More than one person has been confused by my seminary journey and the role that a Candidacy Committee plays in it all. Here's a way to think about it: Wesley Theological Seminary has determined that I'm a good fit for grad school. The Lutheran church is the one who gives guidance about what one does with that training, for those of us who are Lutheran, and that guidance is done by way of Candidacy Committees that each synod creates.
In an ideal world, the seminarian is in touch with the Candidacy Committee before seminary begins. One can go to seminary without approval of the Candidacy Committee, but in the Lutheran church, one won't be a pastor without that approval at some point along the way.
In pre-pandemic years, the Committee would have met in person. Seminarians-to-be would have driven up for the 2 hour interview, but they wouldn't have stayed for the whole week-end. From that standpoint, a virtual meeting is much easier. However, I was surprised by how exhausting it was--and I only had the 1 meeting. The Committee was meeting with many candidates.
I was feeling less worried about the interview itself than I was about the many moving parts of technology that needed to work--happily, they did work. I gave some thought to the types of questions that they might ask me. Would they be questions about belief, about creeds? Happily, they were not.
We talked a bit about what had brought me to this crossroads. I talked about how I moved into administration, but I was ready for a change. I talked about the times I have preached and how much I love it and the good feedback I get. I talked about the similarities I see with preaching and teaching: the analysis of a text, the realization that a student/parishioner is really more gifted than the individual may have originally thought about themselves. I talked about eucharist experiences as being similar to the moment when a student realizes that they know what to do to make a piece of writing work--that world cracking open kind of experience. I can't quite capture what I said, but I found it very moving. I felt my voice cracking a bit.
Later in the interview, one of my interviewers said that my face really lit up when I talked about teaching, and I did realize that. I wouldn't have been surprised if the Committee recommended that I find a teaching job, not a spot in seminary, but that's not what happened.
Some of the other questions were about the challenges facing the church, and I talked about the coming months of the pandemic, and then the larger questions that the pandemic will leave with us will give the church opportunities for ministry.
We talked about logistics, about the fact that the seminary is in DC. At one point, when I talked about having family in DC and my parents in Williamsburg--one of the Committee members said, "Wait, I'm just putting the pieces together. Are you Ina Berkey's daughter?" I said, "I sure am." We all laughed, and she said, "Well, your Lutheran credentials are solid." I wanted to say, "You have no idea" but I didn't because I didn't want to talk about my relatives and their positions in the historical Lutheran church.
We talked about what I would need to do as a Lutheran going to a non-Lutheran seminary. I talked about how none of the Lutheran seminaries had a track in Theology and the Arts, and if one had, I'd be going there. I talked about my dream of being part of a team that could create such a track at a seminary somewhere.
Along those lines, one of my favorite questions had me thinking 5 years into the future: what job would make my heart sing? I talked about being at a retreat center leading opportunities for people to meet the Divine through creative processes. But I also talked about doing something similar at a local level; after all, not everyone can go to a retreat center, and living in S. Florida, I know it takes a long time to get to a retreat center. Maybe churches should meet people where they are.
The interview lasted about 45 minutes. I know that some Candidacy Committees operate as gatekeepers, looking to trip up potential candidates. Thankfully, that was not the experience I had. I loved all the topics we talked about, and I felt able to address all the questions.
After the interview, I went back to a break out room with the chaplain and waited for the results. They talked for about a half an hour. I felt so exhausted at that point. And then I was brought back to the group.
They told me right at the beginning that they had happy news, that they were recommending me for candidacy. Hurrah! They gave me feedback on my interview, feedback which they will send to me in writing. They talked about my passion and about how articulate I am. The rest I will have to remember when I get their written feedback.
I know that I'm not necessarily home free--there are other points where I'll check in with the Committee. But even if at some point they withdraw their support, I'll still be glad to have made this journey.