God's Word for today

Friday, 12 November 2010

Family, ministry, and the MCSA

I was going to title this post Have the Catholics Actually Got the Right Ministry Model After All?, because if I was to become a Catholic priest, one of the requirements would be to be single.  While I'd imagine that life would be quite lonely (speaking in hindsight, of course, because my family means the world to me), ministry would certainly be a lot less complicated!

Right now I'm going through one of my "illogical anxiety" phases, where it has suddenly dawned on me that I need to get my application for a high school place for James for 2012 submitted by the end of February 2011!  Adding to the anxiety is the fact that there are good schools, and, shall we say, not-so-good schools.  The result of this, of course, is that the good schools fill up faster, which means that if one drags one's feet, the only places available tend to be in institutions that are not exactly the best academic grounding if one's child is to have the option of going to university one day.

The better schools also tend to cost more, but thankfully James is a hard worker who gets good grades, so the possibility of being able to apply for a scholarship is on the cards.  However, closing dates for scholarship applications are (if anything) even earlier than normal applications.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have been exploring the option of staying at seminary for a third year in order to embark on a PhD, starting next year.  The additional time at seminary would (in theory) allow me to do much of the primary research almost on a full-time basis.  However, our attendance at a high schools expo last week has opened my eyes to the fact that if I were to stay on for an additional year, James would spend one year in high school and then we would be required to relocate.  This leaves us with three options:
  1. Stay on at seminary for a third year, let James do his first year of high school, then we all relocate to wherever the Church sends me.
  2. Stay on at seminary for a third year, let James do his first year of high school, then remain at the school as a border while Belinda and I relocate to wherever the Church sends me.
  3. Can the idea of a third year at seminary, and we all relocate to whever the Church sends me, where James will then start his high school phase.
Each of these options have its drawbacks:
  1. Moving schools after a year is academically disruptive.
  2. Keeping James in the same school is academically sound, but could be emotionally disruptive if I were to be relocated after a year.  Being apart as a family last year was rough, and we're not too sure if we're prepared to do that again.
  3. The staioning mechanism of the MCSA means that our hands are effectively tied in terms of where to apply for a school, since this is unlikely to be finalised until Conference meets (normally in September).  For that matter, there are three of my colleagues at seminary who are to be stationed from the beginning of 2011 (i.e. six weeks from now) who STILL do not have final confirmation of where they are going next year!
Right now I'm in a quandry, not least in terms of re-examining my calling to ministry.  When I candidated for ministry in mid-2007, I was clear in my heart that my calling was to full-time ministry as the spiritual leader of a congregation.  Within the MCSA, the only office realistically open to exercising such a ministry is through ordination to the itinerant ministry of Word and Sacrament.  (The MCSA also has a non-itinerant category of ordained ministry, theoretically with the same privileges and responsibilities of ministry that the itinerant folks have, but in practice non-itinerants do not get to be spiritual leaders of a congregation other than in a secondary role to another itinerant minister, so for me that was not an option in terms of what I believe God has called me to.)

When I was stationed in Uitenhage last year, this calling was confirmed so powerfully that I wanted to remain in Circuit.  Family considerations also had a role, together with the whole uncertainty around whether I would be allowed to remain there or be sent to seminary - once again, if you have been following my blog for some time, you will know that I don't do well with uncertainty, especially when my family is likely to be impacted.  However, having now had a taste of being in that role of spiritual leader to a congregation, I knew without a doubt that this was what God wanted me to do and what I wanted to do with my life.

Seminary has been very difficult in a number of ways, but the biggest struggle I have faced is a loss of a sense of providing spiritual leadership.  Within the seminary our lives are fairly rigid and scheduled around academics, whilst outside the seminary one's involvement with a local church is always (of necessity) a delicate one, in that there is a local minister who has been charged with the spiritual leadership of that particular congregation.  Wanting to avoid treading on that minister's toes is one consideration, and not really having time to do much in the way of ministry anyway (due to the academic workload at seminary), precludes one from making any meaningful contribution to the life of a particular congregation.  But one thing is certain - Circuit ministry is where I ultimately need to be.  That hasn't changed since 2006 when I first began to respond to the calling to ministry.

I honestly believed that I would feel differently about the whole seminary / Circuit conundrum after I'd been here for a while, but now that I'm coming to the end of almost a year here, my desire to be a Circuit minister has not diminished - if anything, it has intensified.  As a result, PhD notwithstanding, I'm beginning to have doubts about spending a third year here. (In terms of the rubrics that apply to our particular intake, I'm only required to be here for two years).

What this DOES mean, of course, is that I need to make a decision fairly quickly, because the deadline for applying for high school in Pietermaritzburg for 2010 is the end of February 2010, as already stated.  The PhD is not a driving factor - I can still register for it in mid-2011; it just means that the bulk of it will be done part-time (without the benefit of the year of virtually "full-time" study) if I decide to request being put into the stationing pool for 2012.  On the other hand, I have no idea where that station is likely to be, which means that my hands would be tied in terms of making an application for high school anywhere else - and will be unlikely to know before September 2011 (which will be seven months too late!).  There's also the question of rushing things - after all, I will eventually end up in Circuit ministry where God has called me to, and a year either way is nothing really in the greater scheme of things.

Life would be SO much easier if I knew I could be stationed in the Pietermaritzburg, but that is unlikely given the experiences of one of my colleagues - a "match seemingly made in heaven" concerining a local posting has been stymied further up the chain of command, for reasons unknown to me.  Under such circumstances, a similar request from me is not likely to receive a much-different response.

The long and the short of it is that I am clueless as to what to do.  I know I need to trust God - God, after all, is the one who called me to this ministry.  However, the same God also gave me my family.  I love both gifts from God dearly - and when the needs of these two gifts are seemingly different, it's a real struggle!

At least being able to get these thoughts down in the form of a blog post has helped me to clear my mind a bit, so that I can once again turn my attention to preparing for exams - but I will have to deal with this issue at some point, and soon, because time is running out...

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