obviously a mixed one, in which I will continue to use my gifts (including administrative ones I have only begun to identify within the past few years) for the members of the Christian communities in which I find myself, some of which may well be "pastoral" in a real sense, but in which I will not serve as their pastor.

While I'm still working out my long-term goals, I do have a few steps already in mind (current steps removed, as I'm not quite ready for those to be public yet).

Please extend my gratitude to the rest of CPM for the time they have spent on my behalf.

Mark Baker-Wright
I'll no doubt need to process more of my thoughts on what this means for my life and for my writing (including here on the blog) later. For now, it's enough to say that my interests haven't changed. Just the particularities of my career aspirations. Your prayers and support are appreciated.

3 comments:

  1. Well, I'm not sure that I have anything terribly helpful to add, but you certainly have my sympathies: that's a hard decision to have to make. I'm glad, at least, that you seem to be making progress in terms of figuring out what you need/want/are best suited to do.

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  2. It's always good to have the courage to change your mind and/or recognize your own strengths and weaknesses. Good luck!

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  3. Reflecting on that it would have been easier to fail the exam again (therefore sensing a clear no): I have known you for a bit over 10 years now. I can say with great forthrightness that I see your sticking to it and passing and then having the personal strength to walk away--all out of very deep personal conviction and commitment--that, my friend, I feel I've just witenessed you grow taller as a man. As always you have my full support and prayers going forward.

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