One of my Princeton Colleagues, Adam Cleaveland was blogging about preparing for his Candidacy Paperwork. As I read it over and responded, it reminded me of what I was doing around this time last year - preparing for my Candidacy in the Spring. Unlike Adam, I didn't grow up Presbyterian, so I had even less of a clue, coming here, what it REALLY meant to be Reformed. As I worked through my paperwork I began to question anew - "am I really Presbyterian? Am I really Reformed?" Over the course of preparing that paperwork, meeting with my Church and meeting with my CPM, I began to feel that I was. And after taking this 16th Century Confessions course with Dr. McCormack in the Fall, I felt that I could indeed find myself here. A few things I realized in that process:
1. There is a wide swath of ideas that can be found both in the Historical Reformed Tradition (read the Confessions) and in the Presbyterian Church today. The tradition is not rigid. Zwingli & Calvin disagreed on the Lord's Supper for goodness sake!
2. The Reformed tradition is really built on the Sovereignty of God and the Scriptures. In some ways, these are two of the most significant aspects of Theology today, and are extremely important to how we live as Christians in this Post-Modern[ing] World. (Yes, I just made up a new word/phrase, maybe I'll expand on it sometime) God's Sovereignty is important because in light of all the damage the loss of purpose has done to our understanding of what we do & the decisions we make, I think regaining a sense of purpose, divine purpose, is essential. If God is sovereign, we understand ourselves as second. We don't make the rules, we are subordinate to God. We are NOT subordinate to the Economy or Politics or anything else we've created, we are subordinate to God. Also, Scripture and it's authority is key because we have no other record of God and Christ's saving work than this document, which has served the Church for 2000 years (and, if you take the view of the 2nd Helvetic and some other Reformed Confessions, served the "Church" for thousands of years prior). We cannot just take Scripture as some nice book, a guideline, a suggestion or whatever. It needs to be authoritative. We need to be careful with how we use it in that way, but we need to be willing to submit to it. In an age that is talking so much about relativism, we need to understand that we recognize certain standards for our lives and conduct.
3. The Polity of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in particular, allows for power to be spread & the Holy Spirit to work in community, rather than in individuals (a la models that employ bishops, etc.) Coming out of such a model, I didn't see too much problem. But then you start to see the abuses of power by individuals, you see how disagreements can easily be settled by those with the power without coming to a right resolution.
4. Uhhh... I'm not sure here, mainly because other things have taken my mind off this right now. But I do know there are more things I appreciated & felt like I fit with.
A couple neat concluding notes. Going before the Presbytery was a unique feeling. I followed a contentious decision about a Church who had 2 of its pastors given paid leave by an Administrative Commission. By the time the potential Candidates were called to the floor (I was 1 of 3) there was 1/3 less people, if not more. I think we may have each been asked 1 question. They were throw-aways. But when our home-church pastors and others came up to lay hands on us & pray for us once we'd been accepted... standing before those Ministers of Word & Sacrment and other ordained Elders & Deacons... it was an amazingly affirming feeling. I'd always (well, from about 14 or so) felt that personal call to ministry, but seeing it affirmed in Community was awesome.
Finally, I got the word last weekend from my CPM Liason that my Internship (required to be a Clinical Pastoral Education internship) was approved to be at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. He was amazing throughout the process. He's gone above and beyond what would be expected. He had told me it didn't look good, got a sense from the committee, but was willing to submit the request on my behalf anyway. He e-mailed me to tell me that it was approved. Going in I had felt frustrated. I was frustrated because I felt that arbitrary rules were getting in the way of what I believed was best for me and my family (long story short, TPH was the closest and actually paid you for your work - which matters a lot when you have a newborn baby). But I saw in that the Holy Spirit, working in community, despite what I had thought. If that doesn't confirm one to the Presbyterian Church... well, I don't know what will...