In order to gain admittance to many of the degree programs offered by ELCA seminaries, you are required to be in the Candidacy process. Those of us who are immersed in it often roll our eyes or groan when someone unfamiliar with the process asks what it is. So here is the brief version (and I promise I neither groaned nor rolled my eyes; I am in a library after all):
Candidacy is the process through which synods (regional groupings of ELCA congregations) evaluate a candidate's readiness for ministry. There are three steps in the process: entrance, endorsement, and approval. At each step, there is a reflective essay and panel interview. At times, the interview will be with the entire candidacy committee of the synod (my committee is composed of about 15 members, if I recall correctly), which is made up of the bishop, synod staff, pastors, seminary professors, and lay members; or it may be with just a few members of the committee (but the final approval process involves evaluation from both the seminary faculty and the entire committee).
At each step, the committee has three options, one of which they will bestow upon the candidate: approval (different from final approval...confusing, I know), postponement or denial. Every candidate strives for approval. That means that your essay met their requirements, or if it fell a little short, your interview made up for it, and you are ready to continue in the process. Postponement can mean many things, but it often means the candidate has some things to work on before completing the next step; it does not always mean that the candidate is not qualified for ministry, but that they need a bit more time. From what I understand, denial is rare, but it can happen, and it can sideline a candidate for an indefinite period of time. I'm not clear on whether you can enter the process again after time and growth, or if you are finished with candidacy altogether, but I've found that most candidates avoid thinking about it at all.
My entrance went well. I had months to prepare, and I was ready for the interview, as it mostly assesses where you are at this first step of theological education and preparation for ministry. I was approved for entrance without difficulty, and I have been riding on the coattails of my entrance for the past few months. But now, it is time for endorsement, and I am scared out of my mind. Most candidates wait until the beginning of their second year, after their Clinical Pastoral Education, to seek endorsement. But because I am in a two year program, rather than four, I need to be endorsed before other parts of my academic program can move forward, so this is all happening very quickly.
Very quickly as in April 16th.
With the essay due April 1st.
By my (read: my Dashboard countdown clock's) calculations, I have a mere 6 days, 7 hours and approximately 53 minutes to finish this essay.
I took over seven months to write the last one.
And now, I have to show growth.
Writing the essay is the hardest part. They want me to think theologically about my vocation as it is as it is grounded in baptism, in contexts such as family, confirmation, friendships, work settings, school and community. In one page. I barely know what it is asking in the first place, much less how to address all of those topics in 23 double-spaced lines. And then there are eight more questions beyond that! When do I get to stop writing about myself?
As far as the interview, I'm intimidated. I'm afraid that my committee will ask questions to which I haven't learned the answers, or want to know why I still don't feel called to be a pastor. I cried in my last interview, and my number one goal for this interview is to not repeat those tears. But I am afraid it will happen.
I hope this doesn't sound as if I'm degrading the Candidacy process; I actually think it is necessary and well-developed to raise up qualified leaders in the Church who can clearly articulate theological groundings and a sense of call. But in the midst, it seems like I'm drowning in an ocean of essays, interviews and decisions that keep me up at night worrying. And all I wanted to do was help young people encounter Christ.
I'm not sure if there's a greater purpose for this blog entry. Maybe it was just to vent in the middle of the process, or maybe it was to encourage someone who feels he or she is the only one with anxiety about the process. But I do know one thing for absolute certain: I now have 6 days, 7 hours and 42 minutes to put the last seven months of learning and living down on paper, and I still feel as strongly about my call as I did eight years ago.* If my committee knows that, I think I'm doing just fine.
*Interestingly enough, I just realized that today is exactly eight years since I felt called to youth ministry, to the day. I wasn't sure exactly what it was at first, but I quickly identified it, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Funny how these things work out, eh?