Thursday, March 22, 2007

UMC: Understanding Mass Craziness

As you may or may not know, Matt (and I) have been experiencing a trying time, not just with my job and his appointment being up in the air, but with an upsetting setback in Matt's ordination process. Matt and his parents, of course, have been United Methodists for a couple decades now, and are fairly well-versed in all the different boards and committees and agencies and all the terminology that accompanies this crazy microcosm called the United Methodist Church. Having been raised in the Disciples of Christ tradition--one of the "Christ-only" denominations that came out of the Second Great Awakening, notoriously anti-credal and anti-hierarchical--I've found all this bureaucracy hard to adjust to, and it often frustrates me, to put it mildly.

As we have been entrenched in commissioning, probationary, appointment stuff in recent months, I have gained a better understanding of UM polity, and have delivered my brief tutorial to my parents numerous times as they struggle to understand what's going on in Matt's career and our life right now. My cousin e-mailed me this morning, asking how life is going, and what's new with our up-in-the-air career situation. My situation was fairly simple to explain--current job ends March 30, still job hunting, turned one job down and am interviewing for my dream job on Monday--but explaining Matt's situation took a bit more effort. How do you explain the ordination and appointment processes to someone totally outside the United Methodist system? Many UM laity don't even understand how all this works, and it sounds utterly ridiculous to someone totally outside the system. Can we say red-tape, anyone?

My lengthy explanation (with minor edits) went as follows. Consider this a tutorial for any of you readers who are unfamiliar with exactly why we have been so upset the past week. The sheer length of this discourse, and the number of times I had to use quotations for all the terminology bears witness to the confusing nature of UM polity:
"The United Methodist Church is pretty bureaucratic, so there's all these steps before ordination. Matt is currently a "licensed local pastor," and now that he's graduating, it was time for him to begin his three years of full-time "probationary" ministry before he could be fully ordained. He has spent the last year doing all the stuff necessary to go before the "Board of Ordained Ministry" so they can "commission" him into his "probationary" status. Matt spent countless hours doing the essays and paperwork, and it cost us about $500 in various fees (like getting a physical, getting a psych evaluation, hundreds of photocopies, etc.) and they told him a week ago today they'd decided not to commission him, which was devastating to us. There was very little explanation why, and it's not even that a majority of the board didn't approve him, but there are 4 committees, and you have to get approved by 3 of them, and so a majority of the people on two of the committees voted him down. We knew a lot of people were getting rejected, and that it was a possibility Matt would, but we really didn't think it would happen to him because he is highly regarded in the Tennessee conference as an up-and-coming innovator, doing outside-the-box ministry and all that. But, boards typically don't like outside-the-box, I guess, and anyway, that's been a major blow to us this past week. Lots of people have been calling us with condolences, and a lot of people are outraged. Besides a blow to his pride, we then began to wonder what we should do--stick around and try again next year, or move to a more forward-thinking conference, or pursue ministries outside the UMC. In the UMC, the church (not the Board of Ordained Ministry, but the bishop's cabinet) tells you what church you're appointed to, so we worried that even though he's still got his "licensed local pastor" status, he wouldn't get as good an appointment because of this. All this happens in the spring, and then pastors change churches (not every year, but if they do) in June. So, we've been anticipating hearing where he's appointed sometime between now and the end of April...."

And so on. I fully admit that this may not seem crazy to someone raised in an episcopal system, but to a born-and-bred congregationalist like me, it seems like layers of human controls buffering between the work of God and those carrying out that work in the congregations. That aside, I love the high-church liturgy that often accompanies episcopal traditions like the UMC and the Episcopal Church USA, and am considering all this education in church polity to be a useful addition to my studies of the American religious landscape.

To end on a high note, let me add that we've gotten a closer-to-definite sense of where Matt will be working next year, and it seems we'll be staying in the Nashville area and buying a house, which makes us very happy :0)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Quarter-Life Crises and New-Life Celebrations

Sometime in the two weeks since I wrote that last post, about staying hopeful and peaceful despite the job issue and other instabilities that plague young adults facing their quarter-life crisis (it's a legitimate term--I did a paper on it in pastoral care), the stress hit. I didn't really notice until Monday night's meltdown how much the stress of these issues is affecting me/us.

We are nearing resolution, however, in that Matt finds out tomorrow if he is officially commissioned, and every day we are one day closer to knowing where he/we will be next year! As to my job, there are only 2 weeks and 2 days until my job ends, so I'm praying something good comes my way soon. I did get one job offer yesterday, but I don't think I want to accept it, and unfortunately I don't get two weeks to see how desperate I really am--I have to tell them by Friday! A few positions I am more interested in are still in the early stages (i.e. still accepting applications and not doing interviews yet) and hopefully they'll move to the interviewing stage soon.

I hope by the next time I post to have some good news for you, but in the meantime, I'll share the beautiful blessing of new life that emerged about a week ago: John Stephen Patterson, "Jack," was born March 6 to my long-time family friend Lindsay. We are so excited for the Pattersons, and wish all the best for this new family.

Isn't he a cutie?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Embracing our young adulthood...

While babies are still a few years off, Matt and I are embracing the stereotypical lifestyle of young adults. Hanging out in bars and drinking too much? Yeah, occasionally. Living paycheck to paycheck? Yeah, some of that too, but what I'm really talking about here is transience and instability.

I read somewhere that young adults today have an average of 8 different jobs between the ages of 21 and 30. Gone are the days of working your way up in one company and retiring from the same place you began as mail clerk. I'm already up to 4 at age 25, though short-lived school-year and summer jobs are to be expected while one is in school. Matt is on 4 too, I think, if you don't count freelance writing (which is an unstable job by nature, of course, but a highly respectable one). I'm all about embracing the character of one's generation (Matt and I are right on the cusp between X and Y--I'd say we fit more with Y) but being a person who's not a big fan of change, this instability is getting me down, and is affecting Matt too, though he's more of a roll-with-the-punches person than I.

As I said several posts ago, the funding for my job will expire on March 30, which means that if I do not secure another job soon, I'll be packing up my office four weeks from today. I've had a couple interviews, and they've gone reasonably well, though I'm not sure I would want some of them, even if they were offered to me. So I'm stuck between the fear of being unemployed (especially for these couple months before Matt will have a full-time salary) and the fear of accepting something I would not really enjoy doing.

There's also the issue of Matt's appointment, which compounds the instability of our little family, as we don't know where he'll be working, or where we'll be buying a house (assuming I have a job, so that we can afford a mortgage!) Matt doesn't even officially know if he'll be "commissioned," as they call it in the UMC, meaning that he will no longer be a licenced local/student pastor, but rather a probationary elder, a status he would maintain for three years until he can be fully ordained in 2010. There is no reason to think he would not be commissioned, but as it's not certain for two more weeks, he's still nervous about it.

With all these things--his job, my job, our potential home-buying--up in the air at the moment, it's easy to feel anxious about our future. I'm thankful it hasn't affected our relationship, as I hear money issues and stressors like unemployment are big causes of marital discord, and if I don't find a job, I could see lots of "how dare you buy the name-brand orange juice?! We can't afford that!" (that would be me to Matt, I'm sure). We are actively trying to stay positive, comfort each other in our anxieties, and have faith and hope that everything will work out. I truly believe that God takes bad circumstances and makes good things come from them. I believe that praying and keeping my focus on God will help things turn out for the best (even if that's only because I'll be more hopeful and positive). True, these assertions open a whole can of theodicy questions, but I do not claim to understand how God "works," just that God is.

I've never been good at staying calm and fighting the anxieties that plague me, but we're trying hard, and I have faith it will all be okay. I'll keep you posted.


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