Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why Writing My Ordination Paper is So Hard

The first draft of my ordination paper is due on Thursday.  This is the basic prompt, but it is a bit more complex than this: 

One of the last steps in the Discernment process is the writing of an ordination essay, a theological essay of approximately 4,000 words (16 pages) in which the candidate sets forth her or his Christian experience, sense of call to the ministry, and articulates, as clearly as possible, his or her understanding and appropriation of classical theological concepts.
I have been writing it since November, on a lovely afternoon when Evelyn was taking a nap and the three of us went up to Cafe Nura with a yellow pad of paper and a pen and I talked my way through my theology of God, Christ, Holy Spirit, Scripture, Humanity, Christian Education, the Church (local to universal), and Ordination.  After that talk, I had so much written on that pad of paper that I was sure the actual execution of the essay would be a cinch. 

It is now two days before its due date and I have three separate documents in a folder entitled "Ordination Paper"-- Ordination Paper, Ordination Paper 2, and Ordination Paper 3.  Funny how the only thing actually due on Thursday is a draft. 

I've been on edge about it.  Quite moody, actually.  I can't write it if the dishes are dirty or if Evelyn is awake.  I can't write it if it's cold outside or when the construction workers are noisy (and they are).  I can't write it at my office at First Congo or in my apartment or at the cafe. 

These are all ridiculous excuses.  Why is this so hard?  

I was thinking about it just now, in the shower, after yelling at Maic for being so "negative" about my ordination paper (he wasn't) and realized that the reason this is so hard is because this paper has so much emotion wrapped up in it. 

It's been almost exactly seven years since I received my call to ministry on January 23rd, 2005.  Writing this paper and talking about my ordination process is bringing back so many memories of people who have been involved my my call and moments when I have questioned and moments when I have felt so sure.  My head is just very full.  

As I write my paper, I am thinking about my friend, Kris Doychak, who served as a youth delegate to General Synod with me in 2005, smiling at me as the two of us held up our voting cards to approve the UCC Resolution in support of Marriage Equality.  He died in 2006.  Too soon.  I am thinking about my Grandpa Smyres, who was already in the beginning stages of dementia when I realized my passion for theology.  I never even knew how into theology he was himself until it was too late, so now I have theological discussions with him through underlines and margin notes in his old books.  I am remembering the more recent deaths of my Grandpa Smith and friend and colleague Ryan Matthews (who, too, wrote his ordination paper), who I never even really got to mourn because I have been so wrapped up in Evelyn and school.  And I'm thinking about my first sermons, preached at First Congregational UCC of Berea, in the sanctuary that is now a concert hall for Baldwin-Wallace College.  

A photo of Ryan Matthews, at his memorial service at Eden Chapel,
taken by Katie Hotze and stolen from Facebook by me. 

First Congregational UCC of Berea, Ohio, 2008. 
Additionally, I'm thinking of friendships that have faded away.  There are people who were so strongly a part of my early call who I have, for some reason or another, not spoken to in a long time.  Namely, my boyfriend at the time with whom I spent every waking hour for three years and who was with me as I first came to terms with who God was calling me to be, my Sunday School teacher and youth group leader who probably knew I was called before I did, but for reasons I either don't remember or don't understand, we stopped talking, and the religion department faculty at Baldwin-Wallace College, brilliant men and women, most of whom I haven't spoken to since I graduated.  

Our Confirmation banner, put together collaboratively with
Patty Collins, Rev. Kurt Katzmar, and the confirmation class
at a little association-owned cabin on the lake in Ohio.  

Finally, I'm remembering moments.  Like the thin places where the space between Heaven and Earth was barely there-- like my two summers in France and Eastern Europe when I realized that Van Gogh didn't make up those colors-- God's Creation really is that beautiful, our wedding when we brought together our two faith traditions in an attempt to demonstrate the way "that they may all be one" (John 17:21), and of course the moment when I pressed my baby's cheek to my lips for the first time.  And the struggles-- that same time in Europe when I thought I didn't need God anymore because I had mountains and endless fields of poppies and summer flings, the beginning of my relationship with Maic when I was desperately in love but not Catholic enough, and the times when Seminary just seemed like too much.  

Atop Les Alpilles in Southern France, 2007

My first day in St. Louis, waiting for the Fall Semester to start, 2009

Our wedding, co-officated by
Reverend Martha Chenault and Father James Ols, 2010

Miss Evelyn, minutes old, 2011. 

So how on earth does one flesh out a comprehensive theology when these thoughts are piling up and taking over my brain?  That's my dilemma.  That's why it's so hard.  

But guys, I hope you're not reading this wrong.  I'm not trying to complain about having to write this paper (it's a really great exercise and I'm glad I have to do it) or say that I'm bothered by all these thoughts.  All I want to say is that writing this paper is like sitting in a room with all of these people, traveling to these places, and reliving these events.  Could you write a paper with that many distractions?  And I only named a few!

Well, I do have 2,600 out of 4,000 words down.  And the first sentence is, "I am extraordinarily blessed."  


  1. Don't know why you are having such a problem...you write beautifully...and invoke so many wonderful memories...am thinking about my experiences and wonderful friends at First Church as I am writing this...thanks Joanna...and good luck! :) Kathy Porter

    1. I stumbled across your thoughts as I am REwriting by ordination paper. Yes, it's been submitted once and now I am asked to rewrite it. You think that doesn't cause some stress. My thoughts are: is it theological...theologian or lived faith by experience. Is it sermon?
      Oh well onward>>>>>>>

  2. You are a beautiful woman, Jo. A living, breathing quilt of all those amazing life experiences. You will be a fabulous pastor! WE are blessed to know you. Love you tons!!! - Betsy, Taylor & Nick

  3. Good luck! I've been intrigued by this project since your New Year's Day sermon.


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