One Bishop, Two Bishops, Three Little Bishops

Earlier this week, the bishops came to town.

The bishops represented four specific synods (and four larger regions) of the ELCA and came to interview seniors, meet with seminarians, and try to explain the “draft” in no-anxiety inducing ways. As a junior, many of the topics covered did not pertain to me but I did love hearing about the draft. Okay okay, the bishops do not like to call it a “draft” but it’s the only word that students use. The draft is really the assignment process – the process how seminarians are assigned to synods across the ELCA. Seminarians call it the draft in honor of the NFL draft (not the military draft I think). The anxiety inducing images are groups of bishops meeting at the churchwide offices in Chicago, putting all the available seminarians on a wall, and then haggling over them. I think the room is also suppose to be covered entirely in velvet and the walls resemble the billiard hall for landed gentry in the late 1800s. In the smoke filled room, students are traded for, against, and decisions are made. I never really thought this was a valid interpretation of the draft because if it really was a draft, I would like a signing bonus. And having Chris Berman narrating the event, going over our statistics, and describing how fast we can run the 40 yard dash, would be fantastic.

My bishop came down to visit and I had lunch with him and met up with him in a small group discussion. I also met with the bishop from the Northern Texas – Northern Louisiana Synod. Both discussions went really well and I asked quite a bit about the opportunities for latino pastors and whether latino pastors would end up being placed into only specific congregations (as the former head of a call committee, I am very familiar with the ways committees can reject candidates). Would I really only find a call in a multi-ethnic congregation, a hispanic congregation (even though I currently do not speak spanish), or would my opportunities to receive a first call be larger than that? I’m curious because I know that I will be restricted on where I will end up (sorry North Dakota! /sarcasm) and I really would like to not sit around for five years waiting to be called (though a bishop that visited did wait 5 years until his first call). I was told that I really should learn Spanish (the growth in the ELCA for a lot of congregations is among hispanics) but that I won’t be smacked into a narrow demographic when it comes to first call opportunities.

Though what first call opportunities will be there, the bishops were frank that the church is in a strange boat right now. Many churches cannot afford a full time pastor and many new models are being thought about to merge congregations or to create multi-point parishes were one pastor serves multiple churches. Whenever I heard the bishops talk like this, I think about the early Lutheran church in the United States which was served by many pastors who spent most of their time on horseback. I’ve only been horseback riding once and I remember being young and pleading with the horse, several times, to not jump because I was afraid I was going to fall off all the time. I was about ten years old and the horse had a sense of humor. And by sense of humor, I mean that the horse liked to messed with me because it would stop at ditches, pretend that it was going to jump across, and then walk over. That’s anxiety inducing right there. I hope the horses that served the frontier weren’t smartalecks too.

Besides the attempts to dissuade our fear of where we will eventually end up to do ministry, I enjoyed the bishops’ visit. I wish more had been able to make it and I think it’s very fitting that the bishop from New York is as towering figure as he is. For the city of skyscrapers, that just seems to make sense.

Seminary Friday

I had an interesting seminary experience on Wednesday.

For those of you who are counting, I have one class on Wednesday – Introduction to Christian History. The class is in the afternoon and is 3 and one-half hours long. Basically, on Wednesdays, I eat lunch, go to class, and then go to dinner. I am never hungry at dinner time but the food is sometimes bad enough, I wouldn’t have eaten it anyways. It’s fun when the the world meshes like that.

Anyways, for the last three weeks, Dr. Timothy Wengert was the lecturer in my History class. Who is Dr. Wengert? Well, when it comes to Lutheran Academia, he’s pretty much THE GUY in the United States. His list of books is impressive, his track record being involved in ecumenical documents between the ELCA and other church bodies (including some future documents that will come out between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in 2017), involve him to some degree. And he’s the co-editor of the latest edition of the Book of Concord. He’s kind of a big deal and his specialty is with the Reformers, specifically Philip Melancthon (he’s the guy who wrote the founding confessional document for the Lutheran church, the Augsburg Confession). And so for his last lecture with the class, he asked us to write a paper for him. The topic was Martin Luther’s The Freedom of a Christian and we were asked to analyze what Martin Luther meant by freedom and compare that with either Calvin or the Council of Trent. And he’ll be grading the paper. I’m not gonna lie – I was a little intimated by this assignment.

So, after staying up way too late and spending Wednesday morning revising my paper, I printed it out in the Brossman center, stapled it in the library, and brought it, stains and all, to class on Wednesday. I tossed it on the pile of papers at the front of the room, sat down, pulled up my laptop, and tried to prepare for lecture (I was also heavily caffeinated because diet soda is my friend). I opened up the outline for the day’s lecture and noticed that it was only half a page long. This outline was too short for an expected 2.5 hour lecture. Inside, I panicked a little. Was I missing something? Were we going to have to play Jeopardy in class again (which I kicked butt in, tyvm)? Would I not be able to actually spend the entire time reading blogs? The questions seminarians can have prior to lecture knows no bounds. I failed to actually guess the right answer to my query. At the very start of class, Dr. Wengert stood in the front of the class, and after showing us a facsimile of an original copy of the German version of Freedom of a Christian, he took out his copy of the book, looked at the class and asked “So who started reading the translation from the very beginning? Raise your hand. It’s okay to admit it – your grades are sunk already so feel free to be honest. ” Dr. Wengert has a very academic sense of humor and, after a few people raise their hands, he shared “well, that was wrong. So who started at the translator’s introduction? Hands?” I rose my hand when we got to the part of the text that included Martin Luther’s letter to Leo X. That wasn’t right either and the first quote in my paper was from that section of the text. Le sigh.

For the next hour, the class watched (and participated) as Dr. Wengert did an extremely detailed walk through of Freedom of a Christian. I didn’t answer many of his questions because I was too busy keeping a running checklist in my head of the things I didn’t include (or got wrong) in the paper. Luckily, I did touch on a few big topics (I talked about the commands and promises of the Bible but forgot to actually use the phrase law and gospel) and I also made the mistake of not fully understanding what Martin Luther meant by his use of splitting the person into spiritual/new and worldly/old realms. If I had, it would have made my analysis of Calvin’s view of Christian freedom in Chapter 19 of his Institutes of Christian Religion a tad easier.

It was fascinating to see Dr. Wengert’s mind work and to see, and hear, how his reading of the text has evolved during the last thirty years that he has taught this text. But, after the discussion, I was left a little out of sorts and feeling just a tad weird about what just happened. I uess that this is part of the bootcamp aspect of Seminary. “You just spent a week analyzing these source documents and you think you know something? Here’s how you really do it.” And then BOOM BOOM BOOM! You are left in a daze as a brilliant mind illuminates the text, and shows HOW to illuminate the text. It’s breathtaking, fascinating, intimidating, and a little obnoxious all at the same time.

I’m looking forward to Lutheran Confessions with him next semester. This is going to be body building, Lutheran style. I should start bicep curling Lutheran Hymnals, bench pressing the Book of Concord, and taking performance enhancing versions of the sacraments now to get ready. Watch out world! I’m gonna get huge.

What a day

I think that today is my first “bad” day at seminary.

It started out rather well. I woke up tired but functional. I made it to breakfast, ingested my usual yogurt and fruit breakfast, and made it to Old Testament class with minutes to spare. I did not, I’ll admit, read all that I was suppose to but I thought, who needs to read about the Assyrian legal codes when you’ve already read the Code of Hammurapi? In class, I took notes, paid attention, and participated during the small group and wider lecture section. I did what I was suppose to do.

After class, I headed to the library, completed my assigned OT reading (so, yes, I read the legal codes that have parallels in the Torah) and finished my Old Testament reading for Monday. I skipped chapel to run through some Hebrew flash cards, went to lunch, said hello to a member of my candidacy committee who was visiting campus, and was a peripherally participant to a conversation about baseball with Dr. Wengert. A new friend who I met through the church I am completing my field experience through was on campus for the day so I said hello and had a delightful conversation with her. I went back to my room, reviewed more Hebrew flash cards, realized that pronouns and some nouns were not my strength but felt confident that I knew 90% of the rest of the words and that I would do okay on the first Hebrew vocabulary quiz of the year. I can be quite a cocky son of a gun.

And, of course, the 10% I didn’t know were on the test and my not knowing those led me to forgetting quite a few I did know when my heart sank when I looked at the test. I’ll admit, after the exam (and through the next 2/3rds of lecture), I was ticked. It annoyed me to not do well on my first real ‘test’ at seminary. Sure, I’m taking this class pass/fail but, comeon, I want to do well. I have a reputation of being horrible with languages and failing at memorizing things (my inability to memorize the lyrics to my favorite songs is legendary in a five state radius) – I was hoping for a new start here!

But I did have hope. In only a few hours, I would be on the bus back to NYC and my beloved wife and our fellow cave dwellers known as the dog and the cat. We would be united again after the long week! I would be rejuvenated through the healing power of dog bites and cat scratches. Come Monday, Hebrew would meet its match. I would be victorious!

And then I realized, while at the bus station, that I had purchased the wrong bus ticket, from NYC to Philly rather than the other way around. And Bolt Bus’s computer was done. And they weren’t letting people buy tickets for the bus. Nor were they going to honor my mistake (like they use to). Nor would anyone who didn’t already have a ticket actually get on the bus. I was, for the moment, SOL.

But there is a happy ending to this “story”. The Megabus, for the first time since humans crawled out of the seregetdi and invented fast food, was leaving Philadelphia ON TIME. There it was, ready to be filled by the people who could not get on the Bolt Bus. My ark of salvation in the shape of a shiny blue bus with a yellow man painted on the side. I have heard of worse.

So, yes, my day really wasn’t that bad – just stressful and my head is swimming with the fact that I will be out of town next weekend and I have 3 papers due the following week. But I’ll be okay. And you know how I know that? Because I finally received my first real practical piece of education today at seminary that will serve me well while just being a part of the local Philly community. I know how to write “The Phillies” in biblical Hebrew now. But don’t tell the rest of Queens. They might stone me for mixing the wrong National League teams (but, I gotta say, Rockies4lyfe \m/).


It took me almost a month but I finally started opening the correct door in the front of the library. Multiple times a day, my momentum would be dashed by trying to open the locked door rather than the unlocked door. This is quite an achievement and deserves a pat on the back.

I also enjoy the fact that the library book I checked out is not due until JANUARY. Booyah! I might turn it into my mouse pad for the rest of the semester.

Field Experience

To be honest, when I applied to LTSP, I had no idea what Field Experience meant. When I arrived on campus for my visit, my conversation with the admissions director, brought up the concept of “site”, “field education”, and other such terms. I had the vague understanding that it meant that I would work at a church at some point. I heard phrases such as “first year rotation”, “second year site”, “first year site”, and all that, and I really did not know what that meant. It wasn’t until I arrived on campus, two weeks before the semester officially started, that I figured out what Field Education meant. It meant what I thought it did – working at a church a few hours a week, including Sunday. For the typical first year student, instead of working at a church, they instead go on “rotation”, traveling to a set church for 3 Sundays in a row and talking about what they see. As a non-typical first year student (i.e. I did not grow up Lutheran and I would be in NYC on the weekend), that would not fit me. Rather, I needed to jump with two feet into what is called “first year site field experience”. I would do my first year what is typically done by second year students. The only problem, however, is that when I arrived on campus, I didn’t have a church lined up to work at yet.


Luckily, my home pastor knows people and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I started my field experience last Sunday. I arrived at the church in Manhattan early to help blow up helium balloons to tie to the pews as it was Rally Day in the congregation. They did not teach me how to blow up helium balloons in my first two weeks at LTSP but I have discovered that there are many things that Seminary does not teach you – I just now need to add blowing up balloons to that list. I helped out in my first service there, being an usher, and filling in any roles that needed to be filled. After the first service, I jumped in and helped teach a group of Sunday school students the parable of the lost sheep and lost coin and had to explain to 7 year olds what repent means. At the second service, I stood in the back and passed out programs. After each service, I was introduced as Vicar Marc (which is just so weird to hear and say), and after the second service, I went with the youth group to play some baseball.

When I first heard about Field Experience, no one told me about baseball. I wish they had – I might have been more excited about it.

My Sundays and Fridays (and some Saturday mornings) are going to be quite busy now that I’m back in New York. I like the opportunity to apply what I’m learning in the classroom to an actual parish (though I’m not sure how much Hebrew a 7 year old would need to know) and I’m really enjoying how the parish has no problem letting me jump into things. In fact, I’ve realized that most of all my positive church experiences start that way. When I first started attending Trinity LIC, K had no problem volunteering me for anything and everything. And Trinity had no problem bringing me into the fold and letting me make a small difference in some ways. This method isn’t the best way to reach all people but it seems to be the best way to reach to me. I think I’m going to enjoy my first year field experience.

The First Full Week of Seminary

Lordy, Lord, Lord. What a week.

My first class took place a little over a week ago. At the start, let me go over my current course schedule. Introduction to Christian History, Old Testament 1, Hebrew 1, and Thinking About God (i.e. Introduction to Systematic Theology). When I say Lordy, Lord, Lord, I mean that in a good way. For the first week, I have been getting use to being back in school. Luckily I love absorbing information (though how well I absorb it is another matter). Some of the differences between Seminary and my undergraduate education is a) I am actually showing up to class now and b) instead of problem sets, I’m reading. And by reading, I mean I am reading. Most of my nights involve eating dinner between 5 and 6 and then staying in my room till midnight, reading. Part of this has to do with my attempt at limiting the text books I bring home on weekends but a part of it also has to do with the amount of information that I am being asked to read – easily 600 pages a week. And, because I need to take notes to absorb information, this is not the usual fast reading that I am capable of. It’s slow, methodical, and I’m under the full impression that I will not fully memorize what I have read until I digest it again before the quiz. If I had a quarter for every time a professor asked a question about what I read and how clueless I looked….

But I am enjoying my time here at LTSP. I’m learning different professors, their lecture styles, what they view as important, and what they want from their students. Each professor is a tiny bit different. I am finding one common theme is the attempt for students to be able to look at a bible verse or a piece of writing and deconstruct it not only into it’s specific parts but also try to figure out the assumptions that created that piece of writing, it’s context, how to apply it, and also the consequence of said writing. In a sense, we are to grok what we are reading (sci-fi reference for the win!). To be honest, this can be quite overwhelming at first. In fact, it is still very overwhelming while I think about it. But I’m at least keeping up with the reading, participating in class, and hoping that by the time my first papers are due (3 weeks from now), I might sound like I know what I’m talking about. Here’s hoping at least.

One thing that I will admit to not participating in on campus, much, is chapel service. There is a matins service at 7:30, a service around noon, and a compline service at 10pm. I will make Eucharist service, and I’ve been to one compline, but matins and compline are really not on my schedule at the moment. I find myself sitting in the library at 11:50, hearing the “WORSHIP WITH US” bells ringing, and if I’m in the middle of my book, I’ll just keep reading. One thing that I have been curious about is, now that I’m in field experience (more about that later), how I will handle not having a worship life where I just attend rather than actually work at. I’m attempting to establish that at Seminary but I’m not sure how easy it will be with the constant rotating worship types, styles, preachers, and presiders. I know it’s early in the school year, and I will mostly establish a connection to the people I am worshipping with rather than who is actually leading service, but I am curious to see how that aspect of my need for worship will develop over the next few months.

I was hoping that, at some point, to highlight the interesting things I’ve discovered during lectures, sections, classes, reading, etc. I’m still hoping to establish that at some point but, at the moment, it seems that most of my blogging will take place during my downtime waiting for the bus to take me back and forth between NYC and Philly.