Life after Wilson

Students majoring in philosophy or religion are well equipped for positions that call for perceptive and insightful thinking.  Because of this, majors in philosophy and religion provide an excellent foundation for meaningful work in several career areas.  Alumnae have elected to pursue professional and graduate degrees in such fields as ministry, law, counseling, and social work.  Others have opted immediately to pursue employment opportunities in business, personnel, and youth work. 

Ana Mu┼łoz

Lancaster Theological Seminary Journal

August 29, 2006/Tuesday

It is the first day of class. I am apprehensive and excited at the same time. Meeting new people is not my “forte’, so I dread what lies ahead. I wonder what these new people will be like and how will I relate to them. It’s 8:30 in the morning…time for class to start and meet the professors. Let’s see what happens…

Where do these people come from? Who are these people? They all speak a language I am not familiar with. They speak about being “saved” and “called”. They interject every other word with amen’s and hallelujahs. Surely, I am on another planet, or perhaps the “twilight zone”. This type of comment is just the thing that makes me cringe. Right or wrong I associate the words “saved” and “hallelujah” with bad hair and pleas for money on Sunday morning TV.

The vast majority of the class has been involved one way or another with the church. Not me. I left the church over 20 years ago due to personal and spiritual reasons. A “recovering catholic” is what I am. After speaking to some of the students I questioned my decision to attend seminary. I am not like them! What am I doing here? Is the UCC right for me? Is seminary life where I belong? I do not know. I hope I find out the answers to these questions pretty darn quick!

Well, class has officially started. One by one the professors introduce themselves. I like them. They appear to be very approachable and friendly, not to mention knowledgeable. One of the professors, Lee Barrett, was one of Dr. True’s former graduate teachers. It is a small world. Anyway, Prof. Barrett begins class by asking what sort of changes if any, will we experience in seminary. We make a list: challenged, healing, breaking, grace, despair, faith stretched, etc. We discuss how we are going to be changed by the experience, or at least how we should be. (SIDE NOTE: The word seminary derives from semen. Supposedly, a seminary experience is supposed to bring ‘new life’ as (once again supposedly) semen does. This word thing is going entirely in the wrong direction)

Next, we are asked to introduce ourselves to the group. This is where I get scared. Wow! What am I going to say? I just became involved with a church not even a year ago...that I am lost and confused, and looking for guidance. That I cringe at the mention of Jesus…and by the way, He is mentioned multiple times in class…that I am a Buddhist at heart. What have I gotten myself into!

My turn to speak came and went. I think some people were mighty confused by my words. I did not hide my true self and to tell you the truth it felt good to be completely honest. Even though my reasons for attending seminary differed from most of the students somehow I knew… it would be ok.

August 30, 2006/Wednesday

Today we discussed the topic of “Material Christianity” and visited a church in the neighborhood. Each of the students had to talk about what sort of icons they remembered from their childhood, and what icons they now have in their houses. When my turn came I told them about the crucifix in my room that I had as a child but could not remember anything else. Then told them about the Buddha statue and Celtic cross in the yard. It was interesting to hear others talk about their childhood memories on religious art. Some remembered having nothing around the house others mentioned multiple objects including bibles, paintings, medals, rosaries and sacred music. There was a woman who built an addition to her house that she specifically made into a ‘praiseroom’ she carpeted this area so that anyone who wished to prostrate themselves before the Lord would not be uncomfortable. (Please tell me I’m in the right place, I don’t even have a crucifix up in my house) The professor elaborated by saying that people empower non-religious objects with religious powers by use and context.

Immediately following the discussion we went to visit a church a few blocks away. We were to observe and discuss what we saw and experienced while at the church. My observations were influenced by my catholic background as I found the church to be extremely plain in architecture and art. The only thing I saw that caught my attention was the stained glass in the sanctuary. Oh yes! And the small tapestry of the Virgin Mary inside the pastors’ office. That made me happy. Not the Virgin per se but the idea of diversity in belief. The experience was interesting but not moving or enlightening.

Changing the subject.

I find myself wandering in thought and feelings while in class. Where others find excitement I find nothing. Perhaps is too soon for me to actually feel comfortable in this new environment. I need to give it time…

August 31, 2006/Thursday

Today we spoke about the purpose of the church. We had to describe in our own words what we thought identifies a church as a Christian church. We discussed Church as praise, reservoir of grace, community of the holy, herald, agent of social change, managerial and therapeutic institution, community of right experience and right belief.

I never quite gave in any thought, as I have been away from the church for a long while. To me the church was simply a place where people went to worship and receive communion. It never occurred to me, until recently, that the church was so much more.

Before we discussed the purpose of the church we had a quick history lesson. Prof. Barrett, in a very short period of time, gave us an overview of the church’s history. He started with the early church and ended with the disestablishment of denominations in the United States. (What did you say? In my childhood the Protestants were the ones who were going to hell because they weren’t Catholics. No one knew anything about them other then they went to public school and had Sunday school instead. We on the other hand were very busy buying pagan babies so they could know Christ) I was sort of lost as I know nothing about protestant denominations.  It is frustrating to go to class and feel so inadequate. Most of the other students are aware of the differences and similarities between denominations. I on the other hand do not. St. Paul’s did have several classes on the history of the UCC. I remember Congregationalists, and another denomination coming together and that it took forever to form the UCC, but, Calvinism...the Reformation... that was way back in some European history class I took long ago. I feel stupid.

September 1, 2006/Friday

Today we learned about how Judaism treats the study of the Torah as prayer. Study and the law are not seen as a burden but as a joy. The Torah is a gift and never seen as work, and that nothing is accidental in the Torah. I found this short introduction to Judaism very interesting specially when the professor spoke to us in Hebrew and showed us a prayer shawl.

The second half of the class was taught by Prof. Barrett. The second half had to do with classism in the church. Classism became a conveyor of prestige and power within the church. It also was an indicator of social class and function. It allowed some people to be valued more than others due to their position in the church. This classism affected not only individuals but actual denominations as well. For example, Presbyterians were valued more than Baptists, etc.

According to Calvin the church should be like a seminary. This predisposed the need for literacy and economic privilege. In other words the church becomes accessible only to the educated an upper class people instead to all. The Reform tradition attracted the upper class. Three denominations where established in the colonies and they where the Presbyterians, Episcopalians and Congregationalists. The Lutherans were the most privileged.

I remember from my childhood being told that only the uneducated and poor belonged to other denominations. Catholicism was the religion of the upper class and the educated in my country. Something else I did not think about until now. How class affects religion.

September 5, 2006/Tuesday

The class will be visiting different churches every day this week. Today we visited Grace Lutheran Church just a few blocks away from LTS. The day started early for me as I did not get much sleep thanks to Ewok, (bad elderly dog bladder) Anyway, it was a damp and rainy day and I felt somewhat sluggish. Not the perfect combination to visit a church and be alert and learning. We walked to the church in the rain. A multitude of umbrellas parading in the street except me…I didn’t have an umbrella; Sharon took it out of my car.

We finally reached the church located on a corner. It appeared to be quite large on the outside but the real surprise awaited us inside. The entrance to the building was spacious, but almost business-like instead of church-like. Wide glass door separated the entrance from the sanctuary. The sanctuary itself was quite large. But before we visited the main sanctuary we were guided to the chapel somewhere else in the building. There the pastor greeted us and we spent most of the morning listening to the history and mandate of his church.

The mission of the church was to “make Christ known in the world. In response to God’s grace, forgiveness, and transforming love, we worship with the saints, see Christ in others, and serve God’s people near and far.” I do not know what it is, but I still find it arrogant that we need to “make Christ known in the world”. I believe there are many paths to God and Christianity is only but one of those paths. All in all, the pastor seemed to be a smart and likable person. In terms of the mandate to see Christ in every person I found it lacking. He had trouble with homosexuality even to the point were he actually said there no homosexuals in Grace Lutheran church. (Except the 5 of us in the LTS class) So therefore the issue of homosexuality was a ‘moot point’ as far as he was concerned. Other issues were also avoided as not to make the congregation uncomfortable. (I thought Christianity wasn’t supposed to be comfortable, I missed that in the gospels)

I saw the congregation leading the pastor and not the pastor leading the congregation. The pastor was, I think, very aware of his wealthy patrons and how they influenced the church. I believe this church was well-off therefore had no need to really change and grow even though this was the pastor’s intention.

The church itself was beautiful with its high vaulted ceilings and elaborate altar. The chapel downstairs was equally charming. It actually looked catholic in its ornamentation.

September 6, 2006/Wednesday

Today we visited Trinity UCC. Upon entry to the church we were greeted by the pastor and a vast array of refreshments. (Always a good sign) The meeting room was set up with several tables and a TV monitor. Each table had multiple packets full of information for each student. It was very obvious the pastor was not only happy to see us, but was also proud of his church. He introduced the church’s mission and mandate both verbally and visually.

After we watched the church video he took us to the sanctuary. The sanctuary was different as the pews were designed in a semi-circle around the altar. (This reminded me of the post Vatican 2 changes in the Catholic Church) There was a lot of symbolism within the sanctuary starting with the placement of the altar, to the design of the stained glass windows.

The primary purpose of the church is to be the body of Christ and to follow in word and sacrament. They are open to all denominations and even though they are not ONA they welcome all. We are all broken people trying to find our way back to God. Word and sacrament appeared to be very central to this church. They are also a church of community. Pastor Harry appeared to be a nurturing and easy to talk to person. He was very authoritative within the church.

I felt comfortable enough to revisit this church. He made me feel welcomed and at ease. He spoke repeatedly of nurturing and service to others as the mission of this church. He also spoke of the church as the extension of the Incarnation.  I like the fact that he was formally dressed as a pastor. Being dressed in a suit with a clerical collar made me think he appreciated symbolism and felt a certain amount of reverence toward his position as pastor.

September 7, 2006/Thursday

Today we visited Hempfield United Methodist Church. I have one word for this experience. Big! This church was huge! I felt like I was at a convention center. Anyway, we were taken to what used to be the sanctuary and now it is a multipurpose room. The pastor and a manager introduced us to the church. There was a lot of talk about the physical building and how it has changed throughout the years. The key word here is change. There was a lot of talk about the growth and changes within this church. The congregation is already over a thousand people strong and growing. People are willing to give up tradition in order to accommodate change. The church is under “constant change” was a prevalent theme during the introduction.

The mandate and primary purpose of the church is to know Jesus and to make Jesus known in the world. They believed in the priesthood of all believers and that people are “dying for something to die for”. This church mentioned three initiatives: being holistic, building small group communities and serving.

Now, this church is huge! It is on its way to becoming a mega-church. The main sanctuary had the feel of a theater with stadium seating and balconies. The technology within the building is simply amazing. The service on Sundays is full of imagery due to videos and graphics. It almost felt like the service is more about showmanship than religion. I saw no emphasis on word or sacrament. I am not saying they are not religious but that it simply felt that way due to the size and layout. I’m not much on strict definitions, but a church should be more intimate. Even if it’s this big they need to find a way to make people feel bigger than the building that they are in.

September 8, 2006/Friday

Ray’s Temple Church of God in Christ

We went to downtown Lancaster just a few blocks from school. The area was kind of run down and more ethnic. Less middle class. The church was an old gothic Lutheran church on a corner and even though we knew it went through a major remodeling, it still looked like it needed more work. We were finally invited inside and the foyer of the church was quite small with an “old” feeling too it. Sort of musty and small. In other churches there were lots of pictures about the congregation and information about the church, there was none of this. It is an Afro-Celtic worship style and has 150 members. It was not what I thought a Pentecostal Church would look like because it had some remnants of its Lutheran history. We were introduced to the pastor who was VERY well-dressed. He is an alumnus of LTS. So, the pastor begins speaking about how the church is part of the community and that mission and service is very important in the community and around the world. The main place mentioned was India.  He spoke about how the Church‘s purpose was to help people recover from difficult times. The main requirement of this church is that you must have an ‘experience’ to become a member. You must be ‘touched by the spirit’ and be turned into a holy person to receive communion. There is education to help you become a Christian, but you must have a transforming experience and be re-baptized. This church believes that infant baptism, doesn’t count. It is a testimony church. People speak in tongues and dance around the church. When they were asked what their purpose was in India, was it for humanitarian effort or was it to open churches. The pastor said they did both, but his explanation was strictly limited to discussion of conversion to Christianity. He talked about Hinduism as have ’30 million gods and he stated that this worship is done in idolatry. I believe their main purpose in India was to change their religion, not to help them with daily needs. When asked for an example of someone in the United States who would be committing idolatry, he stated that anyone who was a Buddhist, who would ‘worship’ Buddha, would be committing idolatry. I was very angry. Buddha is not a God and he is not “worshiped”. This makes me quite angry as it brings out everything I hate about mainline Christianity. We’ll welcome you, but you are wrong and you have got to change. Church’s say they are welcoming and open, but in fact they just want to make you into their image. They are not interested in you as a person and what you bring to the church. This Church’s mandate is to preach and spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not just to bring people to recognize Jesus, but to make them worship him in THEIR WAY, because” They are right” (a quote from the pastor).

I left this Church feeling like I had stepped back hundreds of years. To me, this church was not truly Christian; in that it did not “Love their neighbor” they just want to make you into their image.

September 11, 2006/Monday

After getting slightly lost we finally reached our destination. Today’s visit took us to the Beachy Mennonite Church in Kinzers. This church stood out in stark contrast against the other churches we visited. Its sheer simplicity spoke of humility and service to God. The building itself had no icons, no banners, no crosses and no altar. A large room full of pews was all that greeted us today. A small stand at the front of the building acted as a lectern. There was no color on the walls, any candles or flowers.

We spent the morning listening to the Brothers lecture us about Mennonite history and the purpose of the church. They spoke on how the early church was full of conflict and opposition. History is very important to them as it links them with the past and educates them about their present and future. Their roots are Amish, but they accept modern conveniences if they are of help to them.  Technology can be helpful but also detrimental to the Christian experience.

According to these Mennonites the purpose of the church is to bring honor and glory to God, and to help one another through Jesus. Brotherhood and family is also very important and part of the mission of the church. But what really touched my heart were the stories told by one of the brothers. As he went on with the story he would get all choked up. As the story continued he would break into a smile and tell us, “That’s what it’s all about! People helping people!”  His stories spoke of his community and how important helping each other really is.

God is primary, and we all must be available for Him. But community is very big for the Mennonites. They are a church of right belief, right behavior and right experience. The pastors are chosen by the Lord and only males can achieve this position. They truly try to live their faith.  I saw a passionate example of people who believe in the Bible, but at the same time keep people as their main focus in day to day life.

September 12, 2006/Tuesday

Our last visit found us at the Vision of Hope Metropolitan Community Church. The actual physical church was sort of gothic looking with stained glass and wooden accents around the sanctuary. I am not sure which denomination used this church before the MCC moved in. The sanctuary was small and very colorful with posters and banners all around. Two rainbow flags were proudly displayed in the back of the sanctuary. Multiple crosses adorned the chapel.

When I walked into the sanctuary music was being played, and the students had musical instruments to play along with the music. Following the music the pastor introduced herself. The church is Christ centered but also very much community centered. People are encouraged to question to aid them in the process of learning. The church ministers to all people but especially to the LGBT community. The pastor made it very clear it is not a gay church but a Christian church that happens to minister to the gay community.

I felt liberated while in this church. The idea that here I am not a minority did empower me and made me feel truly wanted. The pastor did come out to the class and made it very obvious she was extremely comfortable with her sexual orientation. There were a lot of brochures on AIDS, gay adoption, and community support. The church was, at least for me, a place of comfort and safety.

 

THE RETREAT (dramatic entrance music)

There was a two day retreat to end the September session. It was held at a Mennonite retreat center. There were two main buildings which housed kitchen and administrative functions. The buildings where we stayed were named and decorated according to each continent.  The bulletin board near the kitchen told me I was in the Asia House. (This is really funny because I love Asian everything) I put my stuff in my room and immediately noted that none of the doors had locks. It was an unspoken thing that nothing would happen to your processions while you were here.

Once everyone had settled we went to morning worship. Each worship was designed by the students. (Prior to going to the retreat we had to be on the worship committee or the get-to-know-you committee. Neither is my strong point.lack of protestant worship and a fear of new people...I chose the get-to-know-you- one, it was less threatening). We wrote our feelings on paper and then burned them outside to release our negativity. After this we went to lunch. I was really worried. I am a vegetarian and rarely do people think about us. I knew I was going to live on iceberg lettuce for 2 days. I talked with my fellow students and had a good time. We wondered what was in store for us next. In the community center after lunch, we had our first exercise. We were divided into 2 groups. Our group was told that we were a tribe. We then had to write on a piece of paper that we would be in the tribe (king, queen, warrior, stargazer, healer, animal shaman, pottery maker, etc.) I hate being stereotypical, but most of the men chose to be warriors. Our scenario was that the food and water were running out and decide what we were going to do. We decided that we would have to move to another area of the room. (So, far I’m pretty bored). Then the professor comes in and says “FREEZE” half of your tribe doesn’t want to stay here they want to move somewhere else because it’s too small. The queen decides without consulting anyone to send scouts to other lands. The scouts came back and say that they have found a land of milk and honey but there is someone else living there. (Okay this is where I start to get upset) The first things that came out of the warriors mouth was “Let’s go kill them” The queen agreed ( I’m not making this up, they really did this) Now I’m very annoyed because we were all to have a voice, but only the warriors and the queen had power. There were people offering non-violent suggestions, but they were ignored. The queen decided to send another group to talk with them. The group suggested the healers and story-tellers because they were peaceful. What the queen did decide to do was put healer tags on the warriors. Some of this felt it was deceitful. The scouts came back and said the other group was dying of cholera. The Warriors said that this was great because now we can really wipe them out (IS THIS LTS OR MICROSOFT???) All the non-violent people are really upset, they want to help them. We were ignored. Ultimately it was decided to help them, with the idea that we might still have to kill them. In the meantime, we found out that the other tribe was having a worse time than us. Their structure was chaotic; there were all followers and no leaders. The professor had killed the leader with cholera. (This was done because the person who was the leader was being sexist and over-bearing, not as part of his persona.) The women in this group had decided that they would just go to the winemaker and get drunk and forget about it. The point of this exercise was to learn about were we fell in the theological world. (We had learned about this earlier in class) and to see how the other students interacted. How did we behave in a group, where did we stand with each other?

After this we had dinner (iceberg again) then we went to the party. What I mostly did there was play ping-pong with my friend the pastor. I was laughing my head off. We couldn’t play ping-pong to save ourselves. We then played Hungry Hungry Hippos and made lots of noise and apparently irritated people who thought we were having way too much fun.

The next morning there was breakfast and worship and then we went home.

The most fun and enlightenment I had was sitting with my friends in the Africa house talking about religion and family. I really felt like I got to know the people around me.

I have not mentioned my home life during this time. I spend lots of time glued to the computer, stressing over my inadequacies and wondering if I’m doing the right thing. My partner once again offered to go out and buy me some self-esteem (because apparently I say the same things over and over) I read every free minute and it’s become more apparent to me something that was not a problem before. English is my second language. The process of reading, interpreting, and writing takes a long detour in my brain and archaic language makes me tear my hair out.

I’m still getting up and going to class. And Sharon hasn’t thrown me out yet. All is right with the world.

Thus ended my September term at LTS.