I'm not quite sure how to word this post without getting myself into trouble with the "powers that be", but yesterday something happened that made me SO angry I was ready to go and blow up something or punch someone!
Not the sort of healthy emotion one would expect from a minister. And this kind of anger really bothers me - a lot! Especially when I feel this way towards the Church that has provided me with the outlet and space to explore and develop the call that God has placed on my life to full-time ministry.
I would never do anything to malign the institution. At Synod last year, where we were accepted as ministry candidates, we took a vow in the presence of all present not to do so. But I really need to get something off my chest, in the hope that it will (a) bring about healing, and (b) hopefully invite others who have walked this road to provide me with wise counsel.
Allow me to explain.
When I candidated for the ministry, the normal process of probation was that once you were accepted as a probationer, your first year would be spent out in the boondocks somewhere. You would attend lectures two days a week at a Phase One college situated as far away from your home as humanly possible, while those who live within striking range of such Phase One station would in turn be stationed at the Phase One centre that was actually only 15km away from where you lived before the Church decided to send you 1000km away from home.
I understand that the reason for this is to take you out of your "comfort zone" and allow you to experience cross-cultural ministry. Fair enough - in a country that has historically been as fragmented as South Africa (and still is), gaining an understanding of other cultures is important.
Because the first stationing is only for one year, making my son change schools and then change schools again 12 months later seemed to be not such a good idea, especially since (at that stage) I did not know where the Church was planning to send me. This resulted in the heart-wrenching decision to leave my family behind in Johannesburg - a decision made a little easier by the understanding that when one enters the second phase of training - Phase Two - you normally settle down in a Circuit for three years, judging by the experience of Phase Twos that came to my old Circuit. In my mind this meant being reunited with my family from 2010 onwards.
Then came the idea of sending all probationers to the new Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary (SMMS), which is being established in Pietermaritzburg. However, at this stage there is no "official" clarity on whether all probationers will go to SMMS or not, and for those who do, whether this will be for one, two, or three years.
This would not be an issue if I was 22 years old, single and carefree (the ideal ministry candidate, if the HR report tabled at last year's Conference is anything to go by. This document is lamenting the fact that the average of candidates is 42). My problem is that I'm actually 40, married, with one wife, one child, one mother, one mother-in-law, one dog, one scooter, three cars, and 20 years' worth of accumulated furniture, garage stuff, and other bits and pieces - all under one roof.
Clearly even the most dyed-in-the-wool free spirit can see that some decisions need to be made here! One doesn't simply sell up and relocate this lot in a matter of days, or even weeks - one needs about six months to be able to make all this work smoothly.
And herein lies the rub - the "powers that be" that are talking to us don't have the information, and those that do aren't talking to us! In fact, I'm beginning to get the distinct impression that since the Phase One is likely to be done away with from next year (i.e. probationers will go straight to SMMS), the Phase One Class of 2009 is like an unwanted orphan, a square peg trying to knock the edges off a round hole.
So what made me so angry yesterday? It was the fact that there are certain requirements that are expected of us - reports to Synod by our Superintendent and Learning Partnerships, for instance. And while I'm not for one second suggesting that we need to be spoonfed - after all, we are supposed to be ministers of the Gospel, and we are supposed to be mature adults - one would think that it's only reasonable that if the "powers" expect something from us, they actually TELL us what that something needs to be, when it must be submitted, and to whom it must be submitted.
What actually happened is that a couple of us had to go scratching around for ourselves, trying to find out what is required. After all, there's a whole truck-load of reports that had to be handed in by last year's Phase Ones - the worst thing that could happen is when we get to Synod and are asked, "where's such-and-such a report", we stand there with a mouthful of teeth, shrugging, "what report?"
We are meant to have a Probationer's Handbook, but such Handbook is (apparently) no longer in print. Yet many of the aforementioned requirements, forms, etc. are in the salf-same Handbook! How is one supposed to meet the requirements if we are not informed of them? Surely we shouldn't have to go around scratching for these things?
I'm normally quite an optimist by nature. Yes, I know that it's meant to be tough. I know that "what doesn't kill, fattens". I know that we are meant to stand on our own two feet, and all that good stuff. But I'm getting the feeling that in this transition period between the old and the new systems, there is a group of people that are stuck in the middle that are a bit of a thorn in the Church's side, and as a consequence are numbers to be processed rather than real people. And I'm starting to get just a little bit tired of being treated like a mushroom - kept in a dark corner, and having manure dumped on top!
I'm also getting fed up of being told, "calm down - you're in Phase One - don't rock the boat - keep your head down - just do as you're told - you don't want to become a 'marked man'". It may be good advice to some, but I've had a belly-full of it. I'm a human being, dammit! I have a brain. I have feelings. I already have a 20-year business career and twelve years of post-school education (excluding my current theology studies) under the belt. And so I'm getting just a little bit hot under the collar at the moment!
Trust me, I don't want to just rock the boat for the sake of it. And believe me when I say that I'm not rebelling against the Church's decisions. I want to be singing off the same hymn-sheet. All I'm asking for is to be treated like a human being, not like a number. Things I'd like to know include: What are the Church's plans? Am I going to SMMS or not? If so, I need to know fairly soon in order to sell up in Joburg and find a place to rent for my family in Pietermaritzburg (I can't somehow see me shoehorning my menagerie into College-provided accommodation, however generously-proportioned such accommodation may be). There's also the matter of schooling for James. What about studies - will I be allowed to complete my degree by the end of 2010? If so, what about post-graduate studies - is this something that the Church encourages and can actually make some use of, or is it simply a "nice to have"?
What exactly is the MCSA expecting of me between now and ordination? Is there someone I can sit down and have an open and honest discussion with? To do a bit of "career counselling" with me, for want of a better term? To provide me with some direction so as to allow me to give my family some peace of mind concerning what's going to happen for the next five years? To allow me to lay my cards on the table, and for the Church to do the same with me?
Am I asking too much here? Is this a fair request, or am I being unreasonable?
So yes, I'm a little bit angry at the moment. But God is faithful, and despite everything, I still believe that God has called me to serve Him in full-time ministry. It remains something that I want to do more than anything else on earth.
The Church, in turn, wants ministers who will respond to God's call and will serve Him with zeal, diligence, and integrity. I really want to be such a minister.
Right now, I really need prayer...
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