Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to participate in the “Religion Roundtable,” a monthly conversation on our local NPR station KCUR. The topic of our conversation was preparing for ministry—which is my favorite topic, of course. The program featured another seminary president in the KC metro area, Dr. Ron Benefiel of Nazarene Theological Seminary, who is a wise and treasured colleague. In addition, Father Samuel Russell, President-Rector of Conception Seminary College in Conception, MO, and Rabbi Kenneth Ehrlich, the Dean of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, OH, offered their discrete perspectives. (I tried not to hog all the air time, but there was a lot I wanted to say about Central in these days of new horizons!)
The conversation focused on the kinds of students who are entering Christian ministry and the rabbinate. Each tradition represented sought to describe the demographics of those attending their respective school. For Central, the influx of women and persons of color has reconfigured our student body, for which we are grateful; interestingly, the rabbinical school noted a similar shift. For Nazarene and Conception, their student bodies are comprised of younger students, predominantly men. The commonality in these narratives of students preparing for ministry is sacrifice—of time, of resources, and of former professional ambitions.
Mark 10:17-31 portrays a conversation between Jesus and a prospective ministry candidate, an ethical young man who adhered to the law. Jesus informed him that he lacked one thing, evidently the thing that would prevent him from following Jesus with an undivided heart. How Jesus knew that his possessions were a stumbling block is not spelled out in the text, but the young man’s response to the admonishment by Jesus is striking. After being told to “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven,” he “was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions” (21-22).
While Central does not require one to submit all of one’s possessions upon entering seminary—as does a monastery—there is a sense in which a level of “dispossessing” occurs. The pathway to vocational ministry nearly always insures that one will not be highly paid. Few ministers have time or inclination to pursue wealth in addition to being faithful leaders. Central is committed to affordable tuition costs so that a burden of education debt does not impair the learner’s freedom to pursue ministry. Some of us could join them in “dispossessing ourselves”; by so doing we can support their faithful response to God’s call.
Molly T. Marshall