The rumors are true: I have been approved for ordained ministry in the ELCA.
I entered the Metropolitan New York Synod’s offices a tad nervous. I felt a bit like I did that first day, nearly four years ago, when I met the candidacy committee for the first time. There’s a few less hairs on my head than there were back then, I’ve gained a few pounds, and upgraded my suit and shoes in the process, but the butterflies in my stomach felt the same. You never know, really, what to expect when you meet the committee. Any question can be asked and nothing is off the table. In the build up to the meeting, all my irrational dreams filtered through my mind, all resembling that dream of arriving to take a surprise final exam that I didn’t study for. Would I be Lutheran enough? Would I be Christian enough? Would they just see through me? Did my cat send them some dirt ahead of time? I spent the evening prior reading the ELCA clergy guide, “Visions and Expectations,” but that didn’t calm my nerves any. Instead, I reverted to my high school routine when my nerves were besting me: I listened to the loudest pop punk I could find. I walked into the offices, chatted with another candidate for approval, and then was whisked away to meet four members of the candidacy committee in one of the drab conference rooms that dot the Synod’s office. Introductions were pleasant, a water pitcher was in front of us, a theme for the interview was set, and then the fun began. And I’ll be honest – I had a lot of fun.
The first question was a standard strengths/weaknesses/what-are-you-doing-to-change-your-weaknesses twelve part question. I took it in stride, making sure to mention anything that I accomplished in seminary and internship that was quantifiable. I didn’t only mention leading a Sunday School program; I mentioned how many students attended weekly. I could feel myself using tricks from my old web developer days, freely using “I” statements while throwing out specifics that could be backed up with data if necessary. And as the questions continued, covering pastoral care, theology, my internship experience, and my vision for where I might serve in the future, I could feel myself rolling through each question, each one feeding the next, and just energizing me forward. I didn’t have to pretend; I just talked. And the words, they came freely because I was doing what I love to do: talking about God’s actions in my life. Faith is just plain awesome and throwing down words about my love for Christ, God, and Lutheranism, were easy. It would be easy to just claim that this was the Holy Spirit working through me but this wasn’t just a one-time event. I was giving testimony how I’ve been formed and how the Holy Spirit was there even when I didn’t feel or know it. The words just came and I just had fun. The interview ran long because we were having too much fun. The committee would say “we’re getting low on time and we need to wrap up” and then two more questions would follow. This happened all the time. I loved it and the time just flew by. 50 minutes was the time limit but I think we blew by 75 before I even realized it.
At the end of the interview, I thanked everyone, checked in with other candidacy committee members, and then headed home to pick up the family, change my clothes, and head to church to sing Christmas carols outside in a snowstorm. I checked in with the staff, took care of some work, and served as a liaison between our senior pastor (who was at the candidacy committee meeting) and everyone on the ground at church. So, after my approval interview, I went to work. And I enjoyed it.
Later that evening, the head of the candidacy committee called me with my results. I was approved. I thanked him for his leadership and time with me, hung up the phone, and got a high five from my son and wife. Then I went out for a celebratory dinner where I ate a 20 oz burger and followed that up with a Christmas party on the seminary campus. Happy and exhausted, I hit the hay way too late, got up the next morning, and headed back to work. I couldn’t imagine it any other way.
But there has been one thing I didn’t expect through this whole process: I didn’t expect to feel different now that I am approved. But I do. Maybe it is because I can now worry about finding a job rather than approval (and the finding a job thing is going to be a hot mess) that makes my life feel different. I feel like there’s one thing in the back of my mind that has melted away. And that melting has made life just a tad different. I went through my emails and found my first email to the assistant to the bishop in charge of formation, asking about candidacy. It was dated September 15, 2009. Now, 4 years later, here I am. Who knew this would happen? Well, God did, but not me. And here I am, with only one more semester left in seminary. Thanks be to God.