Teaching Congregations and Seminarians

This past Sunday our congregation held the farewell celebration for our Student Associate Pastor as he concludes his ministry with us and prepares to graduate from Seminary at the end of this week. Parting with wonderful students always brings a certain sadness; the congregation will miss the gifts they share and I, as pastor, miss each student and the challenge they have brought me. Yet, even as one student leaves, we look forward the arrival of a new student and the unique gifts she or he will bring. In the eleven years that I’ve served this congregation, I have had the privilege of supervising and sharing in ministry with ten students. They have been men and women of different races and backgrounds. Some have been young, having come to seminary directly from college. Others have been older students bringing much life experience to their new calling in ministry. Each one has made a difference in the life of this inner city congregation.

As each moves on to be ordained and then to serve in some form of ministry, this congregation remains in relationship and continues to cherish the gifts of that student, and to tell the stories — often with humor and always with love –of that student’s foray into ministry with this particular community of Christ.

Compton Heights Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), like many inner city congregations, is a small congregation struggling financially and making hard choices in the stewardship of money and all resources for ministry. Yet each year, we choose to fund the part-time ministry of a seminary student from Eden Theological Seminary (a seminary of the United Church of Christ with a significant number of Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) students). We understand ourselves as a teaching congregation. A vital part of this congregation’s ministry for many years has been the nurturing of those called to ministry.

I am aware today that the student pastors are life-giving not only for the congregation, but for me. This past March, I celebrated 25 years in ordained ministry, and through most of those years I have served on Commissions on Ministry helping seminarians discern their call and prepare for ordination, and as a supervisor of students in the congregation. The truth is that each student has helped me to continue to discern God’s movement and calling. Each student in some way sharpens and renews my ministry. Each student challenges me and reveals something fresh of God. Each student opens my perspective on the church, and on the world.

And so today, I give thanks for Marty, David, Winnie, Richard, Arlene, Felisha, Jacob, Darla, Kristopher, and Timothy as well as for one who is on her way to call us deeper and to reveal God anew — Jenn.

My prayer is that other congregations come to see themselves as teaching congregations, looking to students not as ‘inexpensive staff”, but as God’s gift for vibrant and always renewing ministry.