Thursday, October 29, 2009

Going to God School

Studies at the Missouri School of Religion

I apologize for being "away" from the blog duties for awhile. But I do want to write about my latest endeavor - pastoral studies, or as I usually call it "God School". I entered the program through the
Missouri School of Religion Center for Rural Ministry last January and have been able to keep on track with the unique program for the entire year. This has been an amazing journey for me for sure, but also for my teachers and classmates that probably had never encountered a transgender woman before. And yes, I'm their "first" - I get a lot of "firsts" in my life.

The program is with the
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who, I would learn to overcome my ignorance, is in close harmony with the United Church of Christ. Indeed, one major common undertaking is a joint Global Ministries program. Earlier this decade there apparently was some talk about merging the two denominations.

One difference I have learned is that Disciples practice full immersion baptism (though DoC will accept any baptism performed earlier). Another is most Disciples congregations practice Communion every Sunday, while many UCC churches do so once per month. And the last difference - and what may have been the hurdle not cleared regarding merger - is full, formal affirmation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Hmmmmmmmmm......

My first task then was to determine just how "welcome" I would be in the program. The classes are roughly one weekend per month, so we arrrive Friday evening, stay the night and have a full day of class time on Saturday. Some classes are Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Not only am I with my classmates in class, but we're together before and after, at breakfast, at lunch, at dinner. There isn't much chance to "hide" for sure.

Just prior to the first class, I talked with the director of the program who felt there wouldn't be a problem with my attending. She seemed quite pleased the school's first openly gay student had enrolled just five months earlier. I assured her my intent was to learn, not push boundaries or people's buttons - but that I wasn't going to "hide" either. If there were problems or concerns reported to her, I would be happy to leave the program.

The experience has been absolutely wonderful.

I'm on the verge of completing the first year's round of classes. There are 18 modules we must complete to obtain our Certificate of Pastoral Ministry. The program is crafted to help small, usually rural, congregations who cannot afford a fully ordained, Masters of Divinity minister to find pastoral leadership. Each module is offered only once in the three year cycle, but MSR has now developed a full load of on-line classes so that missing one for whatever reason won't cause someone to necessarily wait for another three years for the class to be offered again.

In fact, with the on-line program schedule for 2010, it will be possible for me to attend all the on-site classes and on-line classes and actually graduate in just two years. I'm going to give it a shot, even though I have thoroughly enjoyed, and been enriched by, the classes at the center.

As each class is taught by a different area minister, all with M.Div's and some with Ph.D's, I am exposed to many different thoughts, perspectives and experiences. In turn, I realize that my presence is bringing to them a unique color of God's rainbow.

One classmate, who lives north of Kansas City, is now my carpool buddy. It takes a little more than two and a half hours to get to school. Having a friend along for the drive is nice and we've had many theological, spiritual conversations. And others about more mundane things like Big 12 football, family members and cars.

Will I get called to serve a small, rural congregation here in the State of Missouri? Probably not, but can you imagine the statement that brave little congregation would be offering about God's love for ALL if they did so. For now, I'm quite content to simply learn and grow and share. I genuinely look forward to each time I am in class, with friends - no FRIENDS - who have through their welcome expressed their belief in the ministry of Jesus. Amen!!!