The Seminary Visit

vtsThis last weekend, John and I got to fly off all by ourselves to the East Coast to visit Virginia Theological Seminary. It felt like such a culmination of the last two years’ worth of hopes and dreams and plans, but I know that I haven’t shared a lot of those things on here, so let me back up a bit and explain a bit of the process we’ve gone through to get to this point. I should add that this blog is going to be very on the surface, not very deep at all. It would take too long to go into all the underlying decisions, growth, and change that happened to bring us to this point, but hopefully I will start touching on some of that in later blog posts. But, for now, let me give you the framework we’ve been functioning inside of for quite awhile now.

As many of you know, though possibly some of you don’t know, our family has been attending an Episcopal church for the last year and a half. The Episcopal church is part of the larger Anglican Communion, which includes such churches as the Church of England, the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Anglican Church in Canada, among many others depending on the part of the world. Within each of these larger churches there are Dioceses, each run by a bishop, and under the dioceses there are parishes, which are led by parish priests. There’s some interesting history and philosophy within the Anglican tradition that is part of why we chose to continue on our ministry journey within this framework, but I can share more of those details later.

We decided to begin attending the Episcopal church before we got back to the US, having already attended an Anglican church in Switzerland. We returned to the States in June, and a few months later, in the fall, we began attending our local parish, Grace Episcopal church in Siloam Springs. By the end of the year, both John and I had been confirmed, which means we became official members of the Episcopal church.

Even though it was at first a surprise to both John and I that he might be interested in pursuing ordained ministry in the church, after months of interest and thoughtful processing (by ourselves and with our local priest), John began the official process of pursuing ordination. In this tradition, this means that he first has to gain permission from the bishop to began a process of discernment. This he had by the end of year (2014) making him an “aspirant,” or someone aspiring to be ordained in ministry in the Episcopal Church. In January he began monthly meetings with a local discernment committee, made up of both people within our parish and also in our larger community outside of the parish. Discernement was not easy, it was a painful process, partly because it was not just about interviewing John to see if they (the committee) approved of him for a candidate, but it was more about asking hard questions so that John himself could discover if he felt that this was his calling and a good fit. Discovering yourself is harder than allowing other people to decide what they think about you. The process was almost a whole year long, and there were definitely points in that process where I thought John would say no to moving on to the next step. There was a lot of growing happening for both of us during that year, but again, that will have to wait for another post.

By the end of the year (2015), John felt pretty confident that this was his call and the committee felt confident in recommending him for ordination. We were ready for the next step, which was to travel down to Little Rock and interview with the Commission on Ministry for the diocese of Arkansas. We had that interview on Feb 1, 2016. This committee then sent their recommendation to the bishop and a few days later we held in our hands a letter stating that John had been granted postulancy, meaning he is approved to attend seminary with the intent of becoming an ordained Episcopal priest. There are still more checkpoints on the road, but this really is the most confident we’ve felt in our future plans for at least two years, if not more.

chapelOur top choice for seminary of the ones recommended by our bishop is Virginia Theological Seminary, which is located in Alexandria, VA, just across the river from Washington, D.C. The seminary encourages visiting as part of their application process, so we attended their Spring visit event last weekend. Along with quite a few other postulants we toured the campus, ate meals with existing students, attended several different types of worship services in the school chapel, and sat in many informational meetings. It was amazing how much information was packed into two days. We felt very well informed by the end of the weekend, and also very excited about the possibility of John being a student there.

There were several things that really made this location feel right. I’ll concentrate on a few of the ones that really spoke to me, as a potential seminarian spouse. One, there is an intentionality among the students and faculty to build a supportive community on campus. Currently, all faculty and most single students live on campus. The seminary is in the process of building more housing so that married students and families will also be able to join the campus community, so there is a good chance we will be able to live right on campus with everyone else. But more than just location, there are times built in the schedule for shared meals, small groups, and worshipping together that allow people to connect well within the group during the three years you are attending the school.

Secondly, there is a recognition of the needs of the supporting partners in the seminarian’s life and an attempt to meet those needs in practical ways. There is a group for partners and spouses called SPIRIT (Significants Participating In Really Interesting Things). This group provides practical and emotional support for others in the group, as well as plans fun events and outings. It’s comforting to know that there is a group already in place of people who will understand my unique challenges and needs during this transition.

Thirdly, the schools in the area are wonderful. Especially the elementary school, which every parent I talked to raved about. It is also within walking distance of the seminary. The middle school is bigger and further away and I don’t have as much information on that, but I’ve also got a couple private school options to look into too in case the public school is not a good fit for Elise. Dietrich also will have access to an amazing montessori-type preschool right on campus if I’m able to get a part-time job as I hope.

oldtownFourthly, the area itself is beautiful, family friendly, and allows for all sorts of amazing experiences. We didn’t venture all the way to D.C. since we figured there’d be plenty of opportunity to do that if we live there, but we did go down by bus into Old Town Alexandria, which is beautiful. If I had my choice, I would find a job in one of the crafting shops on the main street in Old Town, but there are options further out as well.

There are still tons of scary things like the fact that this will be hard work for both and John and I for three years. And the fact that no matter how much we may love it there, after three years we are done and will need to say good-bye to people we’ve come to love. And the fact that at least two of my kids are dealing with the grieving process of another move and are not terribly happy about it. And the fact that we will all have to find where we fit in a community that will be brand new to us, especially since the Episcopal community itself is still new to us. And the fact that . . . Well, I could go on, but I think it is probably healthy that there are scary things in this process as well as exciting ones.

So, next steps for us? We are now in another waiting period (hopefully a short one) until the seminary gets back to us on whether or not John has been accepted. Then shortly after that letter we will also hopefully get a letter from the financial aid department letting us know how much financial aid they are able to award us. Hopefully somewhere in there we’ll also get confirmation on housing. Assuming those are all positive, we’d then enter another waiting period, though this one would be full of the practical issues of getting ready for a cross-country move. The actual move would most likely happen sometime in July or August since classes for Juniors (first year students) start in August.

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