I tried to write this post once before but failed. Instead I ended up ranting about the internet for ~2400 words— on a blog, mind you, in a
clumsily cleverly ironic twist. What can I say? It was a rare instance of sort of taking my own advice— which, like all advice, wasn’t even mine to begin with:
[I]t does a person little good to know each and every thing— be it nice or nasty— that is said about him “behind his back”, so to speak. A man cannot correct every rank rumor or extirpate every grapevine of gossip concerning himself, nor can he sit rapt and delighted and listen to every paean sung in his homage. Attempts to monitor the lot of it all are not only futile, but harmful to the soul, breeding paranoia and narcissism. “Somebody somewhere is lying about me! Somebody somewhere is saying that I’m awesome, and I’m not there to receive the award personally! You’ve been listening to the vicious rumors about me!” … Especially with respect to the negative static, social media provide one an ample labyrinth in which to endlessly run down and slay rumorous Minotaurs. But we soon discover that rumors are not Minotaurs, but nine-headed hydrae. Vast this Whack-A-Mole field is.
First of all, if you haven’t yet clicked the link above and watched the clip of Edgar Oliver, you really must do so. A playwright, a storyteller, and an absolute loon, Oliver has one of the strangest voices you’ll ever hear. His shtick is as weirdly and inexplicably phenomenal as it is hilarious.
But I digress— I was originally going to follow the foregoing excerpt with, “BUT… I need to address a rumor that’s been circulating.” I got distracted, though, and ended up ranting, as I said. Sort of in and through my rant I came around to the conclusion that the benefit of ignoring the rumor outweighed the benefit of attempting to address it. But time has passed, and I now think it the better part of prudence to return to my heretofore tabled intention. I’ve got my spool of silken thread; here goes.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog you may recall that in early May of this year I posted a piece entitled “Ich bin Bettler: Hoc est verum”, in which I made a final plea for financial assistance for seminary:
… I won’t sugarcoat it, or try to make it sound noble— this is me begging. I’m not the worthiest of causes, no. In the final estimation, though, please do not consider my merit but rather the need of the Church for pastors. Perhaps you don’t think I am fit to answer this call, nor fit for the ministry for one reason or another. Well, you’re probably not wrong: please pray for me, that the Lord would break me, mould me, burn out my dross, and make me fit. I have a long way to go. While I am indeed straining on towards what is ahead, my immediate concern is not the end of year four, but rather the beginning of year two: more to the point, I would really like for there to be a year two, and at this juncture it’s a little uncertain as to whether there will be.
Well, wherever you go, there you are, and I went to Baltimore. Actually, we went to Baltimore. Various hints of varying subtlety may have clued you in to the fact that I am not back at Concordia Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario, but am in fact still in the US of A; also, that I am now a married man and an expectant father. (Yes, I am in on the expectancy; however, we are not pregnant.) Anyway, if the hints didn’t bloom the first time, now you know: I am on hiatus from residential seminary study.
As I indicated in May, I was contemplating taking a break by the end of my second term at CLTS. In truth, however, this had been a live contemplation since January, the beginning of the second term. Since arriving in Canada I had put a number of “fleeces” out over the course of several months, and— with few but precious exceptions— had wrung proverbial bowls of water from each of them. (To any Vineyard Fellowship types reading this: I did not actually put fleeces out on my lawn. To any of my donors who are reading this: I will never be able to fully express my gratitude for your kindness to me.)
My remaining option— spending, or attempting to spend, twenty hours a week making Canadian money to pay American student loans, rent, groceries, etc.— simply was not working out. Neither was it working out for me to spend my precious little time trying to make Canadian money while completing concurrent pre-sem and first-year studies. It was becoming a bit of a circular catch-twenty-two. As summer approached, I was beginning to have serious doubts regarding the wisdom of taking my newly-wedded wife to Canada for year two, given that the funding situation had not improved. In early June we got the wonderful news of Maritza’s pregnancy. Wonderful as this news was, it did also sort of cinch my thinking on the matter of returning to Canada. My decision was made in early June, and after taking counsel with my spiritual director, I withdrew from Concordia – St. Catharines.
You may now put the best construction on this news.
During my hiatus, I am for the time being continuing to serve as vicar of Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Baltimore, MD, under the Rev’d Charles L. McClean, my longtime friend and spiritual director. Our Saviour Church has a significant need for someone to serve under the pastor in an auxiliary and diaconal position (see postscript). Father Charles consulted with our circuit visitor, and this is the decision that they made. Suffice it to say, I know both of these men and I trust their judgment, so this is what I’m doing.
In addition to assisting with various needs at church, I work as an SAT-prep tutor and teach Spanish, which I kind of speak, at a Lutheran school in the western suburbs of Baltimore, where my wife, who is fully bilingual, teaches kindergarten. Time not spent doing these things I try to put to good use through self-directed study (and Father-Charles-directed reading). In March, Deo volente, our child will be born and baptized. After this school year Maritza is going to stay home and take care of the baby, and I am going to be working full-time, come hell or high water. Barring an unforeseen interruption or job-offer which takes us elsewhere, we will be in Baltimore through to the end of next summer, at least.
A few people have already asked me, so I will go ahead and volunteer this information, as well: I do intend to return to seminary (not at CLTS, though), and I do still aspire to the Office of the Holy Ministry. If, by God’s grace, I am to be among the stewards of the mysteries someday, I know that I will recognize the kairos, the “ripe time”, when I am to resume formal study and preparation for such a holy calling. But in the meantime, Maritza and I are not worried. We know that it in the final estimation it is God who calls and sends men into the Sacred Ministry. Mother Church needs pastors, yes, but she does not need me to be a pastor. If I became convinced that she truly needed not just pastors, but me personally, I suppose I’d have to obey that extra-ordinary anointing and start my own “ministry”, church, synod, cult, brand, whatever. But if you know one thing about me— either because you’re my friend in real life, or because you’ve read my blog for any length of time— you know that I have a very dim view of those who “run without being sent” (cf. Jeremiah 5:30-31, 23:21). And as tempting as it is to get off on that tangent, it will have to wait for another day.
For now I simply wish to thank you. Thank you for reading this blog— I hope it has been edifying in some small way, in spite of its author. Thank you, again, those of you who contributed to my seminary fund. I will always remember your kindness. Thank you, any of you who have prayed for me and mine. Until we meet again, go always
Under the +Mercy
Postscript: On Deacons
Upon hearing my news, a friend of mine asked, “Why don’t you just become a deacon?” I looked into the possibility, and this is what I found:
Officially, the LCMS doesn’t have an order of deacons, except for a group of misnomered and unordained chaps whom the 1989 LCMS Synodical Convention (held in Wichita, KS) authorized to perform “special Word and Sacrament ministry under the supervision of an ordained pastor”— well-intentioned, yes; however, a definite violation of AC XIV. To this day, you can still find such “Wichita deacons” presiding over services at many a Missouri-Synod parish, preaching and administering the sacraments without ever having been ordained.
The sad result of this untidy state of LCMS affairs is that the term “deacon” is now quite understandably suspect, tainted as it is by association with the above-described “Wichita diaconate.” However, it’s not all bad news: in response to Synodical Resolution 4-06A, passed at the 2013 Synodical Convention, a special task-force was put together to look into how the truly pressing problems which the “Wichita diaconate” was created to solve might be addressed in a way which does not violate the Lutheran Confessions. From the official report (which you can view here):
The 2013 LCMS convention once again took up this matter and called for the CTCR to develop resources on this topic and for the president to promote its study and to establish a task force that would “resolve questions about the service of licensed lay deacons” in LCMS congregations (Res. 4-06A). The task force report was to be submitted to the members of Synod one year in advance of the 2016 convention. President Matthew Harrison appointed the members of the task force (TF 4-06A) in the fall of 2013. They are Deacon Jason Kiefer (NJ District), Dr. Herbert Mueller (Praesidium), Dr. Roger Paavola (Mid-South District president), Rev. Russ Sommerfeld (NE District president), Dr. James Voelz (CS-St. Louis faculty member), Dr. Roland Ziegler (member of the faculty of CTS-Fort Wayne and the CTCR), and Rev. Larry Vogel (CTCR staff and chairman of the task force). The members of the task force have sought to fulfill their assigned responsibilities and are hereby reporting to the convention as required.
In assessing our responsibilities, TF 4-06A recognizes that the matter of licensing lay deacons for preaching and sacramental administration has been a divisive, polarizing aspect of Synod’s life for over a quarter century. Sadly, in some cases ill-will and animosity have developed. Therefore the task force has attempted to take seriously its assignment to address the concerns and causes of division. We have sought to determine the extent to which laymen are currently serving in a pastoral capacity and the stated reasons for such service, to understand the nature of the theological concerns that are relevant to this matter, to remove stereotypes of both proponents and critics of the service of deacons, and to suggest a way forward that is faithful to Scripture and the Confessions, nurtures the mission and ministry of the church, and promotes the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:3).
Good, eh? Do read the whole thing. It’s not exactly a page-turner, but it’s full of important information.
So, back to me, and those like me (poor fellows…)
It is my conviction that the integrity of the Missouri Synod’s confession of (A) the Church, and (B) the rights and duties of the pastorate is under threat by the twin foes of anti-clericalism and feminism, with the result being that all confessional Lutherans of goodwill are in a state of confession.
This means that a true bit of irony persists as far as my own situation is concerned: during my hiatus from seminary, I am indeed interested in serving in a real diaconal role, i.e., one which only supports the pastor and never usurps the prerogatives of the ordained; for that reason, I cannot be called a “deacon” at this time.
It is piquant to note that about six weeks after the report of the above-mentioned task-force was released, the Southeast District of the LCMS announced that they were starting up a new lay-diaconate program in concert with Concordia University – Bronxville, NY, a program which is, as far as I can tell, virtually indistinguishable from the “Wichita diaconate.” I would love to have my perception corrected if I am in fact in error. Either way, it’s the same difference: when you’re in a state of confession, appearance matters.
Perhaps if I were in an LCMS district in which no such suspect designs existed, I would be more comfortable serving as a parochial deacon, i.e., as a layman consecrated by the pastor to assist him with the liturgy (read the lessons; administer the chalice; take the offering; pray the bids, etc.) and serve as his auxiliary in the parish (non-sacramental visits, assessment of parish and community needs, etc). Yes, perhaps, if sufficient differentiation were made, I would be willing to accept the title “deacon” (if it were given me by my pastor). But that’s not my situation right now. So, in fine, I do do all of those diaconal things (well, I don’t pray the bids— we don’t use that form of the Prayer of the Church), but I am not called a deacon.
I suppose another option would be for me to apply to the deaconess program at Concordia Seminary – Ft. Wayne, but I don’t think that’d fly, and, honestly, my aspiration is ultimately to the pastorate. Were this not so, who knows? Maybe I’d try. As one pastor friend of mine put it, wryly and somewhat hucksterishly, but with a serious point: “The LCMS could use some male deaconesses.” I concur. Currently, the LCMS has something akin to an order of transitional deacons with the seminaries’ vicarage program. There are a lot of people wondering why we don’t have a permanent order of deacons/subdeacons/vicars, what have you. It’s a good question; I don’t have the answer.
In any event, this was just supposed to be a post-script, not an essay. Perhaps I will reflect on this topic more in a full-length post some other time.