Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Are graduating seminarians leaving the "real world"?

Recently it was presented to me, again, the concept that any one discerning to be a priest must have experience working in the "real world" outside of ministry and how even mission work and religious/service non-profit work are seen as dubious experiences.

When I started to discern twelve years ago, in college, this concept was simply frustrating as friends would say "I feel called to be a doctor/lawyer/teacher/author" and the church would say "Amazing! Follow your calling! How can we help?" while those of us who said "I feel called to be a priest" were told "go be a doctor/lawyer/teacher/author and come back to us when you have real world experience".

Now I realize that the heart of this is that the church does not function in the same way many other parts of the world outside of it does and clergy need to understand this other way of working to relate to people and, in many cases, guide the church to better practices of organization. The way the Church generally resolves this problem, instead of creating a general mechanism for guiding younger aspirants into gaining an understanding of this "real world" while also actively discerning a call to ordained ministry, is to place the onus of the problem onto the young discerner. Blessedly, for myself and many others, priests and lay ministers of the church are aware of the problem and strive to pick up the slack.

But now on the eve of graduation as I apply for clergy positions and enter into the final stages of discernment with my diocese towards ordination the question hits in a very different way. If I have the joy of finding a calling to one of these positions then will I be leaving the "real world"? Is the expectation for me to wake up the morning I start my first call and look at every person around me and think "they are those who work in the "real world" and I am no longer one of them"? Am I to approach my future, God willing, peers in the clergy and think "ah look, here we are, those who do not work in the "real world""?

If the work of the clergy is not readily considered work of the "real world" by the church, if the clergy, and the church by extension, are simply part of some "religious world" separated from the doings and goings on of the "real world", then what exactly is the point? Would the Church not be exceptionally better served by telling the clergy to be fully engaged in the "real world" around them so no one has the idea that they work in some "religious world" than telling aspirants to get "real world" experience before they leave the "real world" to work for the "religious world"? Is not, in the end, this bifurcation simply the church acquiescing to the place secular society would have it sty in... an impotent place for individual private spiritualism with no correlation or material value to the real world?

As a graduating seminarian I do not look at myself as leaving the "real world". I look at myself as finally being able to enter it in the way I have been called for as long as I have allowed myself to be truly open to God's grace. If this years graduating seminarians are not expected to go out and work in the "real world" as people with "real world" vocations gaining the necessary "real world" experience throughout their lives to always be relevant than what, if anything, are we expected to do?

As a closing meditation I offer John Mayer's No Such Thing as the Real World video.

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