I believe Mr. Søren Kierkegaard is onto something.
I think the number one thing I learned while doing my mentored internship is that I am not yet ready to become a priest. I have learned that I am grossly unprepared to minister to people and to love them. I have learned that I am but twenty-five years old and know absolutely nothing about leadership, ministering, counseling, or shepherding a flock. Sitting at the feet of Father Stephen, a ripened old priest full of wisdom and humility has brought to light these revelations. These revelations are not a bad thing in and of themselves.
In fact, I am glad I have seen these. I am not ready to become a minister. There are several reasons why I have chosen not to pursue priesthood right now (not sure if it is something one pursues or is pursued by), and why I have chosen to hold off on going to seminary: 1) I am new to the Orthodox Catholic Church and would not be permitted to go for up to two years after being chrismated. This is the most obvious reason why I am holding off on these journeys for the time being, 2) I am but twenty-five years old. I have no experience being a shepherd. I have no wisdom to give to anyone as a spiritual shepherd. I do not feel prepared to minister to hurting people, and 3) I am still very immature in many areas. I feel a man ought not be a minister until he is into his thirties.
Seeing how experienced, wise, and humble Father Stephen is has caused me to stop and pause and ponder my vocational choices. As I sit here typing this paper, the thought that is running through my head is one of doubt. Doubt towards whether or not choosing Preaching and Church Leadership was the right choice for me. I wonder if I have pursued the right degree in accordance with the gifts He has given me. I see the experience of a man like Father Stephen and wonder if I have what it takes to do that.
These doubts coupled with the unpreparedness for ministry are the reasons why I have chosen to do my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. I have thought this out deeply. Something Dr. Owens said made me think a lot about pursuing a counseling route. He told us in class one day that Johnson taught him how to preach, but it was Emmanuel that taught him how to minister. I did not choose the Preaching/Church Leadership route to necessarily become a fancy homiletician or C.E.O. pastoral leader, but to be in the position to help other people. That is what I want to do. I am pursuing a Masters in Marriage and Family for two reasons: 1) I do not want a horrible job come May that I will not enjoy doing, and 2) I can use this vocation as a bi-vocational priest should I be called to be one and it will only enhance my ministry allowing me to minister to people. If I do not become a priest then I will have a vocation that I will enjoy doing and still get to help people
The experience has taught me much. I strive to be a wise old priest like Father Stephen one day. I struggle with the thought that if I do not become a priest that I wasted five years of my life in undergrad pursuing a degree that is ultimately not of use to me while I could have been pursuing a counseling background. I hope these doubts will clear up and that God will grant me clear direction. I am thankful for the experience of Father Stephen. A man needs to think deeply about his experiences and about pursuing ministry. I just hope I am fit for the job if I get it; if I am not I pray His grace covers me.
I believe this has brought me into a place of being less confidant of my calling to ministry in a clergy position. That is not to say the experience with Father Stephen on a weekly basis was a bad one. I have seen that ministry is tough. Father Stephen has been doing this for almost thirty years. His experiences have helped shape and mold him into the humble priest full of wisdom that he is. Seeing his humility has taught me that the best approach to ministry is humility itself. I believe that whether or not my doubts are true is hardly the point. I have struggled with these doubts for awhile, especially since joining the Orthodox Church where I feel most at home. But the point is if I become a priest is to seek humility and to seek wisdom. Part of my weaknesses at this current time is that I have neither of those things. I often see myself as the prideful charlatan rather than the humble student. I need to seek His grace in the sacraments and to allow Him to transform me more before I even think more about becoming a priest. I also just want to live and experience Orthodoxy and get the western cotton out of my ears so to speak.
The oddest thing all this has remembered me of is that I do not want to be a preacher. I did not want to join the Preaching and Church Leadership degree program, but I felt a strong genuine call from the Lord that that is the move I needed to make. I do not have the gifts it takes to be a fine preacher. I do not even know if I have the gifts to be a shepherd at this point. This was all something I want to avoid, but I felt a huge relief and a sense of peace for obeying what I felt was that calling. And if the Church and the Lord call me forth to become a priest I will gladly serve since it will confirm what I have felt is a calling. My prayer is that I will become equipped to truly shepherd, but that I will also become humbled and wise. I desire to be a man full His humility and His grace whether or not I am a priest. I have learned much from sitting at Father’s feet. He is a wonderful example of a godly priest who is humble and wise. I am sure with him and my faith community and the Spirit by my side that my path shall be made known to me as I work out my salvation daily.
I need to focus on getting to know my Shepherd! Archbishop John Shahovskoy writes in “The Orthodox Pastor”, “Only those who know the One Shepherd can be shepherds on earth or in heaven.” To be a pastor of Christ showing His presence to the flock and to the world, one must know the Shepherd. I must work out my own salvation first and foremost before and during priesthood. I must learn via the disciplines to silent the craziness of my thoughts and mind and to enter into the place of the heart where my true self lies. It is there that I will begin to know God and be known by Him. The Archbishop also said, “True pastorship is Christ’s life continuing in the world.” I believe for this to be true Christ has to be working in and through me first.
So I have my doubts, but I have my beliefs. And it is in the fact of those doubts that beliefs hold the world together for me. No matter what happens or what becomes of my doubts I know my beliefs shall remain and that God is a good God who loves mankind. He is the Good Shepherd who will lead me beside the still waters and will make me to lay down in green pastures.
Of these doubts and beliefs, I choose belief, and I know everything will be alright.