Wednesday, July 22, 2015

On Seminarians and their formation and Training — III, by The Rev. Peter J. Van Hook

Last week, I wrote about how a person moves through the usual process toward ordination to be a Deacon or Priest in the Episcopal Church. The process is the same for both and is long and involves years of education, reviews, and interviews. Last week’s blog was about the two men who have been with us and what the future holds for them and for us. This week, I address why these two men are here and what they are doing this summer.

The Role of Seminaries

One of the mysteries to most lay people about seminary education is how little practical training is provided. Of course, there are courses in liturgics (the how and why of leading and planning worship), the required clinical pastoral education, and even a course in canon law. At the same time, most Episcopal seminaries offer only one required course in homiletics (preaching) and a single semester of direct parish experience. (Bishop’s encourage seminarians to get as much experience as possible, but it is not a seminary requirement.) For example, I graduated after three years with no instruction in how to organize, lead, or preside at vestry or Bishop’s Committee Meetings, no instruction in promotion or public relations, and no instruction in human resource management or accounting and financial management.

The reason for this distinct lack of practical knowledge is that, historically, seminaries are theological schools not training schools. That is, they are academic institutions whose purpose is to prepare an educated and thoughtful church leadership. Seminaries prepare one to reflect, not to do. This is not training, but education: learning to learn, sometimes called formation. The purpose of formation is not to give a person skills but to equip them spiritually and intellectually for the rigors of ministry. The individual student is expected, with the support of their bishop and commission on ministry, to gain whatever practical experience they can during their three year course of study.

And therein lies this summer experience for David Carlisle and Tim Yanni.

A Summer at St. Mary's Church—the Role of the Parish in Preparation for Ministry

Knowing all this, I have offered Tim and David an opportunity to learn some stuff about parish life that they will not, indeed cannot, get in seminary. Like opportunities to preach to a real congregation of “normal” people. Like opportunities to teach and interact with parishioners about their own lives. Like opportunities to participate in congregational worship. And so on.

David Carlisle, having been an active part of this congregation’s life, has had a number of opportunities to take on leadership roles. He spent a year organizing and establishing our St. Francis Garden in the front of the church. To do so, he had to learn to negotiate with the Bishop’s Committee about the stake people have in their church and how to manage a limited budget in order to accomplish something positive. He has had opportunities to interact with parishioners pastorally while serving as a Eucharistic Visitor, which means calling on people in the hospital or in their home, and sitting with them to talk about their lives, and to pray with them.

As previously noted, Tim Yanni’s path toward ordination has been different than David’s in that he has had fewer opportunities for practical experience in a congregation. Tim’s primary purpose this summer is to complete his clinical pastoral education experience, so we have had to work around his commitments at St. Mark’s Hospital. He has been assisting in the Thursday Catechism Course, and that has given the two of us opportunities to chat while commuting. Tim has been sitting in on Bishop's Committee Meetings and acting as a Eucharistic Visitor, and he has been given several opportunities to preach to a live congregation, not just to a class of fellow students. In his CPE course he has attended birth and been with people in death. He has baptized people, and he has prayed with people.

In other words, this summer at St. Mary's Church has given both David and Tim real-world experience that relatively few seminarians ever get before they graduate. And, this experience has happened in a healthy, living congregation of real people in an odd corner of the universe called Provo.

Which is to say that the positive experience they have had at St. Mary's Church is because of the parishioners. The members of St. Mary's Church have welcomed David and Tim in their new roles and have been gracious in giving them access to parish life. In all this, they have been given a glimpse at what life will be like after they are ordained. It is truly a gift given by the people of God to two men who seek to serve Christ in them.

A footnote:
David will preach his final sermon on August 9 and will then move to Tucson, Arizona, where he, Arum, and the boys will take up their new life at the University of Arizona. David will continue as a member of St. Mary's Church and as an aspirant for ordination from the Diocese of Utah. He has already begun the part-time, non-residential program toward his Masters of Divinity (M.Div.) degree at CDSP.

Tim will finish up CPE in mid-August and then return to CDSP for his third and final year of seminary. He will be meeting with Bishop Hayashi later this summer to discuss becoming a Candidate for Holy Orders, the final step before ordination.


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